TIFF 2010 Interview: NEVER LET ME GO’s Carey Mulligan

by: Chase Whale
September 14th, 2010

Carey Mulligan, what a beautiful and talented young lady. Her first burst on the scene got her an Academy Award nomination, and now she's starring alongside Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley in a much-buzzed-about TIFF film, NEVER LET ME GO. The film is directed by Mark Romanek and is based off the novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro.

As with Andrew Garfield, I sat with various journalists in a roundtable and interviewed Mulligan about NEVER LET ME GO, WALL STREET 2, and what it's like work on independent films versus studio-budgeted. Check out the interview after the break. Big thank you to Katey Rich from Cinema Blend for sending me the interview transcription.

Are we in control of our own fates?

Oh, God. I just woke up! Well, no, not ultimately. We could all be hit by a bus tomorrow. But you can make choices to live the life that you want to.

And do we live for ourselves or for other people?

I don't know. I suppose that's individual to the person.

What about you?

I don't know. I suppose I'm sort of in the position where I can be pretty selfish. Because I don't have a family or kids or anything. I have my parents and my friends, that's as big as my world gets.

Had you read the book before all this?

Yes, I had. My mum is a big Ishiguro fan, and I read it pretty much as soon as it came out, because she said I should read it and I loved it. I thought if they made a film, it's in the book she's 31 at the end, so I thought that was a couple of years away. Then they brought the ages down and made it so we could play them from ages 18 to 28. But I love the book, I was always in love with the book. I read it six times between getting the job and now.

What did you love about the book?

I hadn't read anything else. I hadn't even read Remains of the Day, which is the book pretty much everyone has read. I loved his writing. I loved how unsentimental it was, and how much he said in these little tiny phrases. And I love how his writing isn't overly intellectual and doesn't exclude the audience. It invites the audience in. Ishiguro is an incredibly intelligent person, and his writing could be really cerebral, and it's not.

What is the trick to adaptations when you're developing this character? You're balancing between the character in the book and the character in the script.

When I was reading the script I was really nervous, because I always hate it when adaptations do a bad job. I wanted them to do it right, and I felt like they really did. The script really captured the book perfectly. There's always a scene that you miss, and the whole way through the shoot I was asking if we could put in scenes from the book that we just didn't have time for. So I think Alex [Garland, screenwriter] really got the book perfectly, and the way he divided it into three chapters was really smart. I think you have enough time with the characters and it's not a long, laborious film. I got a lot from the script. I was with the book every day, always going back to look at the book. We had two weeks to talk about it, two weeks to sit around. I think the voiceover was the biggest indicator of who she was. It was so faithful to how unreliable she is as a narrator in the book. She's always skirting around the subject, always diminishing her feelings. She's saying, "I felt a tiny stab of pain," these tiny statements that mean a huge amount. That's what I loved about Kathy's role in the film, how little she had to say. Most of the characters I've played have been really emotionally articulate and expressive and said everything on their mind. With Kathy, she really never does. Even in the voiceover she holds back so much. She says, "I reminded myself I was lucky to have any time with him at all," and that sounds very virtuous and sweet, but it's bollocks really. She's talking herself into this state of acceptance all the time. And I thought that was cool, that she has the least dialogue.

What's the accent? It sounds Northern.

I don't know. Isobel, who played the younger Kathy, we just tried to have the vague accent.

Is it funny to be promoting this, realizing how much has changed since you shot it, before WALL STREET and the Oscar nomination?

I don't know. Yeah, this was after Sundance, and before the film came out, and before I got WALL STREET. Well, I got offered WALL STREEET as we were wrapping NEVER LET ME GO. I suppose it is. It's the polar opposite of WALL STREET. And in WALL STREET, she's always emoting and expressing and saying everything.

Has the Oscar nomination changed you at all?

