Before she made the leap to film, American-born British actress Sienna Miller was a successful model and sometime stage thespian. Once she found her footing on the big screen, however, she went on to play roles opposite established and up-and-coming actors such as Daniel Craig, Jude Law, Heath Ledger, James Franco, and Steve Buscemi. While her career has remained decidedly within the realm of smaller, independent cinema, she makes an explosive debut this weekend as the formidable Baroness in Stephen Sommers’ blockbuster Summer actioner, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Speaking to RT from New York where she was wrapping up two weeks of press for the film, Miller briefly gave us her Five Favorite Films and went on to talk about the progression of her career, the differences between acting in theater and on film, and what it was like doing a huge action film after so many arthouse roles.
All About Eve. Bette Davis is just extraordinary in that film. I can’t really give more insight; it’s just an incredible movie and, I think, incredibly evolved for its time. I think with any good performance, it’s inspirational in some way. I just think it’s an amazing movie. You know, it’s hard for movies to last, and there’s something really timeless about that story and the performances. There’s something really modern about — and really antiquated as well — but it’s just, I think, a really powerful film and performance.
I should do something that’s a little more contemporary, maybe. Some Like It Hot. Marilyn Monroe in that film was one of my first memories of film. That’s why I love it. I remember watching it when I was really young and singing along.
Well, those are really artistic choices, but I also love modern films. I love Chaplin films, and I love French films… But off the top of my head, those are the five. It’s quite a pretentious list in hindsight. [laughs] I mean, they’re not my favorites; I could go on for ten hours. That was just off the top of my head. But I’ve never been good with favorites.
Next, Miller talks about her theater experiences and what it was like working on a big budget action film for a change.
RT: You seem to be somewhat of a cinephile. Is it something you were interested in from a young age?
Sienna Miller: Yeah, definitely. I think as… God, everything sound pretentious! I’m sorry, I was about to go on about the “medium of film.” Oh God, I can’t stand the sound of my own voice, sorry. [laughs] Two and a half weeks of junkets — I’m so sick of myself! But I mean, yeah, obviously, it has been. That’s why I chose to do what I do. I love film.
And did you have in mind that you wanted to be an actor from that early age as well?
SM: I did. I don’t really remember why, but I always knew that was what I wanted to do. I did a lot of theater in school, and directed plays in school. I think, coming from England, it’s so much a part of our culture, so my first passion was probably theater. Just seeing adults whose job it was to play professionally really appealed to me. And I know I’ve kind of hopped between genres — well, I’ve predominantly done more arthouse independent films, but I’m doing a play on Broadway this fall, and that’s really exciting.
How do you enjoy stage work compared with film work?
SM: I think it’s pretty hard to compare the two because they’re so different. I love the collaborative nature of both. I love the idea that you’re there to create something artistic. But there’s something about doing live theater, with the adrenaline that comes with it, that is really second to none. But I don’t think that film is any easier in any way. I know that sometimes people perceive it to be an easier medium, but I don’t feel that way. I think you can work harder on a film than on a play; it’s just a very different thing.
Speaking of stage vs. film, for example when you worked with Steve Buscemi on Interview, that seemed very much like a piece that could have been performed as a play as well.
SM: Yeah, we actually talked about that when we were doing it. It would make an amazing play, and I’d love to do it. It was such a great script, and such a cool idea. And he’s a genius, obviously. And the way that we shot it, we shot the whole movie in nine nights, and it was thirty pages of dialogue a night. Eight-minute takes, and no blocking, because we had three handheld cameras. There were no marks or anything like that. So in many respects it felt like doing a play. But it would really translate well to the stage. I should talk to him about that. I’d love to do it.
As you mentioned earlier, you’ve mostly focused on smaller, independent arthouse films, and now you’re in G.I. Joe, and it’s this big budget, expansive, epic film. How does that experience compare with your previous roles?
SM: It was completely different, obviously. In scale and energy. It was initially really intimidating and overwhelming, just from being with a crew of 150 to a crew of a thousand, where every day you see somebody new. You know, it’s not as intimate in any way, and it’s also not as indulgent, when it comes to your own performance. It’s often more about what’s going on around you than what you’re actually doing, which is great. I kind of wanted just to see what it was like, and to do something completely different and get in shape for the first time in my life, and learn how to fight. I wanted to do something that was purely entertainment and not emotionally indulgent in any way. It seems like these are the movies that people want to see, that a lot of people want to see. Yeah, I just thought it would be something different. My nephew was begging me to do it so… [laughs] It’s very hard to say no to a beautiful five-year-old boy.
But it was fun! It was just pure fun in every way, as you would expect. Physcially kind of quite tiring at times, sprinting uphill for eight hours and stuff like that. But no, it’s not brain surgery, we’re not, you know… It was really funny, and Stephen’s [Sommers] got this natural manic ebullience that infects everyone around him, and we laughed a lot. You know, cool costumes, firing guns… It was just really fun. And we all loved each other, which helps.
It’s interesting that you wanted to do something more emotionally detached, and yet your character in G.I. Joe is probably one of the more complex ones, if that can be said, in the movie.
SM: That’s simply my own habit. I drag it with me from past experience. [laughs] Well no, I mean, she’s definitely got some kind of emotional conflict going on, but it wasn’t something that I… You know, I didn’t spend months researching, or being at all “method” about it, because that didn’t really fit the piece. And yeah, she’s definitely a character, and that was fun. But I think in anything that I did, I would want to have some kind of emotional layer. Even though people are more interested in explosions, probably, than that. [laughs] The audience for G.I. Joe isn’t really going to pay too much attention to that.
Were you familiar at all with the G.I. Joe franchise?
SM: I was really ignorant. Well, in England, first of all, it was called Action Man, and I actually thought G.I. Joe was a G.I. called Joe. [laughs] I probably shouldn’t admit that, but no. Obviously, subsequent to reading the script and accepting the role, I researched it further. And I hope we haven’t alienated any of the original fans. I’ve had a lot of grown men coming up to me and going, “This is my childhood, man, don’t mess with it.” And I’ve sort of said, “I’m making a film, not messing with childhoods.” It obviously means a lot if the fans respond well. But you know, I was a girl, I still am. I was more into Barbies and My Little Pony than G.I. Joe.
My Little Ponies. I remember my sister had a few of those…
SM: You lie. You had them.
I did not have them. Well, maybe the one with the extended tail that you could brush.
SM: [laughs] That sounds really wrong. Extended tail…
So since you’ve done this big budget action film, and you’ve done the indie circuit as well, working across several genres, do you have a favorite?
SM:: That’s hard. It really depends on the role. I think, as an actress, I really like pushing myself emotionally. I love that challenge of kind of inhabiting a role. I suppose independent arthouse films maybe call for that more, but that’s probably because I haven’t done big mainstream films that required it. I haven’t had that opportunity, but I’m sure that would be great. Ultimately, you know, I love my job, and I love being able to do different things, and I think that’s a really lucky position to be in. So I don’t know whether I could pick a favorite. I think what I like is hopping between different things. Like going and doing a play after GI Joe, you know what I mean? I think I’d get bored if I was just doing one. It all feels the same; I don’t change my style of acting, necessarily. Depending on what I’m doing, it’s all kind of getting together to create something that I like, the collaborative nature of it.
If G.I. Joe does well, then I’ll do the second, so I feel like I have my action niche probably covered. And I’d like to probably do something more arthouse. But it totally depends on what happens after the play, you know. Maybe we transfer that to London, depending on its success. You know, I’m pretty spontaneous. I think I probably want to do something maybe smaller, but if I got some great offer, then I don’t know. It depends.