Harper’s Bazaar – Carey Mulligan is at home, where she’s been – like everyone else – for the best part of a year. The day we speak she’s in her bedroom, in her house in Devon, and through the oddly personal glimpse Zoom allows into people’s lives, I can see a large, neatly made bed, little bottles of cream on a bedside table, the odds and ends of family life strewn around the room.
[…] When everything stopped, Mulligan was just starting to promote one of her two new films, Promising Young Woman, written and directed by the Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell. Already, the movie had provoked the kind of conversations that reached beyond mere buzz. The story follows Cassie, played by Mulligan, who is on a path to avenge her best friend’s sexual assault by pretending to be drunk in bars, allowing men to take advantage, and then suddenly, soberly, calling them out.
[…] “When the script came to my agent,” says Mulligan, “I just didn’t know what to do with it. I thought, ‘Why would Emerald ask me to do this?’” The part, and the movie, were outside Mulligan’s usual territory and the challenge to do something different was irresistible. Mulligan is more often found in period pieces – The Great Gatsby, Suffragette, Far from the Madding Crowd. She tends to play characters more obviously sympathetic, such as the grieving widow, Edith Pretty, in her other new project, a Netflix film called The Dig, which takes place on the eve of World War II and tells the story of the discovery of a haul of Anglo-Saxon artefacts beneath Edith’s land. Edith is the quintessential Mulligan role – slightly pained, wry, and often giving the impression of a buried emotional life communicated through a tiny half-smile, or a flicker of an eyebrow.
[…] Reflecting on her career, Mulligan says there simply wasn’t the opportunity for women film-makers and writers to make such movies when she started. “I certainly didn’t feel any of this kind of activity for the first decade I was working.” In her view, a game-changing moment was Blue Jasmine, the 2013 Woody Allen film in which Cate Blanchett played the title role, winning an Oscar for her performance.
“I remember thinking, ‘Oh, there’s loads of brilliant, complex parts being written for women,’” says Mulligan. But after that, things seemed to regress again: “It was like one step forwards, two steps back.” (Also, it was still a film written by a man, one mired in controversy, who has had to publicly deny sexual abuse.) Only in the past couple of years has she felt that the landscape has truly changed, with women writers and directors getting the kind of backing they’ve long deserved and, as a result, creating parts like Cassie. Mulligan smiles at the thought not just of Cassie, but the antics all of these unforgettable characters: “It’s really fun to see people behaving badly.”
So, has the process of working with Fennell given her an appetite to do the same – to make a story of her own? “Not right now,” says Milligan, frankly. “I don’t know, it’s funny. If I spend too long on something, or if I see too much behind the curtain, I don’t really want to participate.” Partly it’s the reality of life with small children, and the consequential lack of time. But also, she quite likes just being, as she puts it, ‘an actor for hire’ – turning up, doing her job, leaving. When filming The Dig, she rented a house as close to set as she could and made it home for bath-time most days. But her attitude reveals a little more than just the logistics of juggling family and work; it’s also part of who Mulligan is, and the way she chooses to be.
She talks about enjoying the mystery of jobs: her dream is to be sent a wonderful script, to unwrap it like a present, make the movie and then disappear. She doesn’t want to analyse shots or watch the rushes, has no inclination to be involved in the film-making beyond playing her part. “It makes me feel very self-aware,” she says. “I like being just an actor. I like just showing up and doing my thing and then leaving them to it.“