Thanks to a pair of high-profile roles this year in the critically-acclaimed films “American Sniper’’ and “Foxcatcher,’’ Sienna Miller is quickly becoming one of Hollywood’s go-to leading ladies.
The model turned actress is poised for an even bigger 2015 with a number of notable projects, including the Whitey Bulger bio-pic “Black Mass.’’ Miller will play Catherine Greig, the longtime girlfriend of the infamous Boston mobster, who will be portrayed by Johnny Depp in the flick.
During her promotional tour in Boston for “American Sniper’’ last month, Miller spoke with Boston.com about her experience working on the film with director Clint Eastwood and what it was like to shoot in Boston this past summer. She also gave us a taste of her Southie accent.
Boston.com: You play Taya, the wife of Bradley Cooper’s character in “American Sniper,’’ which is based off the true story of decorated Navy SEAL Chris Kyle. Did you get the chance to talk to the real Taya in order to prepare for the role?
Sienna Miller: Yes I did. I was in London and she was in Texas where she lives with the children, and so we started via Skype and spent a lot of time talking to each from there. When I got to L.A., I went two weeks before shooting and she came and we spent some time together. She was incredible, open, and generous and has recently been through this hideous experience. The woman I was playing was not necessarily the woman that I met because, of course, you’re irrevocably changed by what you’ve been through. But she’s amazing. She also gave me all of their e-mail correspondence, her and Chris. She kept everything because she never knew if he was going to survive and she documented a lot. She filmed a lot, so there were tons of source material to access.
There’s some tension between Chris and Taya, and it seems like Cooper’s character constantly chooses to go back to his brother-in-arms at war rather than stay at home with his wife and family. What are your thoughts on their relationship and Chris’s motivations?
It’s difficult to understand culturally, for me, because I grew up somewhere completely different in England. But Chris’s priorties in life were God, country, family in that order, and that exists. That’s the man she married and she loved him for that. He had an overwhelming sense of responsibilty and he was incredibly good at what he had been trained to do. He was saving lives and she couldn’t deny that was invaluable. Of course, it’s really hard and, I need to get the statistic right, but there’s something like a 96 percent divorce rate* among SEALs. I think it’s a really difficult thing to sustain a relationship and feel that sense of duty because, at the same time, she’s on her own raising children and not knowing every single day whether her husband is going to survive. That’s really impossible to imagine, staying with that, but they did. The tragedy is when he quit the SEALs, came back, and they were finally getting back on track, this terrible thing happened. It’s just a heartbreaking story.
*[Chris Kyle pegged the number at around 90 percent in his 2012 autobiography, “American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.’’]
What attracted you to the role?
Oh you know, a couple of words called Clint Eastwood [laughs]. I think that when there’s a film starring Bradley Cooper and Clint Eastwood is directing, anyone would just jump at the opportunity, and that was before I had even read the script. Then, when I read the script, it was so beautifully written and, like I said before, it was such a challenge to put myself in a situation that was so far away from what I grew up with [and] to try and understand what that would be like as a mother, as a woman, and to work with those people, really.
How was your experience working with such talented stars like Cooper and Eastwood?
A lot of my scenes were heavily dramatic and emotional, but I had probably one of the best experiences I’ve ever had creatively. We were very close, the three of us. Bradley and I have remained incredibly close, and Clint as well. It was just one of those really fortunate, joyous sets even though we were telling this tragic story. And Clint’s famously just amazing to work with. He kind of shoots very short days, you do a couple of takes. He works in a way that’s really unique and, once you surrender and jump into that way of working, it’s really liberating and relaxed. He’s just the epitome of cool. There’s no drama or yelling. He’s been doing it so long, he knows exactly what he wants.
Did you have any special moments with Eastwood?
I just felt really nurtured and protected by him. Everyday was like Christmas because you’re turning up to work and there’s Clint Eastwood at the helm. Everyday there was something joyous that happened. I feel very close to him and just enormously fortunate to have had the experience of not only meeting him, but of working with him and being in a film that I think is a real classic Eastwood film [that’s] beautifully and simply told. That’s definitely something to take off the bucket list.
In addition to “American Sniper’’ you’ll also be starring in “Black Mass,’’ which is based on the story of Whitey Bulger and filmed in Boston over the summer. Did you get acclimated to the city while you were shooting here? Do you have any go-to spots now?
I did. I’ve shot a couple of films here now and I love Boston. I came with my baby, so we spent a lot of time in the park here. I love Boston, so I felt embraced here and it’s such a great city.
You’re portraying Catherine Greig, the longtime girlfriend of Bulger, who’ll be played by Johnny Depp in “Black Mass.’’ Did you do a lot of research for the role?
There’s not a lot of footage, there’s not an awful lot of source material about her unfortunately. I really looked for it. There are some photographs, but no recordings of her voice or footage.
How’d you prepare for the part, then?
I read as much as I could about Whitey, and there’s tons of stuff about him. I spoke to some people here who knew him and knew her. She was quite a character from South Boston. The accent was something I really focused on because playing someone from Southie, you don’t want to mess that up. Hopefully I’ve managed to pull that off, although I think everyone’s like, “How can you be English and think you can do that?’’ [laughs]
But I shot for two weeks, it’s a really cameo. It’s not a leading role. I had an amazing time working with Johnny Depp, who I think is extraordinary and Scott Cooper, the director, who’s made some amazing films as well. The story’s in the right hands and it was amazingly fun to come in. I got to be from Southie, I got to age from 28 to 56.
What was that aging process like?
It was fun, [the] prosthetics. Johnny was, I think, 82 in one of the scenes, and he’s just completely unrecognizable. It was just a really great cameo to come into.
Speaking of accents, who had the best—or worst—Boston accent on the set?
I can’t say that, I wasn’t here for long enough. I’m not the right person.
Can you give us a taste of your Boston accent?
It’s not a printable word for you. Whenever you do an accent, you have to have a keyword in, and for Boston it was “c—sucker.’’ [laughs] There, I said it. Good luck trying to get around that in print, but she says it a lot in the film.
Warning: Audio clip contains adult language.
Not only are you in both “American Sniper’’ and “Black Mass,’’ but you also have a part in “Foxcatcher,’’ which has been getting a lot of buzz recently. Has it been surreal getting the chance to play such amazing female characters in these high-profile projects?
I made a pact with myself that I just wanted to work with great directors in whatever capacity. With Scott Cooper, it’s a small role [and] in “Foxcatcher,’’ it’s by no means my film. But just to be in those environments and work with those people has been really beneficial. To be apart of something, again, however small, but to be in something that you’re really proud of is just an amazing sense of achievement. I try not to think about it too much bcause it’s all going well and I don’t want to overanalyze why. I feel very fortunate to have worked with these great people.
What do you hope audiences take away from “American Sniper’’ after seeing it?
I hope that people have a deeper understanding of what is happening in the world. It’s really difficult to look at some of the things that you are shown, and I don’t think that Clint holds back. I think it’s brutal, but that’s war, that’s what is happening. This is a human story about a man, and I hope that people are touched by the sacrifice that he made. I hope vets suffering from these things, who’ve been in combat and come home and feel lost, feel comforted in some way. That would be a great achievement.