The moment Andrea Riseborough realised her life would never be the same, she had Madonna kneeling at one knee and Patti Smith at the other. “There were using my legs as a table. I felt so out of place: it was unreal,” she tells me over Zoom from her sofa in Los Angeles.
This was at the Venice premiere for W.E., the 2011 film, directed by Madonna, in which Riseborough played Wallis Simpson. “Madonna kept looking at me, and said to Patti, ‘She’s never usually this quiet.’ I was just frozen. Also, I was serving my purpose as a table, albeit a well-dressed one.”
Madonna is right – as a rule, the British actress is a hilarious, beguiling raconteur. Describing the next occasion on which she met Smith, a night at the New York gallery MoMa that cemented their friendship, she says, “I was wearing something that was deeply uncomfortable and felt totally self-conscious. You feel you’re on show, so you’d better not misbehave.”
After the event, walking to her car, she heard a voice saying, “Hey, I’m a really big fan,” from under an umbrella. “It was Patti. I felt I was going to pee myself. She came to the after-party and we talked all night, particularly about one of my favourite pieces of her writing, a short play she wrote with Sam Shepard, called Cowboy Mouth. I’ve always thought if there was a chance I could do something with that material, wouldn’t it be wonderful. We became friends. I don’t see her often but, to be honest, I don’t see anyone very often.”
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