An interview with Cary Mulligan, Oscar-nominated for her role in 'An Education'
It's strange that a year ago, Carey Mulligan was just starting to get press, as critics reeled out of the Sundance Film Festival smitten with this newcomer's work in the warm and knowing "An Education."
Now she's got an Oliver Stone movie and a Mark Romanek movie both waiting for release, and she's Oscar-nominated for the same role that introduced her to filmgoers. Getting that sort of acclaim this early in a career can be dangerous, and I've been curious about how she's handled it.
When Dustin Hucks, our man in Santa Barbara this year, told me that he was going to talk to Mulligan as part of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, I thought it was fitting since he's new to doing interviews, and Mulligan is still relatively new to giving them. Hopefully this is just one of several interviews that Dustin will be filing with us this week. In particular, I hope he talks to Kathryn Bigelow, since he's an ex-Marine, and I think that would be a great perspective for their conversation.
I sincerely dig Mulligan's work. I almost hope she doesn't win, though, because I think it would complicate her career in a way that she doesn't need at this point. The nomination is such a huge thing that I think it's put her on the map, and now it's time to just see what she can do for a while.
Dustin... take it away:
The Virtuosos Awards were held at the Lobero Theater here at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Among the incredible talent being honored was Carey Mulligan, star of "An Education" and cast member of the upcoming "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." I was lucky to get a quick opportunity to steal some of her time for an interview backstage before the ceremony began. The following is my short conversation with her.
Dustin: In a relatively short time, you’ve developed a really solid body of work. Does your career feel like something that’s gathered a lot of speed very suddenly, or has it felt more like a slow burn since you spent a good bit of time working in theater and television before you started breaking into big screen material?
Carey: Umm… I don’t know. I had a really lucky break. I mean, my first job was in "Pride and Prejudice," and that was, like, my first time ever acting professionally… ever. I was suddenly being thrust into a cast with Judy Dench and Donald Sutherland, and it was kind of crazy, and then I went back into theater. It doesn’t feel like sort of a whirlwind bit of… well, it was a huge surprise, especially for this film. It doesn’t feel like it just started, it feels like I’ve not been going for very long. It’s been just six years, but I did a lot of costume drama, television, and theater in London and the parts that I started doing in American films were tiny.
Dustin: Right, like "Public Enemies."
Carey: Yes, I’m in "Public Enemies," but for like… three frames. I dyed my hair white for it, and you can see three flashes of white and that’s my whole part in that whole film. The same thing in "Brothers," the Jim Sheridan film. I mean, I’m in one scene. So, I started with really tiny parts and so the biggest part to date really was "Wall Street." So, it’s really been sort of gradual over the last two years since I’ve started auditioning.
Dustin: Pardon me if I’m jumping all over the place here. I’ll get back to "Wall Street," but I wanted to mention one of my favorite plays, "Uncle Vanya." I saw the ’63 screen version with Joan Plowright, Michael Redgrave, Laurence Olivier; really incredible talents. A lot of critics said, and I have to agree, it was a great adaptation to screen.
Dustin: So, I read that you may be signed on to participate in the next stage production of "Uncle Vanya." Is that true?
Carey: We were talking about doing "Uncle Vanya," but I don’t think we’re doing it anymore.
Dustin: Oh, that’s a shame.
Carey: I know, I’d love to do it. Unfortunately, while we were planning it was done on Broadway in New York. So, it was done so recently that I think there sort of has to be a bit of a gap there for that to come around again. Also, the next play I do, I’d rather it not be a Chekov. I did "The Seagull" playing Nina, and I feel like it would be difficult to go and play another Chekov character and not miss Nina in a weird way. So, I’d rather do something contemporary or do something completely different like Shakespeare and then come back to Chekov in five years.
Dustin: And on that, it’s clear that part of you is still strongly rooted in theater. Do you see yourself trying to create a sort of equilibrium between your screen acting career and your stage career, or will one be taking priority over the other for the time being?
Carey: Yeah, I mean… I think up until "An Education," I was happier doing plays than I was doing films. I was much more nervous of the cameras and filming. I think, yeah, I’ll definitely be doing as much theater as I can. It’s not like a commitment to stay grounded. I miss it, I really miss doing plays, and I haven’t done a play since "The Seagull," which was like a year and a month ago. I really miss that, and I doubt I’ll get to do a play this year, so I definitely have to do a play next year because I miss it. When I see my friends in theater, like one of my best friends Zoe Kazan who was in "The Seagull" with me in New York is now doing the new Martin McDonagh play, "A Behanding in Spokane"... and when I go to see that, I’m going to be so envious in a way, so I think I’ll be going back when I can.
