The Miller Sister:
Sienna Miller Gives Us Interview

by Tony Phillips

Andy Warhol placed fame on a fifteen-minute timeline, but his latter-day muse Sienna Miller has efficiently shaved off three minutes from his axiom. One can only wonder how Warhol would have felt about the update: “In the future everyone will be famous for twelve minutes,” but there can be no mystery about how he would have felt about Sienna Miller. I mean, come on: actor by way of model, born in New York to an American banker father and a South African actress mother. Raised in London. She even has her own tee-shirt line.

Then there are all those tabloid clips, from which Andy would have no trouble pulling many salacious halftone images ripe for silk-screening. He could update his Kennedy in mourning Blue Jackie with a shot of Miller grieving the loss of finance Jude Law post nanny-gate. A certain James Bond makes a nice sub for Eddie Fisher in Warhol’s Daily News headline painting “DANIEL CRAIG BREAKS DOWN.” Hell, even a grainy shot of Miller and Diddy on their long walk home post-club would make a nice update to Warhol’s Race Riot series. In fact, just about the only thing Warhol wouldn’t cotton to about the very blonde Miss Miller is her “Shitsburgh” comment about his hometown while shooting The Mysteries of Pittsburgh.

And, you know what, I’m sorry to have taken it there. But when Miller sweeps into a suite at the Regency Hotel wearing a fabulous red dress with pockets on the front stitched at just the right position to insure that her stick thin arms jut out at all the right gangly model angles, and then is swept out again by her publicist twelve-minutes later, frankly, what’s left to write? “It’s an interesting subject,” is how Miller classifies the whole process and her latest film entitled Interview, “and I feel the victim of a lot of unwanted tabloid attention.”

“It’s an interesting social study more than anything else,” she continues of the film. “The levels people will go to in order to destroy the other one. There’s a small dig at certain tabloid journalists within that, but I say that in hindsight. At the time, I didn’t make any parallels to my own life. I thought of it as a character I wanted to create. I’m very different to that character, thank God, but I know people who aren’t that different so I sort of hung out with them, watched and took notes. My agent was like, why are you hanging out with these people? I was like, never you mind. Then he watched the movie and he was like, ah, got it.”

Chalk up voyeur and ruthless social climbing in the Warhol pro column, but for those of you yet to have that Eureka moment, let me explain that Interview concerns itself with a white-hot actress “more famous for who she sleeps with that anything else.” Said actress meets cute with a high-minded political reporter for an interview and the sparks fly. Faster than you can say Desperately Seeking Susan, he bangs his head — this being Tribeca and all — and she has him up to her flat for various types of ice and it’s all over save the “good going, stranger.”

Steve Buscemi plays Pierre Peders, a war reporter who now finds himself demoted to the fluff circuit. Buscemi also directs and co-adapts the two-hander from a film of the same title originally brought forth by Theo van Gogh, the great grandson of the brother of that van Gogh who was murdered horrifically in Amsterdam three years ago by a Muslim extremist outraged by his short film Submission which took on women and Islam. But nobody mentions van Gogh, who was shot in the street eight times and then had his throat sliced for good measure. They’re all too busy reliving the horrifying injustices visited upon them by Page Six.

“By nature, I’m a very private person,” Buscemi begins, joining the fray, “that is what is hard about doing interviews for films that I really love. In some ways, it diminishes the experience that I had. I have to talk about it so much with strangers, I find that when I’m with friends and they say, hey I have a question, I roll my eyes. But he’s the person I want to be telling. It’s something I still haven’t figured out, but I learn as I go.” Well, hello, Mr. Buscemi, one of the things you should have learned by now is your little film is up against Harry Potter this weekend.

And while we’re on the subject of Buscemi and blockbusters, what the fuck is up with Chuck and Larry? Buscemi, who stars in one of the cornerstones of queer cinema, Bill Sherwood’s 1986 film Parting Glances, fleshed out one of the big screen’s first-ever representations of what AIDS looks like. And 20-years on it still holds up. In fact, the film launched Buscemi’s career and it was the first film selected for restoration by the Outfest Legacy Project for LGBT Film Preservation. The restored print is set to premiere as one of the cornerstones of this year’s Outfest film festival. “I’m going to the premiere of Chuck and Larry on the 12th in Los Angeles,” Buscemi beams, “and then on the 16th Parting Glances is being shown.”

And, not to put too fine a point on it, but don’t you think you’re going to get any shit for the convergence of those two events? “Why,” Buscemi asks, wide-eyed, “what have you heard? Because somebody else said that too.” I explain I’ve heard nothing, but I did see the trailer in a crowded, boisterous Times Square multiplex and the entire time it unspooled I felt like the audience was laughing at me. “First of all,” Buscemi begins, “I don’t think you can tell what any movie is like by the trailer. The premise is two very straight guys who are homophobic pretending to be gay. One is more homophobic than the other, I think, and it’s what they learn about people’s attitudes about gay people and gay marriage that’s what I found really interesting about the film. That this is being explored in this broad comedic and hopefully very commercial film is remarkable. And from what I experienced on set it champions gay rights and gay marriage.”

