Deadline – Emerald Fennell’s directorial debut Promising Young Woman could have easily been your classic revenge fantasy thriller, with its tale of Cassie, a grief-stricken, silently enraged woman on a mission to expose every last sexual predator in town. Only it’s so much more. Styled like an entrancing ’90s romcom, it wrongfoots the viewer at every turn with its fluffy-sweatered, heart-printed world, punctuated by cupcakes and pop songs. With Carey Mulligan’s blood-curdlingly underplayed performance as Cassie, Fennell leads us down a deceptively pretty garden path to the real truth about sexual assault and society’s turning of the other cheek, in a journey so twisty we never see its end coming. Antonia Blyth meets Fennell and Mulligan to find out how they disguised a truly thought-provoking shocker as a pretty pink love story.
[…] As soon as she’d read the script, Mulligan was on board. “For ages before this film came along, people were like, ‘What part do you want? What have you not done that you want to do? What’s your dream part?’” Mulligan says. “And I couldn’t describe what it was. I would just say, ‘Well, I just know it’s not that, and I know it’s not that. I know it’s not the wife to that great man or the girlfriend who’s a ‘troubled individual’. I knew what it wasn’t. And when this came along I was like, ‘Oh, it’s that. That’s what I want to do.’”
[…] Fennell and Mulligan built Cassie through an ongoing conversation. And the result was a character who mostly appears impassive on the surface, like a kind of angel of justice. This was something that required so much internal emotion with so little surface tension. But, says Fennell, Mulligan was thoroughly cut out for the job. “You see what’s happening with so little. She’s got that thing that’s so rare to find, where she does almost nothing, and it’s almost everything.”
[…] “It’s so easy to cry on camera and that’s the territory I feel comfortable in,” she says. “But laughing and being free and happy, without ego and self-awareness, I think is much harder. That’s why I have such an immense respect for comedians.”
She definitely did not want to dance, and tried the tactic of telling Fennell she didn’t imagine Cassie would do that.
She confesses, “It was definitely me hiding behind my character saying, ‘Oh, Cassie doesn’t want to do it,’ but I think it was Carey not wanting to do it. A great note from Emerald was, ‘Of course you feel that way, but when you’re in love you look like an idiot from the outside. Everyone thinks you’ve lost your mind. You’re so annoying.’ And Bo, from the beginning, God bless him, was just totally comfortable doing it. He says he wasn’t, but he was immediately picking up the [can of] spam. So much of the levity, and so much of Cassie’s lightness and vulnerability, was just because Bo was so hilarious and charming in that role. I can’t imagine a different actor doing it.”
But there was also the problem of singing along to Paris Hilton.
“The lyrics are quite complicated to learn,” Mulligan says, with absolute seriousness. “There are bits of it that don’t really make sense. It’s like learning a Radiohead song. It’s not a narrative. They are strange bits in it that are… I mean, it’s a brilliant song, don’t get me wrong, I loved it. But it’s not straightforward to learn, so we did have to print the lyrics out and practice them.”
Fennell and Mulligan always excitedly planned to invite Hilton to the premiere, and then the pandemic got in the way. “My biggest disappointment of 2020 was not getting to meet Paris Hilton,” Mulligan says. “I hope she likes it.”