Sienna Miller on being a woman in Hollywood and standing up for herself

Sienna Miller wears pullover Sacai, shorts Alaïa, earrings Eéra and bracelet Suzanne Kalan. Photographed by Juliette Cassidy for PORTER, NET-A-PORTER.COM. All items can be purchased straight from the magazine pages via net-a-porter.com (Credit: Juliette Cassidy/ Porter/ NET-A-PORTER.com)

Sienna Miller talks to PORTER about juggling her career with homeschooling her daughter during lockdown, feeling like an imposter in Hollywood, and fighting for equal pay when she recently revealed how the late actor Chadwick Boseman forfeited part of his salary to cover the fee she had requested to star alongside him in 21 Bridges“It’s about self-respect. An act of generosity like that is validating. And maybe I shouldn’t look for validation from my peers, but I do. For me, it’s about relearning how to stand up for yourself.”

It was a rare case of Miller asking for the sum she deserved: “As the woman, you’re lent on so heavily for promotion in a way that men often aren’t. What you wear on a red carpet; how much press you have to do… They are going to get their money’s worth.” 

For American Sniper, Miller went on the regional publicity tour because her co-star Bradley Cooper was appearing in The Elephant Manon Broadway. But she was “alarmingly underpaid” for that movie and her bonus for doing publicity was “pitiful” given the film became one of the highest-grossing R-rated movies ever: “At the time, of course, I was incredibly grateful. [To be] offered a role in a Clint Eastwood movie. I’d had a baby; I hadn’t worked for a while; it was with Bradley Cooper; it was an amazing story. They knew I would do it for nothing. And I always had done that.”

Miller continues to explain how she learned to stand up for herself: “But thenI had an experience on The Loudest Voice, where there was an issue with the prosthetics.” 

(To play the older Beth Ailes, Miller wore extensive facial prosthetics.) “It was week one. We had shot a scene and then it was just too time consuming to [apply full prosthetics for the next]. Everybody was trying to get me to shoot without it. I was like, I can’t play this part without them. We agreed to this. I was on the phone to my agents. I was shaking and saying, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I’d never been so terrified in my life. [My agents] said, ‘Don’t leave your trailer. Refuse to shoot.’ It was an incredibly empowering move and I got what I wanted. I look back and know that wouldn’t have happened to [my co-star] Russell [Crowe]. That wouldn’t have happened to men. […] Russell loved it. He was like, high five. ‘You stand up for yourself.’”

This is something that Miller is working on, to combat the challenges of being treated differently as a woman: “The more you practice the uncomfortable acts of standing up for yourself, the more confidence and self-worth you cultivate,” she says. “I’m trying to be assertive. That might mean having difficult conversations and advocating for yourself in a way that just doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m trying.”

Sienna Millerwears blazer Jil Sander, tights Saint Laurent, ring Spinelli Kilcollin and shoes Gucci. Photographed by Juliette Cassidy for PORTER, NET-A-PORTER.COM. All items can be purchased straight from the magazine pages via net-a-porter.com (Credit: Juliette Cassidy/ Porter/ NET-A-PORTER.com)

Things are different now. Not only has fair pay become a rallying point for women in Hollywood, but Miller has hired a “demon lawyer” who has educated her about her worth: “I’m pretty hardcore these days. If you have to move location for filming – which men have to do, but more often than not their wives stay home with the kids – when you’re a single mother shooting, I have to bring my child, find a school, find childcare. Who pays for that? Why would I not be more compensated as a result for having to uproot my entire family in order to work? That’s a battle. Her father is amazing, I’m not saying I’m onmy own, but as a working mother, I can’t be away from my kid.”

It brings back memories for Miller of quarantining in upstate New York earlier this year, when schools shut, and the actor took charge of her daughter’s remote learning: “She was too young to be able to manage it on her own. And being an only child, she didn’t have much stimulation from people her own age, so I had to regress and [assume] a seven-year-old mindset. [There was] lots of roughhousing, throwing on beds and playing, which I was very happy to do. But there wasn’t much time for anything else. I had grand ideas of learning a language. I downloaded [languages app] Babbel. I haven’t been on it once.”