Dustin: So, going back to the sequel to "Wall Street," "Money Never Sleeps"… I have to imagine that has to be a really intense and exciting experience. I mean, you’re working with a living legend in Oliver Stone, you’re getting to see Michael Douglas reprise one of his most iconic roles, as well as sharing the screen with Josh Brolin who’s simply excellent in pretty much everything he’s done recently. Did it ever get sort of surreal, like you had a moment when you realized you were surrounded by just ridiculous amounts of talent?
Carey: Yeah, I mean, Oliver especially. Working with Oliver was, uh… yeah, that was really surreal because he is a living legend. Also, because of his reputation; I’ve heard so many variations of what Oliver was supposed to be like because he’s so famous and he’s made these incredible films, and he’s been around for so long. There were so many stories and so, um… the advice varies from, “Don’t work with him,” to, “Oh my God, you have to!” So, it was exciting but I was so nervous. I was literally shaking on the way to my first day of rehearsal, and when I met him I barely remember what he said because I was so… you know, I remember what I wore because I took three hours planning what I was going to wear. Everything about him is intimidating, but he’s so brilliant and so the antithesis of everything negative that could ever be said about him. He was amazing to me, and pushed me in a completely different way than any other director.
Dustin: How so?
Carey: He’s just challenging; you’re not allowed to be fragile, or… well, you can be vulnerable if it’s in part of the work you’re doing in the scene, but there is no kind of vanity about it. You have to be on your game, you can’t come unprepared. You’ve got to be ready to work like one hundred percent all day for as long as he wants to go, which is fun. There is no kind of cuddling and a, “You’ve done well,” kind of thing. It’s a real male environment.
Dustin: It’s the “Great, you got the scene done. Congratulations, moving on.”
Carey: You get like, in the end, a pat on the back but it’s not a sweet and cuddly environment at all.
Dustin: Looks like I’ve got time for one more question before we get you out the door here. This last three years you’ve sort of been inundated with awards. You received the Shooting Star Award from the Berlin Film Festival, Breakthrough Performance at the Hollywood Film Festival, best actress nods – this year seems like a continuation of that trend, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. How has that felt? Is it sort of a personal validation after dealing with almost dropping out of acting altogether due to outside influences, and your multiple rejections from drama schools when you were trying to jumpstart a career?
Carey: You know, it’s amazing because of the opportunities that are afforded when you have all of that stuff happening, but umm… no, it’s not like, “Screw you.” Rather, it is completely unexpected, but this kind of thing doesn’t happen. It’s not like you have to reach this to succeed as an actor, you know, every time you do a job that you invest yourself in then you’ve succeeded or you’ve found something. You know, it’s really just about the work and all of this stuff, I’ve started to enjoy it more, the awards, because there is so much of it and you bring friends and you have fun but it’s all frill. You know, I just want to get back to work.
Dustin: Well, I appreciate your time. Thanks a whole lot, Carey, and good luck to you.
Carey: Thank you, nice to meet you. Cheers.
I very much enjoyed making Carey Mulligan my first interview of the film festival. She comes off as very grounded, entirely pleasant, and I get the impression that her profile is most certainly going to increase in the coming years as her abilities as an actress and unique beauty capture more and more attention stateside and abroad. As an aside, I’d like to thank Chris Garcia from Block-Korenbrot PR, Candace Cheong from WKT PR, and the folks at Carol Marshall PR for coordinating this interview so well. Schedules, plans, and moods change a lot during film festivals, and it was really cool having everyone invest that time in getting me where I needed to go, when I needed to be there. Much appreciated folks.
If you’d like to know more about my day-to-day activities at The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, you can follow me on Twitter, where I'm DustinKH.
Stay tuned for more reviews, panel coverage, and interviews over the next six days.
If you haven't seen Louis Malle's amazing "Vanya On 42nd Street," Dustin, check it out as soon as you can. It's my favorite version of the play that I've ever seen, and features some remarkable performances.
Thanks for all the work so far. Looking forward to the rest of what you've got coming this week.
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