It would be an understatement to call actress Carey Mulligan busy. The newcomer spent the better part of the last year shooting two films back-to-back — “An Education,” and “The Greatest” — followed by making her Broadway debut as Nina in the acclaimed revival of “The Seagull” opposite Kristin Scott Thomas. And so far, critics and audiences alike have been pleased to meet the button-nosed 23-year-old: “An Education” sparked a bidding war at the Sundance Film Festival after its premiere before finally selling to Sony Classics for a rumored $4 million, and her turn in “The Greatest” also won strong reviews at the festival.
“It’s been a really good year,” says the London native, who manages to exude Brit appeal while in Park City, Utah, thanks in part to a pinstripe blazer pinched from her “An Education” co-star Peter Sarsgaard’s significant other, Maggie Gyllenhaal. “I went to her house and she had bags and bags from cleaning out her closet, so I did rather well,” Mulligan says.
Costume played an important role in “An Education,” a Nick Hornby-scripted film based on famed British journalist Lynn Barber’s coming-of-age memoir set in swanky Sixties London and Paris. As Jenny, a precocious 16-year-old whose aspirations for Oxford are derailed by an older man (Sarsgaard), Mulligan alternates between little-girl kilts and sophisticated frocks. “It was really funny. The male camera crew couldn’t adjust to a 22-year-old actress in a schoolgirl uniform,” she laughs. Of the more sophisticated dresses she dons as Sarsgaard’s arm candy, she says, “I wanted to keep all of them.” She only made off with one, though, plus the Prada heels that went with it.
“I just thought Jenny was such a brilliant female character,” continues Mulligan, whose co-stars include British actresses Emma Thompson, Olivia Williams, Rosamund Pike, Sally Hawkins and Cara Seymour. “When you’re 16, there’s a lot going on with hormones and becoming a woman. It’s easy to get caught up in a whirlwind and that’s what she does.”
Mulligan had to switch gears — and accents — to make “The Greatest,” a contemporary film costarring Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon as a couple who lose a child. “We shot ‘The Greatest’ in 25 days, so it really was the fastest you could work,” she says. “It was brilliant because it was my first American lead role, so that was a real challenge.”
Although she never had formal acting training, Mulligan landed her first film role at an open casting call for 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice,” starring Keira Knightley. Having such experienced co-stars has certainly helped the budding starlet find her footing. “It’s like one great drama training for me every time I meet someone like Pierce or Emma,” she says. “I just try and watch and learn as much as I can.”
And despite her burgeoning film career, Mulligan vows to act in at least one play a year. “Next year I’m doing ‘Uncle Vanya’ in the West End [in London]. I’m trying to knock out all the Chekhov while I’m still young,” she laughs (as it turns out, Gyllenhaal has reportedly been approached to appear in the production as well).
Between jobs, Mulligan heads to her family’s house in the Austrian Alps to ski and hike, and goes to the theater. “I’m going to fly to New York on the way home to see my friend Jenna Malone in ‘Mourning Becomes Electra’ and I’m seeing ‘The Cherry Orchard,’” she says.
She may also do some shopping — her favorite labels include Chloé and Miu Miu. “I borrowed my friend’s Miu Miu handbag for Sundance because I’m completely obsessed with it, but I can never shell out the money to buy it,” she sighs.