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Sienna Miller says meeting and talking with Taya Kyle gave her a better sense of who she was.

Courtesy of Warner Bros. Picture

Bradley Cooper may be the titular character of the biographical war drama American Sniper (in theatres on Friday), but co-star Sienna Miller is just killing it right now. Last year she had a role in Foxcatcher, and next month she takes over from Emma Stone in the hit revival of Cabaret on Broadway. We talked to the American-born British actress from New York.

The film American Sniper mostly takes place in a war zone, but can you talk about the importance of your role as the wife of Bradley Cooper's Navy Seal character?

The movie is American Sniper. It's about the real-life character Chris Kyle. But I do feel like a lot of the emotional grounding in the film comes from seeing the effects of war on the family left behind. It was an eye-opening experience. I now realize there's as much a battle being fought on the home front, to a certain degree, as in the active zones. This woman was trying to raise two children on her own, every single day not knowing if her husband was going to survive.

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You got to know Chris Kyle's wife. Was your characterization of her mostly based on those conversations, or did it come from the script or from the director, Clint Eastwood?

All of the above. Meeting and talking with Taya Kyle, I got a stronger sense of who she was. We went through the scenes, which were based on actual stories, and we talked about the back stories to those events. And, of course, Clint has strong ideas about how things should be done. He's the man at the helm, but Taya was really my touchstone throughout the whole process.

What was Bradley Cooper's process? With his extra weight and thick Texas drawl, he was really transformed.

He was pretty much in character the whole time. I don't think I heard him talk with his real voice until the film wrapped. He put on 40 pounds of muscle. He really was Chris Kyle. It was pretty impressive being around that kind of focus and dedication.

Was it also a little off-putting?

I think from his perspective it wasn't meant to be a pretentious thing. It was just easier for him not to dive in and out. It would have been too big a gear shift to be Bradley off set and Chris on. He looked so different, and I think he felt different because of the weight he was carrying. But it was funny to meet him as Bradley afterward.

And what about working with Clint Eastwood?

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He doesn't rehearse. He doesn't say "action" or "cut." He's got his own style of doing it, which, by the way, was one of the most liberating experiences I've ever had. I can spend hours agonizing over something, and it's never enough for me. I never feel that I get there. But because he works in that way, everyone arrives really prepared. You look across the room and you see Clint Eastwood, and you don't want to let him down.

Very low-key and professional on the set, right?

His crew has worked together for years and years and years. There's a sense of family around, and everybody knows how Clint likes to work. There's no yelling. There's no tension. The feeling is that it's not brain surgery. We're making a movie, so let's not get carried away with ego and pretentiousness.

But what about your relationship with him on the set, and the one-on-one interactions?

He directs in a way that is subtle and kind of loving. It's more like horse-whispering. I remember before one scene, where I was on the phone with Bradley's character. Clint put his hand on my back and whispered the death toll in Iraq. And then he said, "Let's go." So what I had in my mind was this number that was pretty high. It totally informed my mood, and that's strong direction. That's big. People think he doesn't direct, but he does, and in the most magical way.

That's a fantastic story.

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Yeah, it was such a beautiful moment. It was so gentle and yet so informative. So, the emotion for me just came. He's very intuitive as a man. He also has huge respect for women's intuition, and he understands women in a way that I hadn't really experienced with too many directors. I just would do anything with him.

But first you're co-starring in Cabaret on Broadway next month. Has that got you freaked out?

It's terrifying. I start rehearsals tomorrow. But I'm fulfilling a life-long ambition to sing and dance on Broadway. I'm very grateful, yet nervous. But what an opportunity. Whatever happens, what a great box to tick. Within a year or two, to have worked with Clint Eastwood and being on Broadway. That's a pretty fortunate position to be in. So, yeah, I'm a happy girl.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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