No, not really. I haven't worked since WALL STREET. It was all a big surprise. It was quite nice though, because I was really ignorant to the whole process of this festival wards, buzz, all that stuff. I was just dancing around Telluride with Lone [Scherfig, director of AN EDUCATION], having a really nice time. I wasn't aware of all the people on their Blackberries checking reviews and going all crazy. It's different this year. I feel like I know what's going on. It makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don't like that its heading towards that the only merit a film can have, the only value it can have is if it gets nominated for an award. That seems like such a shame, because all we wanted in this film was to make the best film possible, and most faithful film, and try not to mess up what Ishiguro wrote. That's the only thing that's changed; I'm slightly more aware of the industry going around these things rather than just the films. Last year was a lot more relaxing.

Then does something like a comedy intimidate you?

I was the straight man in AN EDUCATION, but I don't think any of us thought -- it's only when you're in front of an audience that you realize when things work and when things don't. I don't think I'm interested in like a straight-out comedy, with no real heart or anything. I definitely lean toward drama. But I wouldn't want to do something, just a vacuous comedy about nothing. I like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, things that have a heart and then there's funny surrounding it.

With NEVER LET ME GO, you're working with younger actors. Can you talk about the difference between that and moving on to something like WALL STREET, where you're playing Michael Douglas's daughter and being directed by Oliver Stone. It's quite a leap.

NEVER LET ME GO felt quite comfortable, because I knew a lot of the crew, I had worked on TV things with them, and I kind of knew the producers really well byte he time we were shooting. Keira and I have been friends for years. It was nerve-wracking because Kathy is supposed to be holding the story together -- not holding the story together, but I felt kind of pressured, because she's the narrator, to not upset fans of the book. That was always running through my mind to make sure we were faithful to the book, and would my mom think that's a good choice, because she's a massive fan of the book. So when you've got her in your mind every day… and WALL STREET, yeah, I kind of wanted to be in a big boy's film and be intimidated. There were other roles going on in England that I was kind of involved in, but there was nothing going on that I would wake up in the morning and go, "oh, shit, how am I going to do this?" The challenge was to try and make the girlfriend role in a Hollywood film effective and not just redundant. I think a lot of the time, through no fault of the actress, the girlfriend can be marginalized and just an accessory to the plot. I thought there was something to play there, and more than just the girlfriend. That was sort of exciting. I did want to be one of the few women in a big, masculine film. And it was fun. Oliver didn't treat me like a girl. I don't think he saw me as a girl, because I had short hair or something. I do think I got equal treatment. I loved working with all of them, including Michael. We sort of kept a distance from each other. We didn't get all cuddly off set, we were quite removed, so when we played those scenes, I didn't really know him, and that was appropriate because I didn't know him in the film.

Did you go back and watch the original WALL STREET, not just to get a sense for the story but see how Daryl Hannah's character existed in that masculine world?

Yeah, I did. Oliver wanted me to watch it to try and glean Gekko-isms. There wasn't much I could do, because the character was so different. Not really Daryl Hannah's character so much. She was in that world and attracted by those things in a way that Winnie's not. There wasn't any need to study her so much. The reason I looked at it really was to glean what Gekko's doing, to look at my mum in the film to gain some sense memory of her. But she's not in the second film, she's disappeared by that point.

Is it true your parents didn't want you to become an actress?

Well, no, it's a silly job. Not a silly job, but it's difficult to be able to get a break to work at all, and then work consistently. They wanted me to have something else that I could do if the whole acting thing didn't work you. They would have let me have a go eventually, but they wanted me to go to university, get a degree, be able to teach at least or do something sensible. I was very angry at the time, but then I get it. I know so many brilliant, talented, way more talented than me-- and they don't work. They haven't had that one meeting that sparks off another meeting, and they haven't gotten that one job that gets them seen. It's like a chain of events that gets you somewhere safe.

How did they finally change their mind?

When I got my first job, when I got PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, they were behind it. I didn't even expect to get another job after that. But they were supportive from then.

Do you feel like an exception in Hollywood right now, in terms of casting a young woman your age?

No, not really. I don't know. I think there are brilliant young actresses my age. I did a Vanity Fair cover with twelve of them -- I was like, "fuck, you guys…this is scary." I haven't worked this year because I haven't found the one -- everyone's looking for something different. There are parts out there, but there weren't parts out there that were dramatically different from what I had already done. I'm starting one later this month.

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