Sienna Miller enters the restaurant frosted in frozen water vapor. She is makeup-less. Her blonde hair is uncombed, possessed of trace amounts of her sebaceous excretions and sweat from a SoulCycle class. She’s the least try-hard-iest motherfucker you can imagine: Those worn-in, high-waisted, actually affordable Levi’s hemmed roughly at the bottom that everyone’s wearing.
A black cotton long-sleeved shirt that seems designed to almost but never quite slip off the shoulder. A coppery woolen overcoat that looks like it could belong to someone’s dad but surely costs $6,000. But of course Miller is also troublingly beautiful. Perfect little features, finely drawn, that seem to get more flawless the closer they’re examined, features made to be magnified and projected onto a screen.
Outside it is shit. Forecasters called for a 90 percent chance of “Jesus do I have to even get out of bed,” and they were on the money. The clouds have apparently fallen, drunk, out of the sky and slopped right onto the streets of the West Village — air so cold and white you can’t see the small mounds of snow-crusted garbage until you step in one. Miller sits down at our table by the window, and we watch for a moment as the rat people of New York City swim past us on the streets. It is a poster day for the department of Just Go Ahead, Move to Los Angeles, and Leave Us All Here to Die.
But Miller disagrees. “L.A.,” she says. “Bleh. You go for lunch and look around and everyone’s a bit of a douche. Even the people I love. That’s really trashing L.A., and I don’t mean that because I have the coolest friends in the world, but…”
But New York? The rat people? New York she’s in love with. “People sort of complain about the pace. Friends of mine from London find it really intense, but I thrive in that kind of environment. It’s sort of cliché, but it’s motivating and inspiring. It feels incredibly open and boundaryless. You can barely speak English and be a New Yorker. New York takes anyone, accepts everyone.” I think I know where she’s going here, and yes: That’s where she’s going. She makes the oblique, British reference to the unpleasantness. “I feel increasingly, in light of current events, that I want to be around that kind of openness. I think subliminally that’s probably the most important part.”
“In light of current events.” Depending on how you feel about our current (orange) events, it’s a phrase that kind of works for everything. Try it. “I’m skipping that birthday party in light of current events.” Or “Maybe we should order the stuffed nachos in light of current events.” Or “I’m probably not gonna take that job as the head of NASA’s climate sciences division in light of current events.” It is 2017’s more woke version of “That’s what she said.” (A note: This isn’t a political opinion she came to only recently. “I said before he was elected that if he got elected I would leave America,” she says with a laugh. “And then Fox News offered to buy my ticket.”)
In the summer of 2015, Miller finished shooting a film called The Lost City of Z. It’s an adaptation of the David Grann nonfiction masterpiece of the same name, about an early-twentieth-century English explorer of the Amazon who was both an amateur anthropologist and a man driven by a fatal obsession. (It’s also about dusty old furniture, English mustaches, blowdarts, Robert Pattinson’s Amazonian skin diseases, and Miller’s many, many hats.) Miller plays the man’s wife, and she does it with a kind of uncanny depth. “It was a real struggle to make this woman more than a wife,” she says. And I think Miller does a heroic job of doing just that; I wish she’d been in every scene in the movie. (Though Robert Pattinson as a woolly, weirdo explorer was also pretty great.)
Since last summer, Miller has been here. Not just talking the New York talk, but also walking the New York overpriced-downtown-duplex- apartment walk. She lives with her four-year-old daughter, Marlowe, not far from the restaurant where we meet. Marlowe goes to school nearby. Tom Sturridge, Marlowe’s father (who is no longer, romantically at least, with Sienna), lives a few blocks away.
Does he hang out?
“Yeah,” she says. “All the time. We do bedtime every day. We felt like as much togetherness as possible would be ideal, and fortunately we really love each other and are best friends, and so that works. It’s not that it’s not complicated, because it is.”
Still, she is at most moments a single mother. Which has been kind of formative. “I had an amazing moment the other day where I just heard this ‘Mama!’ from upstairs,” she says. “I said, ‘I’m coming, I’m coming.’ And as I got to the landing I just smelled, like, puke. And she’d thrown up basically off the top bunk, so the splatters were like: Pow! Like all four walls. She had the norovirus or whatever. I was like, ‘I’m coming, I’m coming!’ And I skidded on the sick and fell. Whacked my head. Then I get her out of the bunk; she’s crying, covered in sick. I take her to the bathroom, take all her clothes off, and then the dog comes up and starts eating the sick. And I get her in the bath and in my bed, and I’m just, like, literally naked, mopping, and crying at midnight. You know, and that’s parenthood. You’re so enriched by it and so fulfilled, but at the same time, I look at these people who just don’t have any responsibility, and it feels like the responsibility is crippling.”
