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How Andrea Riseborough earned a surprise 2023 Oscar nomination for ‘To Leslie’

A woman in a sparkling dress poses in front of a large letter A
“To Leslie” star Andrea Riseborough was nominated Tuesday for a lead actress Academy Award.
(Vianney Le Caer / Invision via Associated Press)
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Andrea Riseborough, star of “To Leslie,” was among the breakout contenders in Tuesday’s batch of 95th Academy Award nominees. But for those who’ve been watching celebrity social media accounts, her nod isn’t that surprising.

The English actor, who also starred in last year’s star-studded “Amsterdam” and previously in “Mandy,” “Birdman,” “W.E.” and “Nocturnal Animals,” was nominated Tuesday alongside Cate Blanchett (“Tár”), Ana de Armas (“Blonde”), Michelle Williams (“The Fabelmans”) and Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”).

Riseborough, 41, takes a searing turn as the titular addict who is trying to break free from her demons in Michael Morris’ debut film. She wins the lottery, then burns through the money. “To Leslie” begins seven years after that less-than-fortunate win, when she gets evicted from the motel she’s been living in.

The indie film has flown under the radar since premiering in March at the South by Southwest Film Festival and grossed only $27,000 in its brief theatrical run. The Momentum Pictures film is available to rent or buy on most video-on-demand platforms, including Prime Video, Vudu and Apple TV.

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Here are the nominees for the 2023 Academy Awards in all categories, announced live Tuesday from the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills.

The awards campaign for the underdog film was a bittersweet, grassroots affair and lasted only a few weeks. But a star-studded social media campaign pulled in enough big names — Susan Sarandon, Zooey Deschanel, Melanie Lynskey, Alan Cumming, Rosie O'Donnell, even Howard Stern — who bolstered Riseborough.

And it was successful enough to push her to the top of enough Oscar voters’ ballots, launching the film and its star from obscurity to the biggest film stage in the world.

Actors who vote rank their fellow actors, and Riseborough must have received a lot of first-place votes to make it into the lead actress category on Tuesday. (She also earned a Film Independent Spirit Award nod in November for the role and a handful of other nods, but was snubbed when the Screen Actors Guild Awards were announced earlier this month.)

But the star had enough A-listers with clout in her corner. Oscar winner Gwyneth Paltrow shared on Instagram earlier this month that she caught a screening of “To Leslie,” calling the film “a masterpiece” and saying that Riseborough “should win every award there is and all the ones that haven’t been invented yet.”

Likewise, Edward Norton went off brand by posting about a film he loved on social media, tweeting, “[F]or those interested in really great acting I’ll share that Andrea Riseborough’s portrayal in ‘To Leslie’ just knocked me sideways. It’s about the most fully committed, emotionally deep, physically harrowing performance I’ve seen in a while. Just raw & utterly devoid of performative BS.”

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More stars chimed in after that, including Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Demi Moore, Jamie Lee Curtis and Bradley Whitford, according to a handy tracker kept by the @FilmUpdates Twitter account. And “Tár” star Blanchett gave Riseborough a shout-out during her fiery Critics Choice Awards acceptance speech that took aim at the “patriarchal pyramid.”

And four hours before nominations voting closed on Tuesday, six-time Oscar nominee Amy Adams led a virtual conversation with Riseborough to support the latter’s role in the film. According to The Times’ Glenn Whipp, the word “amazing” was used at least a dozen times — and not without justification.

“Adams’ support followed a similar event moderated by Kate Winslet, who gushed: ‘You should be up for everything. You should be winning everything. Andrea Riseborough, I think this is the greatest female performance on screen I have ever seen in my life,’” Whipp reported.

As word of Riseborough’s nomination spread, the reaction to it — and the backlash — was swift, with some Twitter users criticizing the social media campaign launched to boost the actor and others sharing their usual snark and disillusionment about the recognition.

Many were upset that Riseborough’s nod seemed to bump Black performers such as Viola Davis (“The Woman King”) and Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”) out of the running.

Here’s a sample of the reactions:

Times staff writer Glenn Whipp contributed to this report.


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