Riseborough was born in Wallsend, Newcastle upon Tyne, the daughter of Isabel Johnson, a secretary, and George Riseborough, a car dealer. She grew up in Whitley Bay. In reference to The Long Walk to Finchley, she has described her parents as "working class Thatcherites".
At an early age, she appeared at the People's Theatre, Newcastle upon Tyne, in the play Riding England Sidesaddle by Christopher Goulding, as Celia Fiennes, and was a member of the Young People's Theatre for five years. Riseborough spent her schooldays at the independent school, Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School on Tankerville Terrace in Jesmond. She graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 2005 and is a member of National Youth Theatre
Her younger sister Laura Riseborough, also a pupil at Newcastle Church High School, studied acting at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art and the East 15 Acting School.
She appeared in the 2010 films Made in Dagenham and Mark Romanek's adaptation of Never Let Me Go. She starred in the US premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell's award-winning The Pride at the Lucille Lortel Theatre in January 2010. The production was directed by Joe Mantello and co-starred Hugh Dancy and Ben Whishaw.
She appears in Rowan Joffé's film adaptation of Brighton Rock alongside Helen Mirren and John Hurt. She worked with The Devil's Mistress author Peter Flannery on his screenplay based on the life of Angelica Fanshawe with Michael Fassbender.
Riseborough played the role of Wallis Simpson in W.E., a film directed by Madonna. She stars alongside Michael Sheen and Iwan Rheon in Resistance, an adaptation of an Owen Sheers novel. The film was released on 25 November 2011.
She writes with her creative partner, the actor Tom Burke, and with Mike Leigh. Riseborough starred with Alexander Skarsgård in the thriller Hidden, a low-budget film directed by Matt and Ross Duffer. Hidden was released for streaming September 2015.
She appeared alongside Tom Cruise in Oblivion (2013), in a supporting role.
She co-starred in the acting ensemble of Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance), which won the Oscar for Best Picture at the 87th Academy Awards. Riseborough also shared the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture for the film.
She co-starred opposite Steve Coogan in apartheid drama Shepherds and Butchers, which began shooting June 15, 2015 in South Africa.
Riseborough joined the cast of Netflix's Bloodline for Season 2, as a series regular character, Evangeline.
She will star opposite Garrett Hedlund in Andrew Heckler's indie feature Burden.
Riseborough has been cast for Waco, a six-part television series about the 51 day 1993 standoff between the ATF, FBI, and David Koresh's Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas. It is scheduled for a 2018 release.