Before January, it’s possible that only fans of the BBC sci-fi show “Dr. Who” knew who Carey Mulligan was. Thanks to her starring role in An Education, a coming-of-age story set in London of the early ’60s, written by novelist Nick Hornby (About a Boy, High Fidelity) and directed by Danish filmmaker Lone Scherfig (Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself), her name and face are going to be everywhere in the coming months.
That’s because her performance as 16-year-old Jenny in the movie based on the memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber has left everyone who has seen the movie in awe, starting at the film’s premiere at the Sundance Film Festival where it received rave reviews and an Audience Award. Those accolades continued through the fall film festival season as the film played at Telluride to similar appreciation.
ComingSoon.net had a chance to sit down with Ms. Mulligan recently, well aware that many of the journalists who met her at previous appearances have fallen instantly and hopelessly in love – we made sure to keep a reasonable distance as to avoid her sways. It certainly seems like the 24-year-old actress is remaining fairly down to earth about all of the attention she’s been getting for her performance and all the Oscar talk that inevitably appears in the same sentence, most of which she’s avoided by staying off the internet. We also talked to her about working with Oliver Stone on the long-awaited sequel Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps, which is scheduled to come out in April next year.
ComingSoon.net: I just spoke with Nick and Lone, but I didn’t really get into the process on how they found you. I assume it was a huge audition process because they looked at tons of actresses. Was this just a case of your agent getting the script and you having to do a lot of auditions? Carey Mulligan: Yeah, it’s just the usual thing. They sent the script over and they picked scenes. Went in and met a casting director and read with her and then got brought in to meet Peter (Sarsgaard) and then the last audition was with Lone, but it was over almost two years from the first to last visit because it fell apart and went away and then they were like “Oh, they’re not making that anymore” and then “they are making that again” or “they might want you to play Helen.” Oh, really? (laughs) Went through a few incarnations and then yeah, finally got it and it was another five months before we started shooting.
CS: This was all after “Pride & Prejudice” was finished? Mulligan: Yeah, yeah, way after. I was doing “The Seagull” in London the first time I auditioned.
CS: It’s obviously a great script and character but what in particular struck you and was it something that immediately jumped out at you as something you’d want to do? Mulligan: I mean, yeah. Mainly because it was Nick (Hornby) and it was Lone who was directing. I think more than anything that you just don’t find young female leads. You are often the accessory to a male story or it’s an ensemble thing, but to get a young female lead and one who goes through such a journey. This is not an explosive plot, it’s a simple plot, but her coming of age, the journey on which she goes on, was brilliant and brilliantly written. Especially from a male writer, a fully 3-dimensional female role. So yeah, from just reading it and just to have a female lead is extraordinary really, it’s so rare. But then when I read it and saw how brilliantly he laid all the characters out, I loved it.
CS: Did you feel it was easier playing someone who was 16 years old, since you already had gone through that period of your life and you could draw from that? Mulligan: Yeah, yeah, definitely, and I’d always played younger characters than myself anyway. I’d always play like when I was 19, I’d play 14, so the age thing never worried me, and also, her age was informed by the way she treated people around her. I did small things like I raised my voice slightly because I’ve got such a low voice but in general, it was just what Nick had written, the way she idolizes her teacher and then comes to despise her, and the way she treats her parents and the way she treats her friends, that’s all what made her a 16-year-old. The way she behaved around Danny and Helen when she first met them, that’s what makes her 16.
CS: I loved the casting and I’m sure it must have been great to have a day or two with Emma Thompson. Nick and Lone commented it was like having a little band, which I guess was you and Alfred and Cara, with various soloists coming in. What was it like for you having to carry this and being in every scene? Mulligan: What I was saying to someone earlier was that it never felt like I was carrying anything, and I never thought of it was a lead. I started shooting and I thought, “Wow, I’m in this a lot.” (laughs)
CS: You only just realized it when you were there every single day and everyone else was just coming and going? Mulligan: Yeah, I was like, “Wow, I’m really tired” but I didn’t think “Oh, I’m the lead and I’m carrying this film.” And I still don’t feel like I’m carrying this story. I do feel like they carry me, and you do raise your game when you’re working with people like Emma and Alfred and Cara and Peter and Dominic and Rose, all of them. You don’t want to be the weak link in that cast. God forbid you’re the weak link in that cast. I think Lone took that weight and responsibility off of me and I never felt like I was responsible for the film or the story. She was responsible for the film and the story and I had to play things scene by scene and try to be truthful in each scene. I loved it. I just had a really good time and it never felt like hard work. There was one day where I had a bit of a meltdown right towards the end when we were shooting something and we blocked it the night before and then we came back to shoot it in the morning and they’d moved the cameras so they’ve changed the blocking. I was just exhausted and I got completely overwhelmed and I couldn’t breathe and it was very stressful, but that was the one day. Everything else was bliss.
CS: How has everything been since then? Your performance has gotten a lot of attention since Sundance, right after the very first screening. How has that been for you? Having this big first lead and then deal with that as well afterward? Mulligan: I stay away from the internet.
CS: Nick doesn’t, I found out. Mulligan: Nick doesn’t, no, Nick doesn’t. I stay away from the internet, but I think also Nick’s never going to get stuff written about him on the internet that’s personal and negative, whereas recently I’ve gotten personal things written about me and that’s not fun, and that’s destructive, so I stay away from the internet. Also I think if you’re going to read good reviews of yourself, you have to give equal value to bad reviews, and I found that out when doing theater. We all said, “Oh, we don’t read reviews” and then we all read them. If you go to the New York Times, you go “Yes!” but you’ve got to read everyone else and if someone else feels that “that was that,” you’ve gotta go, “Well, it’s a valid opinion as well.”
