By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Sienna Miller’s life has changed dramatically in the past year. The gorgeous blond got engaged to longtime beau Tom Sturridge and moved to New York. But the biggest life change for the 31-year-old is becoming a first-time mom.
She gave birth to Marlowe, her bouncing bundle of joy last July and she is still over the moon. Though motherhood has its challenges—late night feedings, changing diapers and spit ups—Miller says she wouldn’t have it any other way. She now has adjusted her career to revolve around her family.
With her fiancé performing nightly on the hit Broadway drama “Orphans” alongside Alec Baldwin and Ben Foster, Miller is dutifully staying home watching the baby.
Of course, the U.K.-raised actress still has movies to promote. In particular, the female empowerment drama “Just Like a Woman,” which she shot two years ago and is just arriving in theaters now.
In it, she plays Marilyn, a Chicagoan, who loses her job and catches her husband bedding another woman on the same day. At her wit’s end, she takes off in her convertible bound for Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she plans to compete in a belly dancing competition. On the way she runs into the Middle Eastern clerk from her neighborhood market, who also has run away from a troubled home. With Marilyn’s stockpile of belly dancing costumes, the two women earn some much-needed cash dancing in restaurants, clubs and dive bars en route to their destination. In the process these mere acquaintances from different cultures become close friends. Along their journey, they cope with racism, sexism and other hurdles.
Miller telephones in the early afternoon to talk about the inspiring female-driven drama that some are comparing to “Thelma & Louise,” with a belly dancing twist. French-Algerian director Rachid Bouchareb apparently was inspired by that 1991 classic and co-wrote the story with Joelle Touma and Marion Doussot.
Q: You’re life has changed a lot in the past year. You’re a mom now. Congratulations! Has motherhood been everything you expected it to be? Have there been surprises?
Miller: The exhaustion is the surprise. The relentless breastfeeding and lack of sleep is tiring but the reward I think the reward is so enormous. For me, I’ve never felt more kind of complete or grounded than I do having become a mother. It’s a huge loss of ego. I love it. It’s an immense relief to have someone who will always be ultimately more important than yourself existing in the world. She’s my everything.
Q: Have you and Tom worked out who’s going to take care of the baby when you are both working?
Miller: We’ll take turns working. At the moment, Tom’s been doing a play on Broadway so we’re all in New York living here. Then it’s my turn after that. We’ll try to keep together as a family as much as possible. But Marlowe will always be where I am.
Q: When they’re little, they’re very portable, right?
Miller: Yeah. We’re going to try to get our careers to a place where in four years when she’s in school and has the summer holidays, we’ll work that out. But now that she’s little we have to put the work in now to get there, obviously.
Q: About the movie, props to you for your fine belly dancing.
Miller: Thanks. It was hard work.
Q: Had you belly danced before?
Miller: No, I’d never done it. I’d never even thought about doing it. I’m not particularly good at dancing at all so I was nervous. It was fun, though. I trained three times a week for about 10 weeks. The director’s wife is a professional belly dancer so she was our teacher, which was great. It was a huge kind of achievement to learn a new skill. That’s one of the best thing about my job is that I get to do these crash courses in interesting bizarre things.
Q: The dance teacher tells your character at one point not to use your brain, just go with your emotion. Was that what you did in real life?
Miller: I think, yeah, absolutely, because I can be kind of shy. (She chuckles.) The idea of standing up in front of people and dancing is mortifying for me. To shut your brain off and feel it was the only way I could get through the dancing in front of all those people.
Q: Did it help that your co-star Golshifteh Farahani was on stage with you in front of all those extras in the bar scene?
Miller: Absolutely, yeah.
Q: When did you film this movie and how much time did you spend in Chicago and New Mexico?
Miller: We filmed this almost two years ago. We started in Chicago for two weeks and then a crew of about seven of us, me and Golshifteh, drove across America and shot along the way. It was like guerilla filmmaking in a way. We had the car that we drive in. It was always two people driving and then we had a production van. If Rachid saw a location he liked, then we’d pull over. I’d get into the hero car and start driving it. The DP would lean out the window (of the production van) on the freeway in God-knows-where and film us out the window. It was insane. We were stealing locations. It was kind of a motley crew of filmmakers. No hair and makeup or anything. We drove across America in about seven days. Then we were in Santa Fe (New Mexico) for about two weeks.
Q: Had you ever taken a road trip before?
Miller: I drove from Hungary back to England once. That’s about the closest I’ve gotten to taking a road trip. We were camping along the way. We’d gone for some lunar eclipse festival in Hungary. But other than I haven’t. I’d always wanted to do a road trip across America. So I’m really glad I had an opportunity to do it. It’s something I definitely would want to do again.
Q: New Mexico is known as a mystical, spiritual kind of place. Did you get that vibe when you were there?
Miller: It’s pretty amazing staying up near waterfalls in the mountains. We were on Indian reserves so it was pretty magical, for sure. I definitely got that sense.
Q: Did you meet with Native Americans?
Miller: We did. There were some Native Americans who Rachid cast in the film. The guy who plays the warden of the reserve is actually a warden at the reserve. There’s the lunch scene with the man who’s speaking in the native dialect. So we met with a lot of people who were working around the reserve and protecting the reserve and yes, there was a very spiritual element to some of those scenes.
Q: Your character, Marilyn, has a one really bad day: she loses her job, she catches her husband cheating and then she takes off. Can you personally relate to having a bad day and how do you cope with adversity?
Miller: It kind of depends on the situation and the circumstance. I think alcohol helps. Just kidding! Just reach for the bottle. I’m joking! No, I think you rely on your friends, and that’s what this film is about. In times of adversity, I’ve really have leant on my girlfriends. Women can be an incredible support and I think as a woman, that’s where I turn to—my family and my friends in those moments. Marilyn turns to dancing and friendship, so that works for her too.
Q: You’re not really a dancer…
Miller: I’m enthusiastic but I’m not particularly coordinated.
Q: People are comparing this to “Thelma & Louise.” Do you like films that are female empowerment films?
Miller: Yes. They’re really few and far between. I’m thrilled to be in a film about women and of course, there are going to be comparisons to “Thelma & Louise,” because Rachid was very inspired by that film. To have a film about two women is rare but I’m all for it. I think people should be making more films about women.
Q: Did you and Golshifteh bond?
Miller: We did. We literally were gallivanting around the country so we became very close, as you would imagine being on the road in that way.
Q: Congratulations on your performance in the Hitchcock movie “The Girl.” You were great as Tippi Hedren.
Miller: Aw, thank you.
Q: What’s next for you?
Miller: I’ve got a film coming out at the end of the year called “Foxcatcher,” which Bennett Miller (“Moneyball”) directed. He’s fantastic. I got that job when my daughter was 12 weeks old so we moved to Pittsburgh where the film was shot. I had vowed not to work. So it was intense but a relatively easy schedule for me. I kind of wanted to spend the first year of my baby’s life with her, which I’ve managed to do. She’s 10 months (old) now. “Foxcatcher’s” coming out at the end of the year so there will be a lot of press for that. Next year I’m going to be doing a Western with Billy Bob Thornton, which sounds really fun. Hopefully, something in between, but we’ll see.
Q: “Just Like a Woman” probably prepped you to do a Western, with all the dust and dryness of New Mexico?
Miller: (She laughs.) Yeah.