'Awards Chatter' Podcast — Carey Mulligan ('Wildlife')

An actors’ actor who is just 33, but already has more than a decade of acclaimed stage and screen work under her belt, on breaking out of period pieces, overcoming fears and her latest role, in which she gives, in the view of the New York Times' film critic, "the best performance of any I’ve seen in film this year."
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Carey Mulligan

"I kind of lean into the unlikable things," says the actress Carey Mulligan as we sit down at the offices of The Hollywood Reporter to record an episode of THR's 'Awards Chatter' podcast and begin discussing the character she plays in Paul Dano's new film Wildlife, a 1960s wife and mother whose "likability," or lack thereof, has been a hot topic of discussion. "Because we all have slightly crap aspects to our personality, as much as we try and pretend that we don't, and that's what makes us real human beings. So I didn't really think about whether Jeanette was likable or not. I suppose that's why it came as quite a shock when people started shouting at me in Q&As!"

Mulligan is just 33, but already has more than a decade of stage and screen work under her belt, and has a remarkably high batting average. The first major film in which she appeared was 2005's Pride & Prejudice. For her first leading role in a film, 2009's An Education, she received a best actress Oscar nomination. And she hasn’t stopped doing standout work since — in 2010's Never Let Me Go; 2011's Drive and Shame; 2013's The Great Gatsby and Inside Llewyn Davis; 2015's Far From the Madding Crowd and Suffragette; 2017's Mudbound; and, this year, Wildlife. Indeed, Mulligan's turn in Wildlife — which IFC began rolling out theatrically on Oct. 19 — was hailed by the Los Angeles Times as her "career-best performance" and The New York Times as "the best performance of any I've seen in film this year."

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LISTEN: You can hear the entire interview below [starting at 28:05], following a conversation between host Scott Feinberg and Roger Ross Williams, the first black director ever to win an Oscar, and Kristi Jacobson about their Oscar-eligible documentary short Take Back the Harbor, which shows how high school students are using oysters to clean the polluted waters around New York.

Check out our past episodes featuring the likes of Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey, Lorne Michaels, Barbra Streisand, Justin Timberlake, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence, Eddie Murphy, Gal Gadot, Warren Beatty, Angelina Jolie, Snoop Dogg, Jessica Chastain, Stephen Colbert, Reese Witherspoon, Aaron Sorkin, Margot Robbie, Ryan Reynolds, Nicole Kidman, Denzel Washington, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matthew McConaughey, Kate Winslet, Jimmy Kimmel, Natalie Portman, Chadwick Boseman, Jennifer Lopez, Ricky Gervais, Judi Dench, Quincy Jones, Jane Fonda, Tom Hanks, Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Elisabeth Moss, RuPaul, Rachel Brosnahan, Jimmy Fallon, Kris Jenner, Michael Moore, Emilia Clarke, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Helen Mirren, Tyler Perry, Sally Field, Spike Lee, Lady Gaga, JJ Abrams, Emma Stone, Ryan Murphy, Alicia Vikander, Trevor Noah, Dolly Parton, Will Smith, Taraji P. Henson, Timothee Chalamet and Carol Burnett.

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Mulligan was born in London, and raised between there and Germany, by parents who worked in the hotel industry. From an early age she aspired to be an actress — initially in musical theater. The head of drama at her school, she got to meet a friend of the headmaster, the actor/writer Julian Fellowes, when he visited, which made her dreams seem tangible. Later, after being turned down by all of the major drama schools, she reached out to Fellowes, who helped her secure an audition for Joe Wright's first film Pride & Prejudice. She landed the part of Kitty Bennett, a sister of characters played by Keira Knightley and Rosamund Pike, and, in her big-screen debut, also got to work with her "favorite actress on the planet," Judi Dench.

Mulligan then jumped at a chance to play the role of Nina, an aspiring young actress, in Ian Rickson's theatrical production of The Seagull, first at the Royal Court and then on Broadway. "I'm never really happier than when I'm working onstage," she explains. The experience was career-changing, in that it taught her how to play even characters to whom she can make no personal connection. "Prior to that, everything I'd done I'd been kind of winging it, in a way," Mulligan admits. It helped to make possible her star-making turn as an underage schoolgirl courted by considerably older guy in Lone Scherfig's An Education. "I'd never played a lead in a film before," she says, "but my expectation for that film was maybe like a week at the Mayfair Curzon — like, I didn't imagine it would ever get seen, so I didn't feel any kind of pressure doing it." In the end, the film wound up with Oscar nominations for best picture and best actress.

Following An Education's Sundance Film Festival premiere, Peter Rice, then chief of Fox Searchlight, urged Mark Romanek to cast Mulligan in Never Let Me Go, the first of a long string of films that have followed. These have included contemporary-set projects such as Nicolas Winding Refn's Drive and Steve McQueen's Shame ("I was conscious of not becoming a British actress who just wears corsets," she emphasizes) and other productions of widely varying scales including Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby and Ethan and Joel Coen's Inside Llewyn Davis. Mulligan has also made films that reflect her feminist sensibility, including Thomas Vinterberg's Far From the Madding Crowd, Sarah Gavron Suffragette and Dee Rees' Mudbound. And she has continued to return to the theater, most notably in Skylight, another Royal Court-to-Broadway venture (for which she received a Tony nomination), and Girls & Boys, an off-Broadway one-woman show. No less an authority than The New York Times' chief theater critic Ben Brantley has called her "one of the most compelling stage actresses of her generation."

In Wildlife, an indie which Dano and Zoe Kazan co-adapted from Richard Ford's 1990 novel of the same name and which premiered at Sundance and also played at the Cannes, Toronto and New York film festivals, Mulligan relished the chance to play a "less than perfect" woman — a young wife and mother of a teenage boy in 1960s Montana. It was Mulligan's first time being directed by a fellow actor. "I've worked with lots of directors who are really intuitive and thoughtful about acting," she says, "but I think Paul could see [things that others couldn't]. What Paul was really good at was identifying when I was holding back a bit, because I will always kind of lean towards restraint and do less, and he was really good at finding those moments and encouraging me to do more."