OH, WHEN MOM GOES WILD

Los Angeles Times - - THE ENVELOPE - By Hugh Hart cal­en­dar@la­times.com

Sit­ting with one foot on the chair at a sleek Bev­erly Hills café, Carey Mul­li­gan re­mem­bers be­ing in her Lon­don home with her in­fant daugh­ter and mu­si­cian-hus­band Mar­cus Mum­ford when she re­ceived Paul Dano’s script for “Wildlife.”

“It came out of the blue at 6,” she re­calls. “I read it by 7:30 and was on the phone with Paul at 8 say­ing yes! From the very first read, I loved that my char­ac­ter does things that are mis­guided and ill-judged, but she’s not a to­tally bad par­ent. She’s just hav­ing a re­ally bad week. And we don’t see women of­ten in movies hav­ing a re­ally bad time.”

Adapted from Richard Ford’s 1990 novel by ac­tor-di­rec­tor Dano and his part­ner, ac­tress Zoe Kazan, “Wildlife” takes place in 1960 Ne­braska. Mul­li­gan’s Jeanette ini­tially looks the part of a com­plaisant mid­cen­tury Amer­i­can house­wife com­plete with apron and dish-wash­ing gloves. But when her unemployed hus­band Jerry (Jake Gyl­len­haal) leaves home for a tem­po­rary fire­fight­ing job, Jeanette tries out a brash new per­sona, much to the dis­may of her 14-year-old son, Joe (Aus­tralian new­comer Ed Ox­en­bould).

“As long as Jerry keeps up his side of the bar­gain and main­tains this cheer­ful ve­neer, then she’ll do the same,” Mul­li­gan ex­plains. “But when Jerry breaks the con­tract, Jeanette snaps from the pres­sure build­ing over the years of hav­ing to be this per­fect wife who al­ways re­sponds in the ap­pro­pri­ate way. She goes like, ‘Argh — I’m done!’ ”

Jeanette, un­leashed from her rou­tine, gets a job and pulls Joe from school for a day trip to the for­est fires. On the road, she shares bit­ter ob­ser­va­tions with the be­wil­dered teenager. Mul­li­gan says, “Jeanette needs to de­stroy Joe’s ideas of who she is. ‘My name is Jeanette, I hate my … name. I used to be a school­teacher. I had all this po­ten­tial and now it’s all gone.’ Jeanette’s telling Joe, ‘For­get ev­ery­thing you know about me, it’s not real, I’m burn­ing it all down and start­ing again.’ ”

In one of the film’s most com­pelling se­quences, Jeanette 2.0 slips into a slinky “des­per­a­tion dress” and takes her son to an awk­ward din­ner at the home of a wealthy car dealer (Bill Camp). Drinks in­spire Jeanette

to try out her cha-cha moves.

“I’m a ter­ri­ble dancer,” Mul­li­gan chor­tles. “I wanted to be a mu­si­cal-the­ater ac­tress when I was younger and one of the big stum­bling blocks was that I can’t dance, at all. So Paul sent Bill and me to this lo­cal stu­dio in Ok­la­homa and I took a cou­ple of cha-cha classes. Of course, when we shot the scene, Jeanette was so drunk there was no real cha-cha go­ing on. She’s stum­bling and fall­ing over.”

Did the ac­tress have an ac­tual drink to loosen up be­fore cam­eras started rolling? “God no, I never drink when I’m work­ing,” Mul­li­gan says, be­fore catch­ing her­self. “That’s not true,” she con­fesses. “I had a whiskey be­fore I did the singing scene in ‘Shame’ be­cause I was so par­a­lyzed by fear, hav­ing to sing in front of all these ex­tras.”

The non­sing­ing roles have worked out spec­tac­u­larly too. At age 23, Mul­li­gan earned an Os­car nom­i­na­tion for her rest­less Bri­tish school­girl in “An Ed­u­ca­tion.” She then por­trayed Daisy Buchanan (“The Great Gatsby”), a folk singer (“In­side Llewyn Davis”), a work­ing-class ac­tivist (“Suf­fragette”) and a weary farmer’s wife (“Mud­bound”). But she cites her ex­pe­ri­ence in An­ton Chekhov’s “The Seag­ull” on Broad­way as her most trans­for­ma­tive role.

“Up un­til ‘The Seag­ull,’ I was al­ways [play­ing] some ver­sion of my­self,” she says, mo­tion­ing to the dime-sized bird tat­too on her wrist. “The di­rec­tor, Ian Rick­son, helped me un­der­stand how to cre­ate a char­ac­ter, which I’d never re­ally done. It’s less emo­tional re­call, more imag­i­na­tion.”

Since part­ing ways with her richly imag­ined “Wildlife” char­ac­ter, Mul­li­gan played a preg­nant de­tec­tive on the minis­eries “Col­lat­eral,” then per­formed the one-woman show “Girls & Boys” five months after giv­ing birth to her baby boy.

Next up? “I just want to put this out there,” Mul­li­gan an­nounces. “I re­ally want to do a Pixar movie. I want to be, like, a troll or some­thing.”

‘I loved that my char­ac­ter does things that are mis­guided and ill-judged.’ — CAREY MUL­LI­GAN, on her role as a mother break­ing out of her day-to-day life in “Wildlife”

Jay L. Clen­denin Los An­ge­les Times

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