Factory Girl - Sienna Miller interview
Compiled by Jack Foley
IN THE mid-60s, for a little over a year, Edie Sedgwick reigned supreme as New York’s It Girl, glued at the hip to pioneering pop artist Andy Warhol.
Edie came from a rich family, and after meeting Warhol her incipient madness found a new avenue of expression. She dyed her hair silver to match his, and accompanied him everywhere, causing a sensation at his ’65 art show in Philadelphia where 4,000 kids ran riot.
To the older crowd she was a mystery but to the youth she was a goddess. Edie was the face of the era, a waif-like gamine with big eyes, lithe limbs and her own version of the twist that looked more like an Egyptian sand dance, all elbows and knees as she strutted on the spot.
Edie, said Andy, was “the first person to wear ballet tights as a complete outfit, with big earrings to dress it up”. Vogue, the style bible, crowned her queen of the youthquakers the same year, and for 12 heady months she was the belle of Manhattan.
Edie was a real gone kid. But by 1966 she was a really, really gone kid, whacked out on drugs, professing a love affair (heavily suspected as being requited but never proven) with rock superstar Bob Dylan and feuding publicly with Andy over monies owed for her parts in his underground films, 16mm home movies with titles like Kitchen, Vinyl and Poor Little Rich Girl.
Disowned by her dysfunctional father, Edie left Andy, bouncing between coasts, mental homes and cheap hotel rooms, hoping for a comeback but never clean long enough to achieve one. By 1971 she was dead, a full-time drug casualty killed by a combination of barbiturates and booze that was either a long overdue suicide or just a matter of time. She was 28.
Here, Sienna Miller talks about playing Edie Sedgwick and the various challanges posed by Factory Girl.
What did you know about Edie Sedgwick before you made Factory Girl?
I knew about her in association with Andy Warhol, but I didn’t know really know anything about her character or her personality. Then I read the script and did some research. I looked at some photographs of her and I realised she had this kind of luminescence and magnetism.
She was just hypnotic and I was instantly intrigued. All the ingredients that I would find appealing were there, in terms of that era, the 60s, and the arc of the character, starting off as this innocent, pure but obviously damaged and obviously tortured creature and ending up as this destroyed person.
As an actor it’s such an interesting arc, especially from a physical perspective. My voice was deepening and huskening and my mannerisms changed. It was a whole technical study of a character, which is something I’ve wanted to do forever. I hadn’t really found the right role, so I loved it.
What research did you do?
I read everything. I read Jean Stein’s biography, Edie, about 10 times. I spoke to as many people as I could. But the people we’re talking about… they’re all mad! We’ve been sued about 10 times. Literally! I mean, no one’s won, but they’ve all tried. Which is so Warholian and so perfect in a way. But I really fought and fought and fought for the truth, but it’s hard to tell her story. Biopics are always a minefield, because you can’t do a whole life in 90 minutes.
Was the book your main starting point?
That was my Bible, the Jean Stein book. But later on I went to Pittsburgh, to the Andy Warhol museum, with Guy Pearce, and we got taken into the archives and shown these Warhol films that no one’s seen. The thing that’s so interesting about that era is that they documented everything, so Andy would tape conversations.
I’ve got a CD of conversations between Andy and Edie, sitting in cafes, just talking. So we lifted some of those and put them in the film. Like the phone call where Andy asks me: “If you had to marry three people, who would it be?” Edie says: “Nureyev, but I don’t think he’d be interested…” That was a real conversation.
So I listened to all that, studied the voice, studied her mannerisms, the way that she danced, her laugh, and then went and met a lot of her friends and relatives. I just went on this world tour of discovering Edie. I wish I’d made a documentary about it, it was the most interesting experience. When it came to shooting I was absolutely terrified. But as soon as I put on the brown contact lenses, the make-up, the leotard and the tights, it felt like it clicked. I just felt a real affinity with her.
You certainly seemed to get the body shape right!
No, I’m a bit curvier than Edie. See, I love my food and I can’t work eight-hour days and not eat. So I was a little bit more curvy than Edie.
What did you find out about her?
Y’know, everyone says different things and everyone changes their story every time I speak to them, because these people admit that they spent that decade completely out of it. So they’re like: “Aw, I don’t remember, Sienna!”
Brigid Berlin, who was Warhol’s best friend, told me that Edie used to steal an awful lot, so in the film I steal a pair of sunglasses, if you notice. She was a kleptomaniac. She used to go to Bergdorf’s and steal bras, but keep the labels on them and align them in colours. Then when she was really screwed up, she didn’t want to bath. She wouldn’t take her make-up off, she’d just add more and more.
Brigid used to go round to the Chelsea Hotel and say: “Edie, take a bath.” She’d run a bath and Edie would close the door, but when Brigid looked under the door she’d just see Edie sitting by the mirror. And then she’d come out and say: “Oh, I had a lovely bath.”
Did anything surprise you about her?