CS: Did you realize you’d be working with Rosamund Pike again after working with her in “Pride & Prejudice”? Mulligan: Yeah, yeah, she came on after and I was so excited. I love her, and Dominic as well. Dom and I have known each other for years and we have this brilliant tradition for going in for table reads of Working Title scripts. Working Title are like, “Oh, we need some actors. Dominic, Carey…” so we come in and read these parts and we’re (apparently) abominable, then we’re the only ones that don’t get cast in the final film. It’s a tradition, so that’s sort of how Dom and I met.
CS: Someone needs to make a movie about Working Title because every time I talk to actors who do movies for them, they always seem to have very funny stories, and it seems to be run very different from any American production company. Mulligan: Yeah, it really is. They’re wonderful, but it’s just hysterical because that became our little routine. “Hey, did you get…? No, I didn’t get the job either.”
CS: Did you want to meet Lynne at all? Mulligan: No, we didn’t have any contact actually. She came on set once, so I said “Hey” for about a minute and that was about it, and none since or before. Our story was much lighter than the (original) Granta piece so my work came from what Nick had written. I’ve read the piece a couple of times. I also didn’t want to give too much thought to what happened to her life after. I didn’t want that to inform decision that I made while I was playing her in the here and now. No, not really.
CS: Did you look at it as if you were playing her or just as if you were playing a character named Jenny? Mulligan: Jenny, yeah. I think that’s a whole different story when you take responsibility for playing a real person. I played Elsie Kipling in “My Boy Jack” who is Rudyard Kipling’s daughter and I did feel then that we had to do justice to that story, much more than I did when I did this. I wanted to do justice to Nick’s script. I did “Never Let Me Go” earlier in the year and Kazuo Ishiguro came into rehearsals, and I was terrified because I was playing Kathy, and these writers, I’m in his head. He has an exact idea of who I am and what he wrote from his imagination. That’s very daunting.
CS: Unlike Lone and Nick, you’re similar to Jenny in being a young woman who grew up and went to school in England, and maybe you had to make some of the same decisions about whether to go to school or be actress. Were you able to draw from that for Jenny? Mulligan: No, I mean I didn’t go to university or drama school, so I finished after my A-levels at school. That was rare as most people my year went to university. Five of us didn’t out of like 90 of us, but I also felt like it wasn’t going to serve me very well, and I think it’s to each his own when it comes to that sort of thing. If you have something vocational, then it’s probably more often than not better to just go off and do that thing, and I would have just wasted people’s time and people’s money. I did feel that I was at school pretty much learning things to appease other people and ticking boxes and I didn’t feel like it was anything that was making me a very interesting person.
CS: So the headline for this interview will be “Carey Mulligan Says, ‘Don’t Go to University'”… Mulligan: Noooooooooooo!!!! (laughs and falls back into chair) “Screw education!”
CS: I’m totally kidding. After this played at Sundance, I assume you started getting a lot of interest and offers, so have you been offered a lot of things that you’ve turned down because you’re getting so busy? Mulligan: No. I mean, no. God, I wish. (laughs) Is that supposed to happen?
CS: I dunno. I would think that when you get so much attention at Sundance. Mulligan: No, I mean definitely “Never Let Me Go” was as a result of Sundance and also “Wall Street.” But no, it’s strange actually, because I didn’t audition for “Wall Street.” Oliver offered it to me, which was unbelievable.
CS: That’s what I mean. Things like that happen once you get noticed in a movie like this. Mulligan: Yeah, that stuff is like mind-blowing, but then at the same time, it ramps up the pressure in such an extraordinary way, because you go in on Day 1 of rehearsals thinking, “I did not win this job. I did not audition for this and fight for this and call up my agent every day for three weeks about this. I just got given it.” So you think, “I’ve got to be amazing at the table read” which is difficult. And then you go, “Well if this is how good I am in the table read, I have to be UNBELIEVABLE when we shoot it,” so it’s quite scary.
CS: So now that you’ve finished shooting the “Wall Street” sequel, what was that experience like working with Oliver Stone? Mulligan: No, I haven’t finished. I haven’t even really begun. I’ve done lots of sitting on the back of a motorcycle, and I’ve done acting in the background. I’ve done one real scene with Shia, and everything else is saved until after they’ve released the film. They scheduled it so that I can do all my serious stuff once this is out.
CS: What’s it been like so far? Is working with Oliver like anything you’ve expected? I don’t think he’s ever done a sequel to any of his movies. Mulligan: Never. No, he’s awesome, I love him. He’s my boss. I’m so fond of him and I love working with him, and I do feel like every day I go in… every day I went in for rehearsals, I had to go in all guns blazing and be really on it, so that’s a challenge and that’s why I wanted to do it. It felt like a very male environment that I was coming into; me and Susan Sarandon and one other actress are the only women in the film, so I sort of felt like I had to go in and be manly and know stuff and be informed. This is one of the few contemporary things I’ve ever done, and it’s about the crash of 2008, so I had to get into the details about what really went on there, so it’s good. The brilliant thing about our job is that we get to learn about stuff that we maybe never would have taken that much of an interest in in real life. I certainly know a lot more about finance and about the economy than I did three months ago. The cast is unbelievable, and the crew are great. They’re like a proper gang, and I love them, but the cast… Frank Langella, Shia LaBeouf, Michael Douglas, Susan…
CS: Do you have anything else lined up for after you finish that? Mulligan: No! I’m waiting for all these offers you say are going to come rolling in! (laughs)
An Education opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, October 9. Look for our exclusive interview with director Lone Scherfig and screenwriter (and award-winning novelist) Nick Hornby sometime very soon.