Andrea Riseborough

Andrea Riseborough likes her characters steeped in history. It’s no surprise, then, that the résumé of the 29-year-old actress—who grew up in Northern England and graduated from London’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art—reads like a syllabus for a 20th-century British history course. Her breakthrough role was as the young Iron Lady in the TV biopic Margaret Thatcher: The Long Walk to Finchley (2008); she played a ’60s women’s liberationist in last year’s Made in Dagenham; and she scored the lead in the forthcoming W.E., the story of twice-divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson and her relationship with King Edward VIII, who famously abdicated the throne so that they could marry. Simpson has long been a controversial figure for Britons—accused of everything from social ambition to sympathizing with the Nazis to being a hermaphrodite—all of which alone would have been enough to subject the film to intense scrutiny, had it not been directed by another complicated American who has left an indelible mark on the English psyche, Madonna. But Riseborough’s experience on the film lent her new insight into the obscuring nature of persona. “When you’re playing a romantic version of a real person, you’re playing a version of the truth,” she offers. Riseborough, who also stars in Rowan Joffe’s new adaptation of Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock and in the upcoming World War II drama Resistance, has always had a curiosity about backstory. “When I was little, I would always try and look into the television screen along the sides,” she says. “I kept thinking if you looked in there, you could see what was happening off camera.”

Photo: Andrea Riseborough in London, December 2010. Top and Pants: Roksanda Ilincic. Shoes: Stella McCartney. Cosmetics: Givenchy, including Magic Kajal Eye Pencil. Styling: Karen Clarkson/Punishment, Ltd. Hair: Christian Wood. Makeup: Karina Constantine/Streeters. Special Thanks: SnapUK.