This is the life that Miller leads now. I’m reminded of a book she had told me she’d been reading earlier in our conversation. She read that Plato knew this might be how a democracy ends — in this kind of new, authoritarian, orange-hued current event. But that isn’t the book she’s been talking about. And yes, she’s also been reading about immortality. (“Your brain could exist in a virtual world even though your body had died. People believe this, and it’s technically possible,” she tells me. We aren’t far from being able to “upload our consciousness.” Which she thinks will be a new kind of curse what with an earth already depleted of resources and overcrowded even without a whole new demographic of old rich people who refuse to die.) But it isn’t that book, either. She told me there was one book she’s reading now that is of even more grave importance.
“I’m just, like, literally naked, mopping, and crying at midnight. You know, and that’s parenthood.”
“I’m reading Allen Carr’s book on how to stop smoking. Over the past nine months I’ve picked up and put the book down four times. I am now halfway through, and I’m gonna stick with it.” Is she still smoking now? “I had one in the last two days. I’m not a big smoker anymore, but it’s definitely a part of me.”
Is she the kind of person who can have a cigarette every once in a while and it’s OK, or once you start falling into it.
“Yeah,” she says. She’s more the falling-back-into-it type. “Yeah. Sucks. But I didn’t smoke when I was pregnant or breastfeeding.”
Was it hard? “No. If it’s about protecting someone else, it’s easy. But “I don’t see it the same with myself.” Do you think you have a self-destructive streak? “Probably, a little bit. It’s not like I want to go out and hurt myself, but I just think inherently I was always a little bit rebellious, and I guess I sort of feel like I can be a little fatalistic or a little bit, what’s the word? Bohemian.”
So remember the early 2000s? I’m going to say 2004. The film Layer Cake, the first thing most Americans saw her in. Miller was then a kind of mythical figure. I cringe because I can see this getting tweeted out of context (or even in context), but she kind of glowed. You know how people put that shimmery makeup on their skin so it looks like they sparkle? Miller had naturally occurring sparkle skin. (She still does, kind of; after she leaves the restaurant, the waitress, a native of Armenia, will ask me if that woman was famous, because there was just something about her.) Miller became a glamorous avatar of Hollywood beauty. This was, if you recall, at the pinnacle of our tabloid obsession. The era of the hegemony of Us magazine, the height of the reign of terror of the paparazzi. And Miller was unable to protect herself from it. She was the perfect age and the perfect beautiful woman with the perfect reckless streak to be one of our most tabloid-ed people in history. We feasted on the details of her life—Jude Law’s affair with his children’s nanny when they were engaged, her affair with Balthazar Getty when he was married—the way we feast on, like, a chicken dinner, without ever giving a thought to the fact that chickens are living things and probably enjoying the meal somewhat less than we are. Her weaknesses and humiliations were endlessly, grotesquely offered to us.
But that was a decade ago. And I don’t want to get overly symbolic here. But that whole quitting-smoking thing seems kind of emblematic of her struggle to remain Sienna Miller without being Sienna Miller. In the last few years, Miller has given a series of remarkable performances — in Foxcatcher, American Sniper, and now The Lost City of Z — playing wives who embody a kind of earned struggle to not be just wives. Beautiful women who seem no longer interested in being beautiful. According to Miller, becoming a mother is what changed her.
“I do miss my breasts being where they were,” she says, though, because that’s who she is. “And, yes, I have nipples like fighter pilots’ thumbs. But I also sort of like that they’re a little ’70s. And that they fed my kid.”
Near the end of our time together, I ask: Do you think you’ll have more kids? “I would love to. Yeah. I have to figure out the other side of it,” she says, laughing.
Who the dad is?
The waitress comes, and I give her my credit card. “I just had a vision,” she says when the waitress has gone. “Not something I contemplate often. But, like: matriarch. I see a big lunch table. Outside. It’s filled with food. And I want to be that wise, happy granny. With a sort of wrap around my head and a few beads.” Then she says, because I bet she’s the type of landed aristocratic British person who knows the very best places to be a wizened old granny on the continent, “In Tuscany. Wrinkled and tanned.” And who’s with you? I ask, setting aside the melanoma discussion because I don’t want to ruin her vision. Who’s gathered around in those later years, kissed by that bending Italian light? “Kids,” she says. “And grandkids. And I’m the matriarch at this palazzo in Tuscany, and I’m cooking and looking after little babies.”
The reason I asked her who’d be there, to be honest, is that I was trying to see if she might say, “My husband” or “A man I’ve grown to love who teaches maths at the university in Bologna,” or even “JUDE FUCKING LAW,” because being that tabloid bloodsucker dies hard (and don’t act like you don’t know what I’m talking about). But no. It’s her vision, and in it it’s just Sienna the matriarch, fulfilled. And since apparently there is no such thing as cancer in future Tuscany: Will she start smoking again then? “Yeah, for sure. I’m taking it all back up at 75,” she says.
Let’s all meet there in Tuscany 2057. Bring something bohemian.