Emerald Fennell Recalls Male Execs’ Reaction to ‘Promising Young Woman’ Pitch: ‘She’s a Psycho’

Fennell started pitching the pre-title sequence of "Promising Young Woman" in 2017.
Carey Mulligan in "Promising Young Woman"
Carey Mulligan in "Promising Young Woman"
Focus Features

Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman” has emerged as an awards season favorite with a SAG Award nomination for Carey Mulligan, six Critics Choice Award nominations, and four Golden Globe nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director. It was just four years ago that writer-director Fennell was pitching the concept for “Promising Young Woman” to rooms full of male film executives. In an interview with Olivia Wilde for Variety, Fennell recalled her pitch drawing memorable reactions from the men in the room.

“I started pitching it around spring, 2017,” Fennell said. “I only ever really pitched the pre-title sequence. At the time, the first round of pitching was very much pitching to men. It was a really interesting to get the immediate response because some of it was really wonderful. One guy, when I pitched it to him, ‘and then she sits up…and she’s not drunk!’ He was just kind of sitting, staring into space for a while. And then he said, ‘Yeah, I’m just thinking about, a couple of dates I’ve been on.'”

“That’s honest!” Fennell continued, “And then one guy said, ‘Oh, I got it. So she’s a psycho!’ Yeah…not for you my friend.”

The pitching and screening process for “Promising Young Woman” was defined by listeners and viewers reckoning with the story Fennell created and exposing their true selves in the process. “Promising Young Woman” stars Mulligan as Cassie, a former medical school student who avenges the sexual assault of her friend by feigning drunk and exposing men for trying to take advantage of her.

In a previous interview with IndieWire, Fennell remembered one test screening for the film igniting a fight between two audience members. The filmmaker explained, “My producer told me afterwards it was that one person was very angry about a scene, and the other person was saying, ‘Well, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it,’ or ‘If you don’t like it, you can leave’ or ‘If you didn’t like it, you can sit down.’ It was quite visceral and that was quite shocking because obviously I wanted to make a film that was thought-provoking that people talk about, but I wasn’t expecting that.”

“Promising Young Woman” is now playing in theaters and available on VOD platforms.

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