‘They’re asking me to defend Jeanette a lot’
Actor Carey Mulligan, who has seldom chosen the beaten track, plays a woman who is ‘out of line’ in her new movie, and the audience reaction has been very different from men and women, she says
For Carey Mulligan, who had her breakout moment with the Oscarnominated An Education (2009), the role of Jeanette, in Wildlife, is the latest in a series of complicated leading women that led her to Mudbound last year and the play Girls & Boys, which she performed offbroadway. Mulligan discusses her recent career path.
Has it fascinated you to see how other people judge Jeanette?
It really has! I’ve been doing a lot of Q&AS with real audiences, and they’re the punchiest Q&AS I’ve ever done. They’re asking me to defend her a lot, in a roundabout way. We had one guy in New York who went after me and the character — never had he seen such an “appalling woman”. No women have disliked her in the Q&AS, but we’ve had a couple of men who do.
Why do you think that is?
Because they don’t like seeing a woman who’s out of line, you know? They’ve been raised to see women in a very particular way and have very particular expectations of women, and allowing a woman on screen to screw everything up for a minute just seems so out of what they’re used to.
Have you been offered a lot of “wife on the phone” parts?
I’ve been offered the wife to a great man millions of times — the wife of the brilliant politician, the girlfriend of the tech genius. Not many parts like Jeanette exist.
Do you feel like you have a good idea of what Hollywood thinks of you?
They think I’m “serious,” probably.
Do you ever get offered comedies?
Barely. And the ones I’ve been offered are incredibly broad, not-great ones. I would totally do comedy if the right thing came along, but it’s so scary. What if you tell a joke and nobody laughs?
[Viewers] don’t like seeing a woman who’s out of line, you know? They’ve been raised to see women in a very particular way and have very particular expectations of women.
CAREY MULLIGAN ACTOR
By and large, you work in independent movies. The Great Gatsby (2013) was a bigbudget studio film, but that’s a rarity on your résumé.
After An Education, my agent told me, ‘You shouldn’t take a job unless you can’t bear the idea of someone else doing it,’ and that’s how I’ve chosen everything since. If I’m reading a script, I think, ‘How would I feel if Insert-name-ofother-actress was doing this, and I saw the poster up outside the theatre?’ And if that makes me feel gutted, then I want the part.
So you don’t have anything against Marvel movies, in theory?
If I found a part in a Marvel movie where I was like, ‘It’s going to kill me if someone else take this,’ then I would do it. But I could never make myself do something that I’d be miserable in, where I’m just doing it to increase my boxoffice draw or make money. Now I have two children, so if I’m missing bath time with them, it has to be a good reason.
Have you ever gone back and watched an older film of yours?
I’ve caught bits. Most of the time I’ll switch it off, but if they play Pride & Prejudice on some movie channel, I’ll flick over and watch some of it.
Could you watch An Education now?
It was so long ago, that it feels like a different person, so maybe. There were no expectations about anything I did back then, which in retrospect is so lovely.
It feels a little bit different now: I would worry about playing a part and getting terrible reviews. Maybe that’s very self-involved to say, but there’s an expectation now to be good that I genuinely didn’t feel then. I could do whatever I wanted to and no one was watching me.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Actor Carey Mulligan