Net-A-Porter — “I have always wanted to be in a rom-com,” muses Carey Mulligan. Her admission comes as something of a surprise, given the nature of the actor’s previous screen credits – from the suicidal sister of a sex addict in Shame to a radicalized laundrywoman in Suffragette. But, apparently, she means it: “I’ve been campaigning for [Love Actually rom-com legend] Richard Curtis to write me something for about 10 years!” she reveals.
[…] Mulligan’s rom-com revelation is relevant because the 34-year-old might initially have thought she had landed one with Promising Young Woman, a movie penned and directed by Killing Eve showrunner Emerald Fennell. “It’s funny, because the reaction I first had when I read the script was, ‘This is soooo romantic’,” she says, almost swooning. “There’s this gorgeous ’80s rom-com in there, with this really believable relationship in the middle of it.” Underpinning it, however, is a black comedy about revenge, sexual assault and toxic masculinity.
The themes look set to make it the talking-point movie of the year. Despite its comedic trappings, the story is rooted in the conversations about consent that have arisen out of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements in recent years. Mulligan’s character, Cassie, who has a traumatic backstory, leads a double life that sees her going to bars pretending to be paralytically drunk in order to lure men who try to take advantage of her when she clearly couldn’t possibly provide consent. Mulligan says the film’s scenarios deepened her own understanding of the issues.
“Emerald was very deliberate about not putting anything in the film that we haven’t seen in a rom-com or bro-comedy in the past 20 years,” she says. “Emerald’s [point] was: if [you] take someone home and they are really drunk, and then that person reveals they are not drunk, and you feel guilty, then you know what you are doing isn’t right. What we reflected on, making this film, was the amount of real-life stories like this we know. A lot of this film is stuff that pretty much every woman I know has experienced in some way.”
Given the movie’s focus, talk turns to the changes that Mulligan has witnessed in her own industry on the back of #MeToo. “The first concrete measure I saw was doing a play at the Royal Court called Girls & Boys. They gave us a document that was a code of conduct. It was funny because I was the only person in the play,” she recalls. “But the director, the assistant director and writer, we all had to read and sign it. I had never had that in my career. If that had been going on when I started at 18, it would have felt different. Now, I really think it would be wild for something to happen on set. No one would turn a blind eye.”
After Fennell sent her the script of Promising Young Woman, Mulligan jumped on board almost immediately, impressed by the writer-director’s strength of vision. “Her confidence really stands out,” says the actor. “I remember sitting with her here and she said, ‘I want to shoot in LA’. Every [indie film] I’ve done was shot in Oklahoma or Louisiana or somewhere random, because it’s cheaper. So, I was like, ‘Cool, I’ll see you in LA’, but expecting to end up in the middle of nowhere. And, sure enough, we shot in LA.”
For the “irritatingly talented” Fennell, who is currently working on a new stage version of Cinderella with Andrew Lloyd Webber, Mulligan has nothing but praise. She even burst into tears at a joint photo call at the Sundance Film Festival because she was “genuinely overwhelmed by love and pride” for her friend. The pair first worked together as actors in the 1997 TV drama Trial & Retribution, though neither remembers the other (“we were blinded by fear”). They met again two Christmases ago at a friend’s house. “[Fennell] was on her way to the Killing Eve wrap party and wearing these amazing trousers. I was like, f***, she’s so cool,” recalls Mulligan.