Having spent four happy years living in New York, Miller has unexpectedly had to relocate to London: “It’s surreal because I wasn’t ready to move back. I have to remind myself that I’m here because I’m working,” she says.

Now she is committed to staying a year, possibly longer, which has thrown her off balance: “I think I’m more self-conscious in London. I feel like everyone’s seen my pants.” 

Miller’s “aggressive experience with fame”,which included having her phone hacked, for which she successfully sued the News of the World, left her feeling “totally run down”and with her confidence dented.  Now, however, she says: “I can definitely hold my own.” But as an actor in Hollywood, Miller admits: “I feel a bit like an imposter.

The intense scrutiny on Miller’s life now seems to be over: “I don’t feel people are particularly interested in my private life anymore. Certainly, when I was younger that was the focus and it was really aggravating. But I think the world has changed. I’ve been working for long enough. There’s enough to talk about. I don’t feel valued only for what I wear or who I was with. I don’t feel defined by those experiences either. I certainly did when I was 21 or 22. Maybe it’s different in England but I don’t think in America it was as much of a [big deal].”

Miller’s new movie, Wander Darkly, tells the story of a couple (played by Miller and Diego Luna) who are new parents drifting apart. After a traumatic event, they find themselves revisiting past moments from their relationship in the hopes of salvaging it. This new project, though, required her to tap into her previous relationship experiences: “The idea of analyzing a relationship from its inception to its ending and being able to step back in time and look at the moments where you went wrong… I cried every time I read it [the script]. The bit that got me [was when] she is reminiscing about this person she loved, and I think being a woman with a daughter, there are some parallels; it was filled with longing and nostalgia. It broke my heart to see how people go wrong and the mistakes they make.”

The relationship scab-picking that the film dramatizes so well is often painful to watch: “Some people don’t want to look at that and are very good at walking away. I am the opposite. I love to really sit in an experience. To gain some understanding about myself and the other person. How is it that people can be so in love and then strangers? Or hurt each other so deeply without meaning to?” says Miller.

Is Miller mindful of the parallels that people will draw: “No, I never think about things in that way. I probably should. But my experiences with relationships have probably made me intrigued by them on a level that meant this film resonated.”

Sienna Millerwears cardigan Alexander Wang, skirt Saint Laurent and bra Journelle. Photographed by Juliette Cassidy for PORTER, NET-A-PORTER.COM. All items can be purchased straight from the magazine pages via net-a-porter.com (Credit: Juliette Cassidy/ Porter/ NET-A-PORTER.com)

Interview Highlights

Sienna Miller on the late actor Chadwick Boseman who forfeited part of his salary to cover the fee she had requested to star alongside him in 21 Bridges“It’s about self-respect. An act of generosity like that is validating. And maybe I shouldn’t look for validation from my peers, but I do. For me, it’s about relearning how to stand up for yourself.”

Sienna Miller on how the woman is always relied on heavily for film promotions:As the woman, you’re lent on so heavily for promotion in a way that men often aren’t. What you wear on a red carpet; how much press you have to do… They are going to get their money’s worth.” 

Sienna Miller on how she was “alarmingly underpaid” for American Sniper, when she went on the regional publicity tour because her co-star Bradley Cooper was appearing in The Elephant Manon Broadway: “At the time, of course, I was incredibly grateful. [To be] offered a role in a Clint Eastwood movie. I’d had a baby; I hadn’t worked for a while; it was with Bradley Cooper; it was an amazing story. They knew I would do it for nothing. And I always had done that.”

