Where Did the Oscar-Nominated To Leslie Come From?
Feb 2, 2023
One of the most surprising nominations at this year’s Academy Awards has to be Andrea Riseborough’s Best Actress nomination for To Leslie. What is To Leslie? Who is Andrea Riseborough? And how did a film with a limited on-demand release secure one of the five slots in one of the biggest acting categories? Let’s delve into this strange journey of this little film with a lot of heart.
What Is ‘To Leslie’ About?
To Leslie premiered at the South by Southwest film festival to positive reviews, particularly shouting out star Andrea Riseborough. The film follows a single mother who wins the lottery, only to spend all her winnings on drugs and alcohol. Six years later, Leslie attempts to restart her life and get a second chance with the people she has wronged. This marks the feature film debut of television director Michael Morris and features Marc Maron, Stephen Root, Owen Teague, and Oscar winner Allison Janney in the supporting cast. To Leslie received a limited theatrical release and simultaneous digital release in October 2022 and grossed a little over 25k at the box office. It is currently available to rent on most digital platforms.
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Who Is Andrea Riseborough?
A movie star can carry a small movie to an Oscar nomination, at the very least for their performance. We’ve seen this with Charlotte Rampling in 45 Years and with this year’s Paul Mescal in Afersun. Hailing from the UK, Riseborough came to prominence in British films such as Happy-Go-Lucky and Never Let Me Go, before being recognized in Madonna’s W.E., the Tom Cruise vehicle Oblivion, and best picture winner Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance.) Since then, she has appeared mostly in supporting roles from Nocturnal Animals to Battle of the Sexes and most recently as Mrs. Wormwood in Netflix’s Matilda, while also carving out lead roles in more independent and/or horror movies including Mandy, Nancy, and Possessor. She has also received praise for her work in television with starring roles in the Black Mirror episode “Crocodile,” and the 2020 crime drama ZeroZeroZero.
The ‘To Leslie’ Oscar Campaign Explained
An Independent Spirit nomination and recognition from one critic’s group (the Chicago Film Critics Association) does not quite spell Oscar front-runner. Viola Davis (The Woman King) Danielle Deadwyler (Till), and Margot Robbie (Babylon) all seemed more likely nominees this morning given the success they have had with the Golden Globes, Critics Choice, and Screen Actor’s Guild, which tend to be accurate precursors. But there was something stirring in the air this past month, and as they say, it pays to have friends in Hollywood. Director Michael Morris told The Hollywood Reporter last week. “We can’t even afford an ad. We live or die by people’s reactions to the film. We’ve been so under the radar and our only strategy has been to get people to see the film. I don’t want it to become another title in the library. I want it to be seen.”
RELATED: How to Watch ‘To Leslie’: Where to Stream the Andrea Riseborough Film
Morris, who has directed episodes of Better Call Saul, 13 Reasons Why, Shameless, and House of Cards among many others, seemingly called in every favor he had to get people to see the film. This spread to comments from actors and well-known celebrities including, but not limited to, Edward Norton, Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Paulson, Zooey Deschanel, Courtney Cox, Alan Cumming, Tan France, Constance Zimmer, Helen Hunt, and Howard Stern.
In a timeline assembled by Vulture, the initial spark seems to have been lit by Charlize Theron at a screening of the film she introduced and called it “the kind of movie that stays in your mind, stays in your bones, even stays in your skin.” The campaign didn’t catch fire though until a little over a week ago when Gwyneth Paltrow made a flattering Instagram post that read:
Last night we had the true pleasure of watching a masterpiece of a film called To Leslie. Directed by our friend @filmbymichaelmorris and starring the incomparable @andreariseborough I am stunned by all of the performances. Andrea should win every award there is and all the ones that haven’t been invented yet.
Image Via Momentum Pictures
Echoing Paltrow, Kate Winslet was quoted at a Q&A saying: “This was so fantastic. I loved it. You should be up for everything, you should be winning everything. I think this is the greatest female performance on-screen I have ever seen in my life. And I love you, and congratulations.” It even got to the point that fellow nominee Cate Blanchett acknowledged Riseborough when she won the best actress award for Tár at the Critics Choice Awards.
The Vulture timeline notes it was around this time things started getting suspicious. A Redditor collected several tweets from actors related to the film and noticed they all referred to it as “a small film with a giant heart.” Talks of conspiracy are floated, but ultimately people are simply having fun with the film’s late awards takeoff. The phrase and film soon go viral on Twitter and talks of a possible nomination become serious for award prognosticators like Little Gold Men and The Big Picture.
Well, It Seemed to All Work Out!
When it was time for presenters Allison Williams and Riz Ahmed to announce the nominees for best actress, Andrea Riseborough was the third name to be revealed. To Leslie went from being a modest movie with strong reception to being a weird phenomenon among people in the industry and now will get a moment to shine on “Hollywood’s Biggest Night.” As strange, and conspiratorial as it seemed, it turns out that asking the right people to talk about the movie you made is all you need if you have the goods to back it up.
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