An Education - Carey Mulligan interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
EMERGING British actress and Oscar hopeful Carey Mulligan talks to us about taking her first leading role in An Education, getting into the mind [and school uniform] of a 16-year-old, mixing it up with Emma Thompson.
She also talks about how she’s coping with celebrity, whether she’s ready for the British press and why it’s a blast playing Michael Douglas’ daughter on Oliver Stone’s Wall Street sequel…
Q. How was the experience of shooting An Education, which is your first lead role?
Carey Mulligan: It was brilliant. But it didn’t feel like a lead role when I was shooting it. It’s actually easier to play a leading role than it is to play a supporting role. I’ve done tiny, tiny parts in other films… I did a tiny part in Brothers, the Jim Sheridan movie, and I found that really intimidating because you’ve got to come in and the whole crew are best friends and they all know each other… there’s a tone that’s been set for the piece that you have to try and fit into. I had one scene in it and if I felt that I wasn’t good I’d feel like that was my only scene in the whole film… but with An Education I had a whole film, so I could be crap in a percentage of it and get away with it! I felt I could work my way into it. And when you start playing a character every day for seven weeks, it suddenly starts becoming easier.
Q. Well, you’re very good in the whole of An Education. But how was it getting back into the mindset of a 16-year-old, as you were 22 when filming?
Carey Mulligan: Yeah, it was alright. I’ve always played younger parts. My first part when I was 19, I played a 15-year-old, and then I played a 14-year-old straight afterwards. So, I was used to that. And so much of what makes her 16 is the way she treats other people, and that was given to me in the script.
Q. Were you a rebellious teenager?
Carey Mulligan: I was quite straight-laced. I was quite academic until I was about 14 and then I went to boarding school where I had the opportunity to continue to be very academic, but got less interested in it and became more involved in acting. And then when I was applying for universities I used a couple of places on my UCAS form to apply for drama school without telling anyone… but didn’t get into drama school. But that was the most rebellious thing I did… and I was still applying to go to higher education, so there wasn’t anything dreadful. So, I was pretty dull really.
Q. How did you feel about not getting into drama school now, at the time, and whether you feel it’s helped or hindered?
Carey Mulligan: I applied for three and went to the auditions and it’s still the most terrifying experience of my whole life. For one of them I had to stand up on stage in front of 10 other people in the same group as me auditioning and do my piece. I did Shakespeare and I’d never had any training in Shakespeare, so it was a nightmare. When I didn’t get in I was disappointed, but 2,000 people apply for each of these places every year and it’s hugely competitive. I did some awfully pretentious monologue about suicide and I come from a really happy life, so it wasn’t working for me [laughs]. So, I guess it wasn’t a huge surprise really.
But I always wanted to go. I was in New York last week and I went past Julliard and I felt really that I pined for it. It was my dream for years… to train. Dominic [Cooper] went and he’s doing alright. But some people don’t go and do brilliantly. Although I think there are things I missed from not having trained. I think I’d be more confident on stage had I gone because I think it means you’re equipped with better vocal training and things like that. But in general it’s worked out very well and I’ve been really lucky. I might still go… because I feel like I’ve missed out on technical things that I haven’t had through just acting.
Q. I gather that one of your first scenes with Peter Sarsgaard was being charmed into his car. But he really had to charm you?
8Carey Mulligan:* He did. I was like: “This is ridiculous. I can’t get into a car with a strange man…” But then they poured gallons and gallons of freezing cold water on me and I was literally drenched, and he was terribly charming and it did feel very safe. But that was important to me, because that scene sparks the whole story and if you didn’t buy why she got in the car then we’d be in trouble.
Q. What was it like mixing it up with Emma Thompson?
Carey Mulligan: I like that… mixing it up with Emma Thompson [laughs]. It was great… that was day four, so it was still our first week and we shot all of her scenes in one day. If you’ve met her, she’s so nice and fun. She had the whole crew laughing. She walks into a room and makes it much more fun. I was nervous because she’s probably my favourite actress in the world and I didn’t want to screw anything up, or forget a line. You don’t want to be the weak link. But she was amazing. I remember we ran over and when we wrapped she bought beer, wine and pizza for the whole crew as a kind of “sorry we ran over… thank you”. It was so sweet. Everyone loved her.
Q. She lived up to your expectations?
Carey Mulligan: She did… when you idolise someone, or you hold someone in such high regard, you just want them to be everything that you think there are – and when they are it’s just lovely.
Q. Is it getting easier to appear alongside people you admire… or do you still sometimes feel a little daunted?
Carey Mulligan: It’s daunting in a good way. It’s not nerve-wracking but it’s exciting because you know you’ve really got to bring your A game. So it’s exciting more than anything. I’ve never been obsessed with celebrity or star-struck or anything. I met Penelope Cruz when we were in Toronto, who I think is a goddess and an unbelievable actress, and she introduced herself. As she walked away from the table I had to take a deep breath, which was strange because I’ve never had that with anyone. I never had posters on my wall and when I meet actors that I really admire, it’s exciting because I get to work with them. But with her I got really overwhelmed. But I think it’s because she’s such a strong, amazing talent.
Q. What’s it like seeing yourself on a poster now?
Carey Mulligan: Well, it doesn’t look like me, so it’s alright [laughs]. I look really nice and it’s a good angle, so I can get away with it. It’s weird but I haven’t seen it in too many places yet. A couple of them popped up in New York, but I haven’t seen many in London. I told my best friend Moff: “If you see any in the Tube station you’ve got to take a picture!” I’m just a geek about it. But it’s exciting. I never thought I’d be on a poster.
Q. You’re incredibly busy at the moment with numerous projects, including Wall Street 2, and Oscar buzz. How do you feel it’s all coming together for you? Can you believe it?
Carey Mulligan: Wall Street… yeah, it’s massively exciting. That’s what’s been so wonderful about this year. A lot of the time you’re just not enough of a name to get even a meeting to get a job. So, when that’s slightly easier, when you have something like An Education, which is a good film, you get to meet people you’d never meet and access to scripts that you never would have done before. So, it’s great. It means I get really interesting work.
Q. Are you braced for the British press?
Carey Mulligan: I think when you do bigger jobs… I wouldn’t have got Wall Street 2 if I hadn’t done An Education. But when you do bigger jobs there’s more attention and when you film in New York you get loads of paparazzi everywhere. It affects your work because you’re trying to think about the person you’re acting with and you’ve got 20 other lenses taking pictures of you at the same time, and it throws you. I’m not great at having my picture taken and I don’t enjoy that side of it very much but I enjoy being with my friends and it’s nice to have a reunion. I’ve got an amazing job and I get to work with brilliant people, so there’s a two per cent downside of slightly negative stuff on the Internet or wherever. But in general, I’m feeling pretty brilliant, so it’s hard to feel that concerned with it right now.
Q. So how is playing Michael Douglas’s daughter?
Carey Mulligan: [Smiles] Awesome. It’s really cool. But it’s an amazing cast [including Shia LaBeouf and Josh Brolin] and Oliver [Stone] is just brilliant. So, we’re all having a lot of fun. It’s a really cool crew. I thought it would be drastically different because it’s this big American movie, but all crews are the same. You always have that really fun camaraderie and everyone gets on really well. Oliver is just a legend and a lot of fun – very challenging.
- Read our review
- Carey Mulligan interview
- Dominic Cooper interview
- View photos from An Education
- Nick Hornby interview
- Lone Scherfig and Matthew Beard interview
- An Education Premiere Gallery
- An Education London photo call gallery