Okay, I’ll go with that. Clearly he’s seen it and I have not, so I defer. “Oh, no,” Buscemi replies, “I haven’t seen the film yet, but I think Adam has touched on this before in his movies and I know him personally. He’s not homophobic, so I don’t think that is any kind of message that he wants to portray. I haven’t seen the trailers and I’m sorry if that’s what is seemingly coming through because I don’t believe that the film is that way. I would not have been involved in it if I felt like that’s what it was doing. It’s bringing this to the forefront; this whole issue of gay marriage, which I think is a non-issue. I think it’s ridiculous that there’s even a debate. Don’t ask, don’t tell is criminal. In the Republican debate, you have all these politicians talking about how important the war on terror is and not one of them said they would repeal don’t ask, don’t tell. They would rather see good soldiers being released from the military because they’re gay. It’s so hypocritical. And dangerous. We need every soldier, who cares if they’re gay or straight? We need them to be good soldiers.”

But enough of world events, what about Sienna Miller? Does Buscemi find her career overshadowed by her more tabloid exploits, or is this a case where he actually supports don’t ask, don’t tell? “No,” he replies, clearly done with me, “I don’t think she gets overshadowed by it. I think her personal life is her personal life and it’s the media that makes this news out of it. I don’t think that’s her fault. She lives her life and then she has her work, but the media is really interested in her personal life so that becomes a focus. And I do find it distracting. People have asked me if it’s good for the film that Sienna has her own tabloid interests and I don’t think it’s true. I find it distracting.”

So then why cast her? “She not only looked the part,” Buscemi explains, “she had the talent to back it up. This character is a complex role with a lot of shades to it. She had to have a sense of humor and I think she just was able to pull that off and make the character real and a human being. That’s what I was after.” So, act human, there’s a tall order. “I didn’t know how to really portray that,” Miller laughs, “I was like how do you? It was a hard thing to get in a look, but yeah, my character’s definitely playing a role. She plays several roles that night: victim, helpless girl, evil woman and seductress.”

And the casting? According to Buscemi, he “had seen Alfie and Layer Cake and then an interview that she did for the DVD of Layer Cake. It was just based on those three things that I thought she would be perfect for the part. We offered her the role and she accepted the day we made the offer.” So no audition, no read-through, no camera test, just blind faith, but let’s not forget this movie was cast before Factory Girl completely tanked at the box office. Just chalk that up in the Warhol con column while we’re at it. The scenario in Miller’s mind is remembered a little differently. “I was really uncool,” says the coolest girl on the planet, “I got a call from my agent saying that Steve Buscemi had gotten in touch and was doing a film and would I be interested in reading the script? I said, I’ll do it, without reading the script. I figured if it was good enough for Steve Buscemi, it was good enough for me.”

But the negotiations played on. “I actually agreed to it,” Miller remembers, “but they were like, surely you should read the script or at least talk to Steve. I was like, no, I’m doing it. And then I spoke to Steve and he was like, please read the script and I was like, no, done. I’ll come and make the tea on your set, let alone come and act with you. So it was sort of a no-brainer. And then, thankfully, I read the script and loved it. I loved the character and loved the dynamic between the two people. It was a really interesting project and I really loved the film as a film. It’s the first one I’ve done that I watch and think, oh, that’s actually a cool movie. It’s very European.”

So, holding one’s own against Steve Buscemi, check. But how’s this going? “This is where I mess up,” Miller says, motioning to the meta-universe that surrounds her, “I trust everyone, even journalists. If I’m going to be interviewed, I want to sit down and have a real conversation, otherwise what’s the point? I’m a real person and they’re a real person and I like to have a connection. Hopefully an honest article will come out of an honest connection. Most of them, I end up being really friendly to and then half and them screw me over. It’s sort of luck of the draw, but I refuse to conform. I don’t want to go in and be the actress. It’s boring for you and it’s boring for me. I am who I am and I’m not afraid to be who I am. I work very hard and what I do with my spare time is up to me. I’m not going to change because of what I do. I’d be miserable if I wasn’t being myself.”

And with that our number is up and miss ruby red is led out of the room by a sullen-faced publicist. Miller again expresses her sincere wish that the article not read “is this true, is this true and where did you get that top?” There are a few parting glances and words about “running around the Welsh countryside in spring with the bluebells and the lambs.” Miller has just finished shooting The Edge of Love, a film about that also stars Kiera Knightly and was penned by Kiera’s mom. Miller plays Thomas’ wife. “I really enjoyed being out of the city and in the county,” she winks, “I realized I need that balance more so that was a good thing.” And then she’s gone. And the twelve-minute grousing begins immediately. Other journos are ranting in the hallway, holding up their digital recorders and comparing times like kids at a track meet. I suddenly realize we’re all forgetting to convert the time to British Pounds Sterling. Turns out our measly twelve-minutes US is actually more like a leisurely hour-and-a-half on the British metric. With tea. And those little finger sandwiches. Now, can I get you anything else, Miss Miller?