The shock does not come from the quality of the performance — Riseborough is a tremendous actor — but rather from the circumstances surrounding the nomination.
To Leslie, in which Riseborough plays a single mother who wins the lottery, is a low-budget independent film that made $27 thousand at the box office. Distributor Momentum Pictures does not have the kind of money to mount an awards season campaign, and Riseborough was notably missing from Oscar bellwethers like the Golden Globes and Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations.
So how did Andrea Riseborough get an Oscar nomination for To Leslie?
Riseborough’s nomination is the result of a word-of-mouth social media campaign by stars like Gwyneth Paltrow, Edward Norton, and many more.
According to a timeline by Vulture, the campaign unofficially kicked off on Jan. 10, two days before Oscar voting began. Paltrow hosted a screening and posted about To Leslie to her 8.2 million followers. Norton tweeted about Riseborough’s performance as well.
The number of celebrities highlighting Riseborough’s performance multiplied in the following days, with supporters including Susan Sarandon, Helen Hunt, Melanie Lynskey, and Alan Cumming. Tweets about the film often included the phrase “a small film with a giant heart,” prompting its fair share of memes and speculation about the coordinated phrasing.
Oscar voting closed on Jan. 17, just seven days after the social media push for Riseborough began in earnest. However, the campaign clearly did its job: Riseborough scored a nomination for To Leslie (the film’s sole nomination) after what is surely the shortest and least conventional Oscars campaign in history.