British actress Andrea Riseborough is such a chameleon, it’s not a surprise to hear her say she’s never used her own accent in any of her roles. “I have a strong northern accent, I’m from a country where we make a lot of films about posh British people,” she notes. “I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be respected or everything would go away if people knew who I truly was, someone from a working class place in Britain.”
Those who see Riseborough in Season 2 of “Bloodline,” now streaming on Netflix, might not even recognize the actress who has donned various accents and hair colors in such films as “Birdman,” “Oblivion” and “Made in Dagenham.” She plays Evangeline, the mother of Nolan (Owen Teague), the son sired by the now-deceased Danny Rayburn (Ben Mendelsohn). Created by Todd A. Kessler, Daniel Zelman and Glenn Kessler (referred to collectively as “KZK”), Evangline was brought on the Florida Keys drama to further disrupt the already complicated lives of the remaining Rayburns.
Riseborough, who’ll soon start shooting Armando Iannucci’s “The Death of Stalin” and just wrapped “Battle of the Sexes” with Emma Stone and Steve Carell, spoke to Variety about the complicated character. Beware, mild spoilers lie ahead.
How did KZK approach you about joining “Bloodline”?
I talked to Glenn about it first, and we Skyped. It’s such a strange, wonderful process. It’s a bit like doing a Mike Leigh film, which is where I started in movies. They sort of write the characters dependent on the qualities the actors have. We had a chat and it became a really interesting conversation about what might have happened in my own life if I had gone down a different path.
What did you know about the role?
KZK told me she was the “antagonist,” but I find she’s very soft, actually very empathic, and very much a broken child or a dog you find at a rescue. She’s so desperate to be loved and terrified of being abandoned but they’re flighty and they’ll bite you. I felt very vulnerable playing her. I was hesitant about playing a mother. I’ve played a mother before but it’s always been a very young child, which is closer to what I can imagine my own life looking like. The fact he was going to be 16, 17, 18. … I just didn’t know if I was equipped, not having been through it myself. What came about at the end of that conversation was what if she’s really young and this happened to her when she was really young and she’s absolutely unequipped for motherhood? That I felt I could really get my head around.
Had you watched Season 1?
This may sound a little obscure but it’s the way I work, and that’s partly because I started out with Mike in film. I watched episodes 1-3 and then I had to start another film and flew straight off. KZK got in touch and I thought this could be completely perfect because I don’t actually know what happened. It’s not as easy to do that in a conventional narrative film. But the way we worked with Mike — in the beginning, you often don’t know where you’re shooting the next day. I worked on “Happy-Go-Lucky” for seven-and-a-half months and I’m in it for two minutes; largely because Sally Hawkins turned left instead of right. And it’s kind of wonderful in that way. So I got to selectively watch the series and see the parts I would and wouldn’t know. Early on I said to Mike, “I don’t need to know that?” And he said, “No, Andrea, you need not to know that. What is the point of learning something and then trying to forget?”
Have you caught up on the show now?
No! We sat down for the premiere the other night in Westwood and they did a recap of season one! I put my hands over my eyes and fingers in my ears. I still don’t want to know!
Once again, you are unrecognizable in a role; where did Evangeline’s look come from? Did you work outside-in?
Someone who’s a great hero of mine and has become a friend is Patti Smith. She has this incredible voice which is so soulful, and I thought of Patti a lot when I was speaking, that’s kind of where that all started. The relationship between Danny and Eve reminded me so much of the play Patti and Sam Shepard wrote called “Cowboy Mouth.” And it just so happened that Sam had been in “Bloodline.” So I kept talking about it all the time. Also, it’s interesting she plays music. When I was talking to KZK about the role over Skype, they saw a ukulele behind me in the hotel room and asked if I played. The musical element of Evangeline sort of developed and we liked the idea that it’s gotten so quiet in the Rayburn house and Evangline and Nolan bring the music back.
In terms of the look, my big thing was always can she afford this? Is it too nice? I always wanted to look like she had just gotten it from a charity shop. I want to feel used things on my body when I’m playing her.
Evangline has been very good at manipulating people, from getting her own son and his grandmother Sally (played by Sissy Spacek) to take her in. Where does that skill come from?
I think there’s something intrinsically charming about Evangeline, as wild and wayward as she is. When around her, people want to protect her. You see it with Sissy’s character; there’s something about Sally where you feel she’s looking at her young self. And Evangeline deeply aspires to belong. It’s bananas the way the season starts and at the end they’re living together like the Waltons. How has she swung this? But really she’s just kind of been herself.
It’s a very specific skill for a person to have, making people want to protect them.
As an actor with a vagina, so often it’s almost like we get groomed like Arabian mares to inspire protection from men. The way we look, the slightness of film and television actors, that sort of frailty. I think about it often. As tiny as Evangline is, she does occupy space. She has a big spirit. She’s like the Death Star that sucks you in in “Star Wars.”
There are some questions left about just how manipulative Evangline is; we don’t know, for example, if she stole a purse or exactly what she knows about Nolan’s grandfather’s will. Can you speak to that?
I don’t whether I can impart that information! If I tell you I may be ruining a whole set-up for next season. What I can say is that I ask these questions of KZK because sometimes you’re looking at a jigsaw with half of its pieces and trying to make a decision. We go to (producers) with those questions and have a good talk about it. As an actor, you want to know if you’re keeping a secret or telling the truth.
Would you be up for coming back for Season 3?
Yes! I had a brilliant experience. I’m contractually signed in for another season, that was a decision I made before I even said yes.