LOS ANGELES — After debuting to critical acclaim earlier this year at the Cannes Film Festival, Mike Leigh’s latest, Another Year, is ready for awards season. And the film’s standout, actress — and regular Mike Leigh collaborator — Lesley Manville, has already gotten started, bringing home Best Actress honors from the National Board of Review for her portrayal of the dysfunctional, heavy-drinking Mary. Manville sat down with Metro to talk about awards season, Leigh’s improvisational style and playing drunk.

Congratulations on the National Board of Review win.
Thank you very much. It’s a surprise to me, because I didn’t really know about the NBR awards. It’s not been my territory, this kind of awards season stuff. You know, I know about Oscars and the Globes and the big ones and all of that — not that the NBR isn’t a big one, but I didn’t really know about them. And then they don’t have nominations or anything. There’s nothing to get worried about. It’s just, 'Wham!' Immediately you’re either in or you’re out. But I’m very pleased. America seems to take to the film.

How have you found the reaction in the U.S.?
People seem to be deeply affected by it. It’s dealing with human emotions and the stuff of life that touches us all — you know, loneliness and relationships and all of that. It is hard to watch. But I think it’s brutal reality. That’s it, there it is.

How much of this was in Mike Leigh’s usual improvisational style?
He makes his movies the same. It’s always done the same. But we’re not improvising on camera. Once we shoot it, it’s very tightly scripted. But we arrive at that point through a different route — without a script. We had 18 weeks before we started shooting and about 12 weeks to shoot, so it’s a long commitment. But we really do start with nothing. And he’s been working like that ever since I started working with him when I was in my 20s. I love it, but I love having scripts as well. It’s a way of working, but it probably wouldn’t suit all actors. I like it. I immediately found it very liberating.

Where did your character, Mary, come from through that process?
All sorts of places. It’s hard to define, really. It’s not an impersonation of one person. It can be somebody I know a little bit, somebody I don’t know at all, people I’ve observed being drunk, lonely women I’ve spent time with — all sorts of places. You see her desperate need to hang onto youth. She can’t embrace getting older in any way. Admittedly, that is hard if you’re in a place that you don’t like — without a relationship, without children. That can be a harsh reality. But she’s in denial about it and wants to be young and is constantly dressing young.

The film shows a pretty unflattering portrait of drinking. How did you approach presenting that?
As part of creating Mary, it came hand-in-hand that drink was going to be a big issue for her. Drink was her friend at the end of the day, going home lonely. I’ve not played drunk before. I’m glad I’ve done it now, glad I’ve done it once. I don’t ever want to play drunk again. I’ve done my drunk now.