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Sienna Miller on How the Movie Business Is Back and Why She Wants to Direct

Sienna Miller is attending this year’s Toronto Film Festival with the world premiere of “American Woman.” In the drama, directed by Jake Scott, Miller plays a mother whose life is changed when her teenage daughter goes missing.

Miller spoke to Variety about what drew her to the meaty part, why she’d like to direct one day and how the movie business is changing because of Netflix and Time’s Up.

Tell me about finding the script to “American Woman.”
This thing happens very rarely, where I’m reading something and I have just an intuitive understanding of the person. Partly because it was so beautifully laid out and partly because I was so filled with admiration for this character who has a residence and a strength and is still human and pure. I think it is just a very potent representation of what it is to be a woman, and so I fell in love with her.

How did you step into the head of a character whose child has gone missing?
The research for that, for understanding what that experience is like, was really intensive. I spent a lot of time with a woman named Vicki Kelly whose son had been missing. As a parent, I think something happens along with the joy. You gain this devastating imagination. I see my daughter lean over, and then I immediately go to her falling all the way. You have this ability to imagine the worst. The idea of losing a child was kind of available because it’s every parent’s worst nightmare. In terms of finding her specific voice, she’s below the Mason-Dixon line. It was a totally new accent that I wanted to understand.

Is it harder to finance and market independent movies now?
I did feel for a long time that it felt to me like cinema was kind of disappearing. But then I look at the fact that Netflix has just made “Roma.” I feel like movies that are getting made by this online network are movies that would never get funding. And this year, “A Star Is Born” to me is a ’70s movie and I imagine it will do pretty well. I feel like cinema is kind of back. Hopefully, that will come with an influx of people wanting to see them. I think there is always hunger for real drama and smaller movies, but it’s just about the platform of their release. I was actually despondent, but I actually feel really encouraged.

Are you OK with a distributor like Netflix buying your movie?
I’m someone that goes to the cinema and everything about that experience is something I cherish. I think I’ve been resisting the inevitable. I think what’s great is that they’ve produced movies that wouldn’t get produced. I was watching the Spielberg documentary, and how movies used to get released and they would sit in a theater for weeks upon weeks and they would gain traction from word of mouth and they could be incredibly successful over a period of time. That is so difficult now with the way a movie has to open in order to sustain itself. I suppose that’s a symptom of the Internet and our need for everything immediately.

But box-office receipts are up this year. Would you ever do a Marvel movie?
Yes. I think it’s sort of essential to have that kind of visibility and that box office. I’ve been very much drawn to independent cinema my whole life and have resisted bigger films for artistic reasons or I’ve been doing plays, but I do see the benefits in being in something that people really want to see and that is guaranteed to make money.

Because it will help you finance more independent movies?
Exactly. Although “American Sniper” was at the time the most successful R-rated movie. I thought I got some numbers from that, but I don’t know that I did. I know that I can get small movies like this made, and that’s great because I love this. It would be un-business savvy to say I would never do a Marvel movie.

Who would you play?
I was just not a comic book girl. Catwoman? I think that’s not going to happen. Someone’s doing that. Who would be a good one? Maybe Spider-Woman. I’ll be a whole new take.

Do you think that scripts have changed in independent movies so that roles for women have gotten better? Or are they getting worse?
I think as the cultural shift in terms of gender equality, I think the content is incredibly female-driven, which is something I never really experienced before. I think, psychologically, to a lot of people, it’s given them confidence that they never had before. I certainly feel that in myself. I’m sure I can credit that to this movement. I think that people are very conscious of just casting somebody as the wife.

And you think this change is attributed to Time’s Up?
Yes, undeniably. And you’ve seen in diversity in casting, there’s a massive wave of change and various things are being brought to light that have really been kept in shadows. Through this Time’s Up movement, which I’ve been involved in, I think women felt very kind of isolated and I’ve had experiences where I was badly treated or underpaid and I sort of suffered it as a private humiliation and it’s not something that I would have expressed. But I know now if anything happened, there’s an army of high-profile women behind me who would gather around and voice their opinions about it. So it’s definitely changed, because we’re more united on these issues in this industry than we ever were before.

Would you like to direct?
One day, I would. I don’t think I’m there yet. It’s such an enormous commitment. I think I’m going to start producing. I’m basically optioning books at the moment. I have set up a company and I’m reading things, and it feels like now is the time. I think I have a really strong understanding of the sensibility that I like, how to get a film made and what stories I want to tell.

VARIETY PORTRAIT STUDIO AT TIFF

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