01/30/2012 03:00 pm ET

'W.E.' Actress Andrea Riseborough Steps Into A Scandalous Role

In "W.E.," Andrea Riseborough steps into a role playing a woman at the center of one of the biggest scandals of the 20th century. No pressure, right?

In the film, directed by Madonna, the 30-year-old British actress plays Wallis Simpson, the infamous American socialite who caused Prince Edward, Duke of Windsor, to abdicate the British throne so they could marry.

Riseborough talked to The Huffington Post about taking on such a scandalous role and getting to know Madonna on set.

Did you know much about the story of Wallis and Prince Edward before taking on the role?
The relationship I had with them was really peripheral in the sense that it was like a footnote in a textbook. It was a still -- a black and white image of a kind of androgynous woman. I had no emotional connection, but I knew historically what went on. It's not something we delve into hugely in British history, we just know what happened. When I started working on the project, my relationship totally changed.

All sorts of things, to the point where you feel so emphatic towards someone that, for a time, you have this dual existence with them where you adopt their feelings and thoughts. You have a different perspective on life for a while.

Weren't they friendly with Nazis?
That was the public misconception. Once you research it, you realize it was a wonderfully orchestrated propaganda campaign.

There were amazing rumors about Wallis, stories like she worked in a brothel, for instance.
Like I said, it was a fantastic campaign. [Then Prime Minister] Stanley Baldwin needed to shunt the two of them out of the country and rightly so -- to let the new monarchy take over for a smooth transition. Edward was very, very popular; he went down among the people, he did work for social reform and that slightly tread on the toes of the political establishment.

Are you a royalist in real life?
I think that the Royal Family is a very valuable resource, economically, for our country. I think it must be a huge pressure for them as people not to be able to have their own choices, so I have the utmost respect for what they must go through, but I certainly wouldn't say I was a royalist.

Were you intimidated to meet your director, Madonna?
No, I was excited, because she'd seen me play Margaret Thatcher and she sent me the script and I thought it was so interesting. I just remember her being so very delicate and so gentle and warm. She sat down and she just unravelled this whole story and it was truly infectious.

Are you friendly enough with her that you can call her Madge?
I would never ever call her Madge! But, of course, she's my friend.

Did you have lots of cups of tea on set?
Yes, every time we got a moment, but we barely had time to pee, let alone have a cup of tea.