Sienna Miller on how she learned to stand up for herself:But then I had an experience on The Loudest Voice, where there was an issue with the prosthetics.”(To play the older Beth Ailes, Miller wore extensive facial prosthetics.) “It was week one. We had shot a scene and then it was just too time-consuming to [apply full prosthetics for the next]. Everybody was trying to get me to shoot without it. I was like, I can’t play this part without them. We agreed to this. I was on the phone to my agents. I was shaking and saying, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ I’d never been so terrified in my life. [My agents] said, ‘Don’t leave your trailer. Refuse to shoot.’ It was an incredibly empowering move and I got what I wanted. I look back and know that wouldn’t have happened to [my co-star] Russell [Crowe]. That wouldn’t have happened to men.” “Russell loved it,” she says. “He was like, high five. ‘You stand up for yourself.’”

Sienna Miller on working on combating the challenges of being treated differently as a woman: “The more you practice the uncomfortable acts of standing up for yourself, the more confidence and self-worth you cultivate,” she concludes. “I’m trying to be assertive. That might mean having difficult conversations and advocating for yourself in a way that just doesn’t come naturally to me, but I’m trying.”

Sienna Miller on being educated her about her worth: “I’m pretty hardcore these days. […] If you have to move location for filming – which men have to do, but more often than not their wives stay home with the kids – when you’re a single mother shooting, I have to bring my child, find a school, find childcare. Who pays for that? Why would I not be more compensated as a result for having to uproot my entire family in order to work? That’s a battle. Her father is amazing, I’m not saying I’m onmy own, but as a working mother, I can’t be away from my kid.”

Sienna Miller on quarantining in upstate New York earlier this year, when schools shut, and she took charge of her daughter’s remote learning:She was too young to be able to manage it on her own. And being an only child, she didn’t have much stimulation from people her own age, so I had to regress and [assume] a seven-year-old mindset. [There was] lots of roughhousing, throwing on beds and playing, which I was very happy to do. But there wasn’t much time for anything else. I had grand ideas of learning a language. I downloaded [languages app] Babbel. I haven’t been on it once.”

Sienna Miller on unexpectedly having to relocate back to London“It’s surreal because I wasn’t ready to move back. I have to remind myself that I’m here because I’m working.”

Sienna Miller on how she is committed to staying in London for a year, possibly longer, which has thrown her off balance: “I think I’m more self-conscious in London. I feel like everyone’s seen my pants.” 

Sienna Miller on how her “aggressive experience with fame”, which included having her phone hacked, for which she successfully sued the News of the World, left her feeling “totally run down”.

Sienna Miller on holding her own, but still feeling like an outsider in Hollywood“I can definitely hold my own.”  But as an actor in Hollywood, Miller admits: “I feel a bit like an imposter.

Sienna Miller on the intense scrutiny on her personal life, which now seems to be over: “I don’t feel people are particularly interested in my private life anymore. Certainly, when I was younger that was the focus and it was really aggravating. But I think the world has changed. I’ve been working for long enough. There’s enough to talk about. I don’t feel valued only for what I wear or who I was with. I don’t feel defined by those experiences either. I certainly did when I was 21 or 22. Maybe it’s different in England but I don’t think in America it was as much of a [big deal].”

Sienna Miller on her new movie, Wander Darkly, which tells the story of a couple (played by Miller and Diego Luna) who are new parents drifting apart: “The idea of analyzing a relationship from its inception to its ending and being able to step back in time and look at the moments where you went wrong… I cried every time I read it. [the script] The bit that got me [was when] she is reminiscing about this person she loved, and I think being a woman with a daughter, there are some parallels; it was filled with longing and nostalgia. It broke my heart to see how people go wrong and the mistakes they make.”

Sienna Miller on relationship scab-picking that the film dramatizes so well: “Some people don’t want to look at that and are very good at walking away. I am the opposite. I love to really sit in an experience. To gain some understanding about myself and the other person. How is it that people can be so in love and then strangers? Or hurt each other so deeply without meaning to?” 

Sienna Miller on the parallels that people will draw between the film and her own life: “No, I never think about things in that way. I probably should. But my experiences with relationships have probably made me intrigued by them on a level that meant this film resonated.”

To see the full interview, head to PORTER or download the NET-A-PORTER app for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

See also: Letitia Wright on her role in ‘Small Axe, Black history and supportive friendships

In this Story: #culture / entertainment