It’s been two years since Oscar-nominee Carey Mulligan has appeared on the big screen. But as the actress revealed to Indiewire this week, it’s not for lack of trying.
After reportedly beating out some of the most in-demand young actresses working today to embody Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 3D extravaganza "The Great Gatsby" and appearing that same year in Joel and Ethan Coen’s beloved musical drama "Inside Llewyn Davis," Mulligan found herself struggling. Strong female roles, like the ones she’s been known for playing since "An Education" made her a star, weren’t coming her way. Over a year later, one finally came in the form Bathsheba Everdene, the fiercely independent heroine at the center of a new film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s classic novel "Far From the Madding Crowd." The period drama, directed by Thomas Vinterberg ("The Hunt"), opens in select theaters this Friday, April 31.
"Far From the Madding Crowd" sees you playing a feminist way ahead of her time and this fall you have "Suffragette," which traces the beginnings of the feminist movement, coming out. Is that just happenstance?
It is. I’ve always been looking for interesting, real female characters, complex real women. These two particularly came up one after another in a weird way. "Suffragette" is obviously a big feminist movement film but it’s this sort of bizarre thing that came up. And this character I’m playing on stage in New York has a similar feminist quality to her as well. I’m so lucky because they don’t come up that often and these came up one after another.
That’s crazy and super disheartening that these types of roles don’t come up often for you.
Before I did "Madding" I took a year and a half off because there was just nothing — these parts don’t come up.
This was after "Gatsby?"
Yeah, I did "Gatsby" and then I did two weeks with the Coen Brothers and a year and half of just waiting. I think "Madding" came a year after and we had a certain amount of time before shooting but yeah, it was certainly a large amount of time to hang out.
I’m frankly shocked that you didn’t have a wealth of strong offers following "Gatsby," the biggest film of your career.
There’s just more of them for men, I suppose and it’s competitive and then there’s lots of women in big big blockbuster films and… I don’t know, there’s just this trickled down effect. But I’m good at taking time off. [laughs]
That doesn’t make you angry?
It’s hugely frustrating that there’s such an imbalance, but in terms of me taking time off: I’m fine with waiting. I wish there were more choices obviously, but I’m alright at taking time off. I do think it’s hugely unfair how little women are represented in our industry, but I’ve been very lucky with these last two. But yeah, it’s obviously a massively imbalanced world.
All that time off must give you more to work with when the projects finally come your way.
Yeah, I think so. I’m lucky to be able to take time off. That’s a very privileged position. I remember when I was in drama school at 17 and doing boarding school for four years — I lived kind of a sheltered life. And they were like, "Go away and have a life. You’ve got to act, you know nothing." So I think when you spend all your time working on films, you don’t know anything about the real world or real life, so you’ve got to spend time with your family, get out in the world, do things, travel as opposed to sitting in a makeup trailer.
Do you spend a lot of that time reading?
Yeah, I do read a lot.
Had you read Hardy’s novel before coming across the script for "Far From the Madding Crowd"?
No I hadn’t. I knew it was set in the country side and there was a farmer. I got the script while I was traveling. I got the call and I didn’t want to read the script on my computer so I read the book and read the script when I got back to England. I read the script and feel in love with book. I wasn’t looking to do a period drama — that wasn’t the plan. [laughs] But I wanted so much to work with Thomas and I really liked the character. I think sometimes she’s seen as unlikable in the book, but I really warmed to her. She was funny and weird and massively flawed, but with this sort resilience.
Do you view projects in those terms, in terms of period and not?
Yeah. I think as a British actor there’s a danger of being pigeonholed into doing this sort of film. And if I only did this sort of film I probably wouldn’t have been able to work with the Coen Brothers or on "Shame," so I never wanted to play the same part twice because it’s boring. But "Gatsby" was period, "Inside Llewyn Davis" was period, and then "Suffragette" came along. But the opportunities are too great, the characters are too great to pass along. We came off of "Suffragette" a few weeks ago and watched it and my agent was like, "I see a blue jeans drama for you next" — and I whole heartedly agree.
You brought up your wanting to work with Thomas as a key factor in taking on "Far From the Madding Crowd." How big of an influence does a filmmaker play in your selection of roles and projects?
Huge. A lot of the jobs I’ve really pressed have been completely filmmaker driven. Nicolas [Winding Refn] on "Drive." That part on paper wasn’t a role I would go, "My goodness!" It was to work on one of his films because they were such crazy pieces of art and I loved all the films he’d done; so that was the intention, to work with him, which was so great. Equally with "Shame" it was to be in a Steve McQueen film, but also that character was an intriguing person. With the Coen Brothers, you never in a million years think as a British actor you’ll get to work with them. I would be an extra on every film they ever made just to work with them again.
It’s definitely filmmaker driven and similarly with this and seeing Thomas’ work, most recently "The Hunt" is really the reason I did it. I think in another filmmaker’s hands it wouldn’t have been something I’d be interested in.
I remember first seeing you on screen in "Pride and Prejudice," starring alongside Keira Knightley, who was a bigger star than you at the time. Now you’ve risen up the ranks. Looking back at how far you’ve come since, does your rise seem a tad surreal?
I don’t get used to it, it’s still weird. I never had any expectations working in film at all. I wanted to be a theater actor. I remember two years ago, I was going to meet my friend to go running and I just suddenly remembered I was in "The Great Gatsby." [laughs] Leonardo [DiCaprio] was an actor I grew up watching; I grew up watching "Romeo and Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge" and I was like, "How did that happen?" And now I’m back in London going jogging and that world seems so far away. There are times I’m like, "What the hell happened?" But it’s great and I’m incredibly lucky. I think I’m much more calmer when it comes to the press and media stuff. It was painful for me when I was starting out whereas now I’m better about it, but it’s constantly on cloud nine.