I was surprised to realise that Edie really wasn’t around for a long time. But what I find fascinating is that she had that impact in such a short time. Brigid says she was barely there, and Brigid was Andy’s best friend, so she should know. Edie was in and out, but look at the result. And some people are bitter and some people are obviously jealous of that.
Andy was obviously drawn to Edie’s beauty and upper-class background, but what do you think attracted Edie to Andy?
The metaphor of the father is very strong. Edie’s father was an artist too, a man who had all these children around him. So she went from one lion to another, in a way. Both were artists, both controlling, both manipulative, both kind of unavailable and yet really available… There are interesting parallels.
What qualities did other people respond to in Edie?
Sam Green, the art curator who introduced her to Andy, said she just had this class, and her brother said she was a real diva. I wanted a lot more of that in the film so I was trying to fight to put the ‘Edie-ness’ back. But she was pretentious, she totally was.
One criticism of the film is that lays the blame for her downfall at Andy’s doorstep…
Brigid Berlin used to tape all her phone calls from 1964 to 1978. She played me the recording, and I have a copy of it, of Brigid phoning up Andy to tell him that Edie just died. Andy picks up the phone and says: “Hello?” She goes: “Edie died.” He goes: “What???” She goes: “Edie died.” He goes: “How? Was it drugs?” She says: “I don’t know.” He said: “Well, who was looking after her?” Brigid says: “I don’t know, her husband maybe…”
There’s a silence, and you sense that he’s about to feel something. And then Andy says: “So who gets all the money? Hey what are you doing today? Are you going to the dentist…?” And this was someone who was at his side for two years! People are saying: “Oh, no, Andy wasn’t a villain.” Just like they’re saying nothing happened with Dylan. I’m like: “Hang on!” Maybe something happened with Dylan, maybe it didn’t, but they were certainly pretty close and she certainly liked him.
Edie died in 1971. Isn’t it true that Andy became much more closed off after he was shot and almost killed in 1968?
Yes, but I’ve got a postcard that Edie wrote to him the day after he was shot, saying: “I love you very much, you’re the one person that I really rely on.” I don’t know if she meant it but she said it.
How did you approach such an obviously tormented individual?
I really tried to feel for her and psychologically understand why she was the way she was, and, as a result, empathize with her decisions. And if you psychologically understand those reasons and those motivations, then you can play a character better than if you just try to mimic or imitate them. So I just tried to feel for her.
Did you ever worry about taking on too many of Edie’s problems?
It’s really a weird job sometimes. There’s a scene in Factory Girl with Warhol, where I’m screaming at him – that was only our second day of shooting. I’d just arrived on set. I was thinking: “Hi, nice to meet you all, and now I’m just about to bear my soul…” It was really scary. I was just drained. And that night I was like, “God, is this really my job – to get myself to the point of hysteria and actually feel really rewarded after I’ve done it”? [Laughs] I thought: “What’s going on?!”
What has the reaction been like in America?
I’ve been over there doing interviews and some people are like: “So what? In 30 years time are they gonna make a film about Paris Hilton?” But the thing about Edie was that she was a performance artist. She was living art.
In 2007, people are still talking about her. That’s power. That’s huge power. And people are missing the point if they’re comparing her to Paris Hilton. Edie was getting huge interest from Hollywood, and everyone wanted a piece of her. But she didn’t want to work there because she didn’t want to work with superficial people.
What still makes her relevant today?
I think it’s the indefinable. I don’t know why she is relevant today, but all I know is that she still manages to be timeless and I think she had an energy which will last.
How did you enjoy working with Guy Pearce [who plays Andy Warhol]?
I’ve admired Guy Pearce my whole life as an actor – he’s a genius and such a hard worker and so dedicated and so kind and he gave everything he absolutely had into playing Andy. He would phone me up and we would work on conversations and we would work on the script and go to the museum together. Just really a joy to work with – I really learnt a lot from him.
And can you talk about your experiences working with Hayden [Christensen]?*
Hayden is a brilliant actor and again like Guy he really threw himself into the role. Everyone did and everyone worked really hard. I think that we all just felt we had a responsibility to do the film justice and that we were playing real people and with that obviously comes responsibility and so I feel everyone really worked their hardest. We had fun too.
Was there any scene or moment during filming that proved to be particularly challenging?
There’s a scene when I confront Andy Warhol in the restaurant and it’s kind of a breakdown scene and at that point Edie is pretty hard into heroine and that was actually on our second day of shooting – I couldn’t believe it when I saw the schedule. I was just noooo, just too much but that was really challenging and then ultimately really rewarding. It was a moment of sink or swim and everyone was really great and supportive but that was a tough day definitely.
What do you think audiences can expect when they sit down to see this film?
I think that audiences will see a wonderful window into a wonderful era and also the perils of addiction and ultimately a story of friendship and betrayal.
Why do you think Andy is such an intriguing character?
I think Andy is sort of mythical too and was very ahead of his time with his movies. He kind of pre-empted reality TV today – that is how forward thinking he was, so I just think in so many levels he is an intriguing man.