'W.E.' Stars Andrea Riseborough, James D'Arcy On Romance And Working For Madonna
"We would have been naive to imagine we knew her, none of us do," is how British actress Andrea Riseborough describes the experience of starring as Wallis Simpson, and helping bring Madonna’s latest creative project to life on screen in W.E.
Riseborough is in the unlikely position of an actress, that of being far recognisable than the woman behind the camera. Was she intimidated?
"I remember the first time we came in to see her, we had to just leave the fear at the door, there's no room for it, and she was so passionate about the project and that was so infectious that really that's what we were thinking about. It was immediate."
W.E. tells the story of King Edward VIII's great passion for the American divorcee, which brought about his abdication from the British throne in 1936. James D'Arcy, who plays Edward, agrees that preconceptions can be misleading:
"Almost everybody in the public eye is distilled into three or four sentences, so the film is dealing with that, and our director is probably the greatest female exponent of that. As soon as you meet her, she's three-dimensional, she looks like a human being, talks like a human being, and stops being someone you remember from videos, she becomes a real person immediately."
Riseborough points out the juxtaposition between this and the point of the film they were making:
"It was all about getting behind the public perception, and I was being directed by somebody who absolutely had the experience and knowledge, and would know something of what it might feel like emotionally, so it was the best possible support network."
W.E. has had mixed reviews since Madonna debuted it at the Venice Film Festival last year, and the director has admitted she is nervous about presenting it to British audiences. But one thing the film certainly does well is ask the question of where romance, as we all experience it in the world of celebrity and royal-gazing, fits into the context of a full, purposeful life - what could Edward and Wallis actually do with themselves once they'd forsaken so much to be together?
Riseborough agrees: "I found it truly interesting to explore Wallis's life as seen through the eyes of an unhappy future character who seeks to live her life out like Wallis, with all that romance, and discovers it might not be all it's cracked up to be."
D'Arcy nods: "I think that in terms of what the media tells us to believe, there's always this happier-ever-after scenario, and of course, none of our lives can live up to that.
"Life is more complicated, and I admire that the film doesn't shy away from the reality of their existence after they married, it was complicated for them and it was incredibly sad - they were stuck together, they couldn't part.
"Yet when you see them interviewed in later life, there was a bond between them you struggle to see in many couples married for a long time, they really were well suited to each other, their body language when they were being interviewed, they mirrored each other..."
Final question for these two informed students of the royal romance is, who made the bigger sacrifice ultimately, Wallis or Edward?
Riseborough answers passionately in defence of both: "It was seen as a weakness that he gave up the kingdom, but I think that was such a strength. But she sacrificed her personal good character."
D'Arcy is more circumspect: "His sacrifice was the bigger headline, but the film works past the headlines of what you think you know, and deals in broader brushstrokes - what is love?
"It does, hopefully, leave you remembering that love affair when all you could see was this other person and the rest of the world fell away, and there's certainly someone you would have given up the throne for."
W.E. is in UK cinemas today. See pictures here: