GIRLS ON FILM: In Cannes for the premiere of “Wildlife,” British actress Carey Mulligan on Thursday opened Kering’s “Women in Motion” program with a candid and entertaining talk covering everything from her own insecurities as an actress to the shifts under way for women in Hollywood.
Marking Paul Dano’s directorial debut, “Wildlife” was the opening film of the Cannes Film Festival’s Critics’ Week, the parallel section dedicated to directors’ first and second films. Mulligan described her role in the film, in which she plays a frustrated Sixties housewife and mother looking to break free — starring opposite Jake Gyllenhaal — as her most challenging yet.
Part of the research, she said, involved looking at adverts from the era, “the way that vacuum cleaners were sold as great Christmas present ideas for your wife.”
Though such a concept seems archaic, the reality for women in film, said the actress, is that the representation of women in major roles on-screen, which falls at around 25 percent, has hardly budged since the industry’s beginnings 100 years ago.
“There’s a long way to go and everything that’s happening now will take some time to take effect, but we’re moving in the right direction. We can’t go back on pay disparities and, hopefully, misbehavior in the workplace,” she said. When asked what she looks for in a role, Mulligan replied: “realistic portrayals of women.”
The actress, who has worked with several female directors in her career, including Lone Scherfig for “An Education,” and Sarah Gavron for “Suffragette,” said “there’s been a massive injustice to women directors in the past and hopefully we’re starting to redress the balance.”
“But there are people who’ve made great films who haven’t had the opportunities that a male director would have had. [‘Mudbound’ director] Dee Rees, for example, she should direct everything, I think she’s a genius. And I think if she was a man, probably those opportunities would have come quicker,” she said. “I’m sure they are all coming, but I think that’s largely to do with what’s happened in the last year.”
Mulligan said she had experienced sexism first-hand, especially at the start of her career, saying: “There were times where I worked on films where I felt like my voice didn’t have as much clout [as her male costars].”
The actress, who is producing a film about Kate Webb, a correspondent during the Vietnam War, said that with “Suffragette,” “We were on the cusp of all of that things happening now.” “We were almost two years too early, it would have resonated so much more [today], but it definitely felt like a moment, and a strong representation of women behind the scenes as well.”
The self-deprecating actress confessed she hates to watch herself on-screen. She has never seen “Drive.” “I saw a rough cut of it and then never got to do any press for it as I was filming “The Great Gatsby,” and then I tried to watch it on an airplane, but a stewardess walked past and saw me watching myself and I had to turn it off because it looked so weird,” she said. “Maybe it’s better to leave it as a really amazing memory.”
When she saw “An Education,” for which she ended up receiving an Academy Award nomination for best actress, she found her performance “really boring to watch.” “I called my mum and said, ‘Mum, it’s just terrible, I’ve got to come home, I can’t go to Sundance, they’ll drive me out of town,” she said.
“My regret about that time is not really enjoying it. Toward the end I think I started to realize this is probably a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I should probably have a nice time,” she said.
Past guests of the “Women in Motion” program include Jodie Foster, Juliette Binoche, Chloë Sevigny and Salma Hayek Pinault, who is expected to host a talk later in the week. The rest of the schedule is yet to be confirmed.