Could This Indie Drama Starring Andrea Riseborough Still Sneak Into the Oscar Race?

Riseborough’s gritty work in “To Leslie” has already earned the support of Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton and Mia Farrow

To Leslie

Voting for the 95th Academy Awards ceremony begins today, and as the studios wrap up their vigorous campaigns for Oscar nominations, a grassroots push for actress Andrea Riseborough in “To Leslie” has emerged. The Texas-set indie drama premiered last March at SXSW and is now available to rent on Amazon Prime — and to stream in the Academy’s members-only Screening Room.

Riseborough, the prolific 41-year-old British actress, has been a presence in films and TV for more than 15 years, from “Birdman” to “Black Mirror.” In 2022, she was also in “Matilda the Musical” and “Amsterdam,” but it was her performance in “To Leslie” that critics have hailed as perhaps her best ever. “Riseborough, often a chameleon in television and film, takes center stage here in a raw, lived-in performance,” TheWrap’s Fran Hoepfner at SXSW wrote.

In the film by first-time feature director Michael Morris (“Better Call Saul,” “13 Reasons Why”), Riseborough plays a woman whose life spirals into a series of bad decisions after she wins the lottery. The film costars Owen Teague (“It,” “The Stand”) as her estranged son, along with Allison Janney, Stephen Root, and Marc Maron in supporting parts.

In recent weeks, it has been Riseborough’s colleagues in the acting community who have been boosting her dark-horse chances at a Best Actress nomination. In November, she scored a nom at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, a positive sign, given that “To Leslie” has no marketing department or publicity team behind it. The film was released in November by small distributor Momentum Pictures.

But for all campaigns, marketing budgets and word-of-mouth are different beasts. Longtime publicity gurus admit that they would prefer the latter over the former. For the past month, actors such as Charlize Theron, Courtney Cox and Gwyneth Paltrow have hosted screenings of “To Leslie.” Others such as Sarah Paulson, Susan Sarandon, Debra Winger, and Frances Fisher have also voiced their support.

And this week Paltrow, Edward Norton, Mia Farrow, Melanie Lynskey, and Bradly Whitford were among the vocal Riseborough fans who posted last-minute “For Your Consideration” Tweets and Instagram posts about her performance. Paltrow was photographed with Riseborough, Morris, and Demi Moore.

Could the support for Riseborough among critics and her fellow actors actually materialize in an Oscar nomination, despite her film’s lack of a marketing and publicity budget?

Nothing is impossible. And certainly surprises still occur every year in the Oscar nominations lineup. But the recent vocal support for Riseborough and “To Leslie” is also a confirmation of how challenging it still can be for smaller films to gain traction during a crowded campaign season.

Just two years ago, for example, Sidney Flanigan won several precursor Best Actress awards (including from the New York Film Critics Circle and Boston Film Critics Association) for Eliza Hittman’s indie “Never Rarely Sometimes Always,” but the film didn’t generate enough support to help Flanigan break through at the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards or the Oscars.

And so for sure, the hurdle Riseborough faces has nothing to do with the quality of her gritty, down-deep performance in “To Leslie,” which has been near universally praised, with a 98% rating for the film on Rotten Tomatoes. But the long path to an Oscar nomination is a numbers game. As TheWrap’s executive awards editor Steve Pond pointed out, if the Academy’s entire 1,302-member acting branch submits a ballot, a performance requires more than 200 first-place votes to net a nomination.

Without a doubt, Riseborough will be receiving first-place votes. And probably many more than she would have received a week ago, before the grassroots campaign took flight. Whether she will receive enough to match the magic number of Best Actress ballot mentions to compete with frontrunners Cate Blanchett (“Tár”) or Michelle Yeoh (“Everything Everywhere All at Once”), we will all find out when nominations are announced on Jan. 24.