Wednesday 17 January 2018

Sienna Miller's career comeback as she claws back credibility and clout in Hollywood

Sienna Miller was once better known for her boyfriends than her work. But now she has clawed back both credibility and clout in Hollywood

Sienna Miller's relationship with Tom Sturridge has marked a period of domestic stability for the star
Sienna Miller's relationship with Tom Sturridge has marked a period of domestic stability for the star
New beginnings: Sienna Miller has reinvigorated her career

Julia Molony

'People," said Sienna Miller in an interview with Esquire magazine last year, "don't want to see movies with people they don't approve of in them."

This, apparently, was Sienna's epiphany. Her explanation for why at the end of the Noughties, she was one of the most famous young actresses of her generation, but still boasted precious little credibility in the industry.

But all that seems history now. Last year, she appeared in two of the most critically-acclaimed films of the year. She starred opposite industry darling Bradley Cooper in American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, and took a small but convincing role in the Oscar-nominated Foxcatcher.

Since she first broke into the public consciousness on the arm of Jude Law, Sienna Miller had always resisted playing by the rules. She was spontaneous and uncensored in interviews. Her famously bohemian look perfectly matched a certain chaotic quality in her personal life - she seemed much more high-society It girl than professional actress.

Sienna's unconventional spirit seems to have been handed down by her family. Her father is an American businessman and her mother, a former model, was once personal assistant to David Bowie. She was born in New York city but raised between London and Wiltshire after her parents split up when she was five. As a teenager, she seems to have been an almost archetypal rebellious, boarding school girl - always up to harmless high jinks which tested the boundaries of her privileged, protected world.

After school, she went back to New York to study drama at the Lee Strasberg Institute. Serious enough credentials to win serious work, you might think. But initially Miller had more luck finding work as a model than an actress.

In 2004, at the age of 23, she played opposite the already massively famous Jude Law in a remake of the classic film Alfie. The character she played, chain-smoking, hard-living, dysfunctional and the cause of romantic devastation wherever she went, seemed to chime exactly with her atomic-starlet image. Even to this day, on the IMDB movie website her trademark is listed as "often plays chain-smoking, drug-addled and emotionally drained characters."

During her mid-20s, her star was in the ascendant, but, as she observed in an interview earlier this year, the problem was that she had "no business sense whatsoever. I never read a review or paid any mind to what anyone said."

Over the course of the next decade, and throughout her on-again-off-again relationship with Law, Miller gradually become much better known for her tabloid persona and her fashion sense than her professional work.

Together, she and Law seemed very much like Britain's golden couple. Both achingly beautiful, in real life their relationship was a beautiful catastrophe. In 2005, Law was caught with his trousers down in the company of his children's nanny. Some time later, the Daily Mail reported that Miller had retaliated by having a fling herself - with Law's close friend Daniel Craig. Last year, when she took part in the phone hacking enquiry against the News Of the World Miller was forced to admit publicly that she had indeed had a "brief encounter" with the James Bond star.

For Miller, the trial represented a trying return to the scandals which she had been working long and hard to put behind her for good, and she admitted in court that "It is a really difficult and uncomfortable part of my life to be discussed, out of the courtroom and into the hands of the world's media."

It was a reminder of a time when her personal life was at its most turbulent. This culminated in 2008 when, after a separation from Law, followed by an abortive and short-lived attempt at reconciliation, she fell headlong into an ill-advised affair with married billionaire Balthazar Getty. She was photographed topless on the beach with the heir to an estimated £2.5bn fortune, who at the time was still legally married to Rosette Getty, the mother of his four children. Although Miller protested that Getty and his wife were separated at the time, the more moralistic quarters of the US media lapped it up, labelling Miller a "home-wrecker." And back in the UK, her apparent enthusiasm for hopping from one relationship to the next earned her the nick-name "Serial Miller." Soon after the highly publicised affair imploded, Getty returned to his wife. The pair remain married to this day.

Even at the time, Miller seemed aware of the damage all this negative publicity might wreak on her professional life. In 2009, she admitted that the stories "probably looked awful."

"I probably seem like not a particularly nice person, not a girl's girl," she said later to GQ magazine. But she defended her behaviour as part of the normal experience of growing up. "I think if you put a camera in anyone's life and document it daily for six years, from the age of 21 to 27, there are going to be things that aren't always pretty."

That year, 2009, was also when her career reached its lowest ebb. She appeared in GI Joe: The Rise of the Cobra, an experience that convinced her she had well and truly lost her way. As she explained in a recent interview. "It had become difficult for me to get the work I wanted. It was a weird situation because there was a lot of goodwill for me in Hollywood." Soon she came to understand that it was her public image and her behaviour that was holding her back.

"I sabotaged things. I burnt a lot of bridges . . . I wasn't behaving the way you should. I'm very lucky to have a second chance in that town," she added.

So she took a couple of years away from high-profile projects. And she resorted to the classic floundering film-actor's career tonic - theatre work. She'd had a rough time treading the boards before - having been savaged in 2005 for a "wooden" performance in As You Like It, in which she played Celia. But coming at it second time round, and with much more to prove, she threw herself into honing her craft, starting in 2009, when she took to Broadway for a production of Patrick Marber's After Miss Julie.

By 2011, critics where acknowledging her "career revival" after admiring her performance as a former starlet caught up in a love-triangle in a Trevor Nunn-directed production of Flare Path, by Terence Rattigan.

That year was a breakthrough one in a personal sense, too. It was then that she got together with the English actor Tom Sturridge, and the pair have been a couple ever since. It marked a new period of stability for Miller at home and in 2014, the couple's daughter, Marlowe, was born.

"I think having a baby really changed everything, if I'm honest," Miller said in an interview with The Observer earlier this year. "The stakes are higher. You have someone that you want to be proud of you eventually." She believes motherhood has changed how she is perceived by the outside world as well. "I'm still whoever I was. Maybe more mature, but the same. So amongst that ignorant, ridiculous area of my industry, I'm sure opinions of me have changed because I'm a mother now."

Not just that, she's starting to accumulate a body of work to be genuinely proud of. And Sienna means to make the most of it. "All the directors speak to each other," she said in a recent interview. "And once you crack that upper echelon of incredible directors, you've got people rooting for you. People who people listen to. I've never had that before."

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