“To Leslie,” the indie drama that made Andrea Riseborough one of the most shocking Oscar nominations in history, opened at the Monica Film Center in Santa Monica on October 9, where it went and came after playing in an empty house for five days.

    It ended its theatrical run soon after with a worldwide box office of $27,000 – that’s a thousand, not a million. Marc Maron, who co-stars with Riseborough in the pessimistic drama about a drug addict returning to her West Texas hometown to rebuild her life, was furious with distributor Momentum Pictures’ handling of the film, grumbling on his podcast WTF: “Distributor f— dropped the ball to facilitate something that would bring a lot more attention to the movie. And now this movie with a 100% Rotten Tomatoes score that everyone should see [has] been hampered by those responsible for its dissemination.

    But a funny thing happened on the way to darkness. Riseborough, a gifted English actress who has worked with everyone from Mike Leigh to Alejandro G. Iñárritu and won many admirers and allies in the process, somehow entered the conversation of the awards season. You haven’t seen his face on the billboards along Sunset Boulevard or in the advertisements for your consideration in the trades. There was no money for that.

    But she had connections. ‘To Leslie’ director Michael Morris knows many actors and celebrities from his long career, as does his wife, actress Mary McCormack, and they’ve reached out to nearly every one of them, asking their friends to watch. the film and, if they liked it, to spread the word.

    Charlize Theron was the first to sign on, hosting a screening of the film at the Creative Arts Agency in Century City in November. “It’s the kind of movie that sticks in your mind. It stays in your bones. [It] stays even in your skin, ” Theron said, introducing “To Leslie” as a throwback to ’70s independent films. Edward Norton and Jennifer Aniston provided support later that month, opening their homes for private screenings.

    Shortly after, Riseborough met Shelter PR, who agreed to run a campaign. Other than what Riseborough and Morris were willing to spend, there was no money. Riseborough and the Shelter team put together a list of actors they could possibly cast and, supported by contacts from McCormack and Morris, began working on the phones. Over the holidays, when the rest of Hollywood lay low and tried to navigate the film academy’s streaming platform, they built a base of support that went wild when the schedule is passed to 2023.

    “It went from zero to 100 faster than anything I’ve ever seen,” a source close to the campaign said. “It was a movement of support and love for a performance.”

    Gwyneth Paltrow hosted a screening in early January, calling the film a “masterpiece.” Courteney Cox followed suit. Voting for Oscar nominations began Jan. 12, and the next day Rosanna Arquette performed “To Leslie” to a packed theater at the Directors Guild on Sunset. After the credits, Riseborough, Morris and actors Allison Janney, Maron and Andre Royo took the stage to speak with Demi Moore. Nobody in the theater left.

    The campaign went virtual the next day with Kate Winslet, who worked with Riseborough on upcoming drama “Lee,” leading a Q&A. “You should be ready for anything,” Winslet told Riseborough. “You should win it all. Andrea Riseborough, I think that’s the greatest female screen performance I’ve ever seen in my life.” Amy Adams led a similar event hours before voting closed last week, saying that she was “happy to spread the word… about this amazing cinematic feat”.

    In between, social media was flooded with raves like Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt (“If you’re voting for performances, don’t until you see Andrea Riseborough”), Melanie Lynskey, Mira Sorvino, Minnie Driver and too many others to possibly mention them. Cate Blanchett, who will eventually join Riseborough among the Oscar-nominated lead actresses, even gave her a shoutout while accepting an honor at the Los Angeles Film Critics’ Dinner the weekend before the voting deadline. (Blanchett reaffirmed her support the following night at the unappreciated TV Critics Choice Awards.)

    Considering all of this, can Riseborough’s appointment really be considered shocking? If you’re just relying on the work itself, says Winslet, the answer is no.

    “I’m so thrilled for her that the acting community has spoken on behalf of her phenomenal performance,” Winslet told me Tuesday. “No matter how many voices have sung her praises over the past few weeks, those voices didn’t give this performance. She did.

    “This nomination was hard-won for her,” Winslet continued. “She worked and worked and pushed herself for years. None of this is easy. This appointment is deeply and richly deserved.

    That said, Riseborough herself was “stunned”, telling Deadline that “it was so hard to believe this could ever happen because we really hadn’t been in contention for anything else.” Even though we had a lot of support, the idea that this could happen seemed so far away.

    What support did she need? The acting branch of the academy has 1,336 members, meaning that if every one of them voted, Riseborough would need around 200 endorsements. But in the Oscars preferential voting system, where members rank their choices, a passionate core of first-place votes can catapult a candidate higher in the race. I’m no math expert, but, given the low visibility of “To Leslie”, Riseborough must have sat at the top of a lot of the ballots.

    Riseborough’s astonishing success could have every Hollywood actor calling their managers next year, harassing them for a similar word-of-mouth campaign. “It’s probably only limited to actors,” said a veteran awards consultant. “It would be less likely for such a grassroots campaign to happen in other branches. I don’t see directors being asked to jump on the bandwagon to aggressively lobby for another director, or cinematographers, or producers, who are all in competition with each other. You would have to believe that altruism exists in Hollywood for that.

    In the immediate wake of his nomination, there were rumors that Riseborough’s campaign may have circumvented film academy regulations, which specify and limit the type of contact allowed to reach voters. Others took to social media, expressing outrage that no black women were nominated for lead actress, despite strong performances from heralded contenders Danielle Deadwyler (“Till”) and Viola Davis (“The Woman King”).

    But Riseborough did not replace either woman. She earned her nomination by delivering a stunning, uncompromising performance that sparked an outpouring of love. Who knows? She may well have placed third or fourth on the ballot. The academy doesn’t publish these numbers, so we’ll never know.

    The Riseborough campaign team understands the speculation over how she secured a nomination. (“They have every right to do that,” a rep says.) But they’ve already moved on to the next chapter: Getting Riseborough that lead actress Oscar.

    “There’s really no time to enjoy it,” the rep said. “We still have work to do.”

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