“We want to hear women’s stories”

At the 2009 Oscars Sean Penn read the names of the Best Actress nominees: Sandra Bullock (who eventually took it away), Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep and Carey Mulligan. Among such a roster of veteran stars, a 24-year-old girl who had just finished lifting the BAFTA a couple of weeks earlier for her performance in An Education had slipped in (Lone Scherfig, 2009). She was a newcomer who we had only seen in the role of the young Kitty Bennet of Pride and Prejudice (Joe Wright, 2005). Later they would call her Oliver Stone (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps), Steve McQueen (Shame), the Coen Brothers (About Llewyn Davis), Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Baz Luhrmann (The Great Gatsby). Also seen this year in The Excavation with Ralph Fiennes, now Mulligan (London, 1985) stars A promising young womanA plot that follows such surprising paths that before our interview with her they insist (a lot) that we not reveal any details of the ending. “It would be more”, we respond. It is the first film directed, and also written and produced by, by actress Emerald Fennell, known for her role as Camilla Parker Bowles in The Crown and for being the showrunner for the second season of Killing Eve. With that background behind her (and a lot of ingenuity) she has created a feminist and audacious plot that transits between indie romantic comedy, high school reunions and the feeling that at some point there may be a bloodbath. The director explains it like this: “I wanted to write a movie about how a normal woman would carry out revenge in the real world. And it would rarely be holding a gun. It’s more complex and twisted than that. ” That woman is Carey Mulligan, who has precisely managed the difficult balance in which her character is maintained and who has earned her her second nomination for the Oscars, which are delivered on April 25. A promising young woman is also up for Best Picture, Direction, Original Screenplay and Editing at the 93rd Academy Awards.

Courtesy of Focus Features

Debut as a producer

Mulligan faces his particular Without Forgiveness, where after a traumatic event he sets himself the mission of avenging the pain caused. “I usually wonder whether or not to play a role trying to imagine another actress playing it. If I can see it, then I don’t. However, the idea of ​​thinking about someone else being Cassie pissed me off and made me nervous. “, says about his character, sometimes naive, like many of his previous works, sometimes Machiavellian, almost always disconcerting and deeply hurt. She also serves as an executive producer, alongside Emerald Fennell herself and Margot Robbie.

A promising young woman has a very particular tone. How did the director explain her vision of the film and of your character to you?

There were a couple of important things. The first was a playlist that he sent me with party songs like Toxic, by Britney Spears, Boys, by Charli XCX, or Stars Are Blind, by Paris Hilton. That helped me to get an idea of ​​his sense of humor and his intelligence, although I had already perceived that before in many things that were in the script. The second was a mood board with photos of Todo por un Sueño, Virgins Suicides and all kinds of girl comedies with pastel mohair sweaters. One of the first things he told me was that he didn’t want an indie movie with actresses in cute cardigans, but he was going to have a brilliant look. I was looking for happy scenarios, a world in which you would like to live. I had a very clear vision of what I wanted and from the first moment I wanted to be there.

“When I started, I felt freer”

Did you know each other before?

The truth is, no. We had met on occasion, we had met for half an hour at someone we knew, but we were not friends. I got the script through my agent and we arranged to meet just two days later.

You play a bright girl in appearance, but dark and tormented inside. How have you worked on this duality?

The most important thing for me was to make it realistic. I wanted to get to imagine what she was like before what happened, because for me this is a story of love and mourning rather than revenge. She is a completely stagnant woman trying to find forgiveness, so her way of reacting is realistic, very real.

The film moves on a delicate line between comedy, drama, love, death … Was it difficult for you to keep the tone?

It was the most difficult, especially at the beginning. We shot in 23 days and we hardly had rehearsals, so I met some of the actors a week before, but others I didn’t even know that. The first morning we shot the scene with Alison Brie and I in the restaurant, which is very intense, playing our parts completely cold. Luckily I have felt very guided by Emerald, with excellent indications to get what I was looking for.

You’re an executive producer, something you’ve never done before. What has led you to get involved this time?

I wanted to help the project come into being, move forward and find distribution, so that this story could be told. It is becoming less so, but it is still rare to find such a bright and complex role for a woman. I want to work with directors, screenwriters and producers, and this was a good opportunity.

Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in a scene from

Carey Mulligan and Bo Burnham in a scene from “A Promising Girl.”

Merie Weismiller Wallace

Gender perspective

To what extent does this search for the feminine point of view condition the projects in which you decide to get involved?

It’s funny but when I read stories to my five-year-old daughter, I see that she is only interested if the main character is a girl. He says, ‘Is it a story about boys or girls?’ I see that we want to hear women’s stories, and this also applies to cinema. We seek to recognize ourselves, to see ourselves reflected on the screen. It is important that there are suitable female characters because we see too many that are not, there are many false representations of women and they are very harmful. We have to show models that we can understand and with whom we want to identify.

One of the issues the film addresses is how men’s benefit of the doubt sometimes trumps women’s right to be believed. Do you think that cinema and movements like #MeToo can contribute to changing attitudes?

I have that hope. I don’t think Emerald intended to openly make a political statement, but it does bring up this issue of why historically the scales of justice have tipped the side of men. There must be a political and social struggle because we are still very conditioned by this, and films like this can generate debate. Hopefully, because I think it is positive that people speak, disagree, discuss and also that each one can talk about their own experiences.

“It is important that there are suitable female characters, there are many who are not”

Uniting political commitment and entertainment always seems complicated, but you have succeeded.

It is his great achievement. It is the type of cinema to see eating popcorn, fun and even silly, although it gets dark at times. It’s a great movie and I want to think that the public is going to keep thinking about it. That’s what matters to me and it makes me feel like it’s special.

emmerald fenel, carey mulligan and bo burnham

Emily AssiranGetty Images

A long distance race

What other works of yours do you consider important and special?

I imagine that projects can be important for many reasons. When I played La Seagull at the Royal Court in London at the age of 21, it was a fundamental personal experience, but from the perspective of my career perhaps not so much. What I have clear is that having made A promising young woman is going to change the way I approach the roles from now on.

You filmed Pride and Prejudice 15 years ago and An Education 13 years ago. How have you seen yourself evolve?

It’s crazy how time flies, it seems like yesterday. Pride and Prejudice was my first film and I had no idea what I was doing, all I was thinking about was copying Jena Malone and trying to fit in. It was like summer camp. An Education was my first protagonist and I felt great freedom because it was something small, with few means. The more you work, the more you get and the more expectations there are about your work, the more pressure you feel. When I started I felt freer.

“I enjoy independent projects more”

You have been closely linked to independent cinema. Was it deliberate?

I have not drawn much strategy on it. The Great Gatsby was important because I haven’t done a lot with big studios, but the truth is that I enjoy independent projects more. I like the peace of small productions where you know each other’s name and create a fun camaraderie. An Education gave me the ability to wait and do what I wanted and I can say that I have only done things that I have been passionate about.

You’re going to be in Bradley Cooper’s second film as a director. What can you tell us?

It is the story of the musician Leonard Bernstein, played by him, and his wife Felicia, who is me. Is beautiful. I’ve known Bradley for years and he’s a terrific director. I am looking forward to working with him. Actually, I’m dying to shoot after so many months of confinement.

This interview appears published in the number of PHOTOGRAMS of April 2021

april 2021 frame cover

PHOTOGRAMS