How the pussy­cat got her claws

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Cover Story -

As she stars in ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’, Si­enna Miller tells Chris Har­vey why she feels ex­posed, ex­ploited – and an­gry

Si­enna Miller is about to do bat­tle with El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor. She’s star­ring in a West End pro­duc­tion of Ten­nessee Wil­liams’s Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, as Mag­gie, the de­sir­able wife of a man who says he can­not stand her. Mag­gie has a voice that can sound like “a soft ca­ress” and such an ag­gres­sive sex­ual need for her hus­band that if she thought he would never make love to her again, she would “pick out the long­est and sharpest knife I could find and stick it straight into my heart”.

She has been played on stage by Lind­say Dun­can, Kath­leen Turner and Scar­lett Jo­hans­son, but is ir­re­vo­ca­bly as­so­ci­ated with the prickly heat of Tay­lor’s per­for­mance in the 1958 film. Mag­gie the Cat is a role with claws.

“I don’t feel I can be catty,” says Miller, “but I un­der­stand her cat­ti­ness, I do. I have to, I have to love her. And I’ve felt long­ing and the depth of her pas­sion, I can to­tally re­late to that.”

We’re in the cos­tume de­sign­ers’ room at a re­hearsal stu­dio in south London. It’s win­dow­less, the one large mir­ror is cracked, and a black silk slip is hang­ing on a rail. Miller is grab­bing the odd mouth­ful of salad be­tween an­swers in her short lunch break. She’s wear­ing jeans and a blue-and-white Fifties-style top, a thin choker with a sin­gle di­a­mond on it. She’s calm and self-as­sured on the sur­face, but her hands tell a dif­fer­ent story – they’re per­form­ing a twist­ing, pulling, con­tor­tion­ist’s dance.

Star­ring op­po­site her in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof is Jack O’Con­nell (as Mag­gie’s hus­band, Brick), whom she knew be­fore only from his films, in which he “felt like a Brando” to her in the raw­ness and hon­esty of his act­ing. “I think he’s go­ing to blow peo­ple away,” she says.

The hid­den com­po­nent of Brick and Mag­gie’s re­la­tion­ship is the for­mer’s love that dare not speak its name for a friend, Skip­per, who has re­cently com­mit­ted sui­cide. Does this el­e­ment of the play chime with Miller, I won­der, since she works in an in­dus­try where con­ceal­ing your sex­u­al­ity is com­mon. “Yeah, it’s hard to imag­ine,” she says. “It makes me sad that peo­ple don’t feel like they’re able to be them­selves.”

Later that day, she goes on The Gra­ham Nor­ton Show to plug the pro­duc­tion and prom­ises there will be nu­dity, to which Nor­ton re­sponds, “Woohoo, tick­ets be­gin sell­ing!” This highly vis­i­ble pro­mo­tional role is some­thing Miller refers to when I ask her if she has ever ex­pe­ri­enced the pay gap be­tween men and women in the movies: “Yes… to a de­gree where it’s stag­ger­ing.”

She says that it’s “part of what you ac­cept and tol­er­ate as a wo­man be­cause you have deep-rooted in­fe­ri­or­ity”. She adds: “At the time, I felt grate­ful, even know­ing what [my] co-star was get­ting, but ac­tu­ally you’re so leaned on as a wo­man to pro­mote a film by do­ing magazine cov­ers, by what you wear on red car­pets… they rely on that so heav­ily that you re­ally should be com­pen­sated some­times more than your male co-stars for what you’re asked to do.”

That im­bal­ance is some­thing she’s been think­ing about a lot. In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, first per­formed in 1955, the women are fi­nan­cially de­pen­dent and the men are dom­i­nant; that’s an out-of-date dy­namic, isn’t it? “It’s very alive and very well,” says Miller. “That is one thing that I am strug­gling with in this play – the sex­ism. That still ex­ists; I know re­la­tion­ships where that is the case and fam­i­lies where the male is dom­i­nant and the grand­fa­ther is re­ally dom­i­nant. It’s there – think of Trump.”

Miller is an­gry. Poised, in con­trol, un­fail­ingly ar­tic­u­late, but deep­down an­gry about how women are treated. “I’m 35 years old, and I hon­estly can say that only in the last year I’ve been notic­ing quite how deep-rooted [are] the ef­fects of feel­ing marginalised and dis­re­spected – and tol­er­at­ing that.” She’s wary, too. “I’m only re­ally just un­der­stand­ing the ex­tent of it in my own life and in my own be­hav­iour, and what I have per­mit­ted and al­lowed.” She doesn’t want to an­swer ques­tions about how she bal­ances moth­er­hood with a ca­reer, or talk about her tabloid-splash past (“I was in my twen­ties and was reck­less and hav­ing fun”), or re­spond to new gos­sip, such as that link­ing her with Ben Af­fleck on the film they made to­gether last year, Live By Night (“It’s not true, we’re great friends. There’s al­ways gos­sip [about] ev­ery sin­gle per­son I work with or have been in a room with”). She wants to know if I would have been com­fort­able ask­ing Af­fleck how he felt about all this – “an im­pos­ing 6ft 5in man who’s got a body of work”. It’s not com­fort­able ask­ing, I say.

She looks back with dis­may on how women have been treated by the me­dia. “I re­mem­ber Brit­ney Spears hav­ing a break­down and it was ev­ery­where – ex­ploited, talked about and mocked. And then Owen Wil­son had a tragic mo­ment, where he tried to com­mit sui­cide, and was left alone and re­spected. I couldn’t think of a more glar­ingly ob­vi­ous ex­am­ple of the treat­ment of women and how aw­ful that is.”

It has played out in other ways in her own life. “I re­mem­ber when I first started, go­ing for an au­di­tion and they’d said wear a short skirt and a T-shirt – now I would be furious at even that re­quest – and they made me stand there so they could film my whole body and then turn around and film it from the back and it just felt that it was to­tally ex­ploita­tive.”

Fame ar­rived sud­denly for Miller when, in 2003, she be­gan dat­ing Jude Law, her much-more-fa­mous co-star on the re­make of Al­fie. Does she think that this had a neg­a­tive im­pact on her ca­reer? “I don’t think fall­ing in love had a neg­a­tive im­pact,” she says. “I think be­ing cat­a­pulted into a tabloid world be­fore I’d had a film come out meant that I was some­thing be­fore I was an ac­tress, I was some­body’s girl­friend who wore nice clothes. I imag­ine if I’d had a cou­ple of films out be­fore then, I would have been an ac­tress first.”

She’s def­i­nitely an ac­tress now: ver­sa­tile, ca­pa­ble of mak­ing a lot of a lit­tle in sup­port­ing roles, such as the stay-at-home wives she played in

‘I was asked to au­di­tion in a short skirt. Now I’d be furious about that’

Fo­cused: Miller has proved her­self a ver­sa­tile and fas­ci­nat­ing ac­tor

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