Actress Carey Mulligan

The Oscar-nominated actress discusses what it’s like to have the first NC-17 rating of her career, in the drama Shame, and shares her take on the cultural differences between the U.S. and the rest of the world in depicting on-screen sex.

Carey Mulligan has taken Hollywood by storm. With three film releases last year, including Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (her first major studio film) and two more this year (Drive and Shame), she's won over both critics and filmgoers. The English-born actress was raised in Germany and began acting in school plays at age 6. She made her on-screen debut in '05, appeared in several TV series and performed numerous stage roles. But, it was her work in the '09 feature An Education that propelled her onto the A-list and resulted in a Best Actress Oscar nod.


Tavis: Pleased to welcome Carey Mulligan back to this program. The Oscar nominee has been very busy this year with her role in the acclaimed film, “Drive” and the beginning of production on “The Great Gatsby.” I can’t wait to see that.

Starting December 2, though, you can catch her in the new film, “Shame,” a project we may be hearing more about come Oscar time. Here now a scene, then, from “Shame.”


Tavis: I leaned into Carey and said to her, “I’m glad we found a clip that we could show.” This is your first NC-17 rating of your career, so how you feeling about this?

Carey Mulligan: Yeah. I mean, it’s different. We have different ratings than you, so I wasn’t quite clear on how it was viewed over here. It’s different. You know, in London, we have PG and then 15 and 18. It’s quite clear. Here, it’s a little bit more ambiguous.

Tavis: But there is some graphic stuff in here, though, yeah.

Mulligan: Hmmm.

Tavis: Yeah, hmmm [laugh].

Mulligan: [Laugh] Now I don’t know what to say.

Tavis: Is that the response? Hmmm?

Mulligan: Hmmm, there are. Yeah, there’s nudity in this. You know, the central character, Michael Fassbender’s character, has a sex addiction, so, yeah, there’s some sex and nudity and things.

Tavis: Kind of hard not to when you got a sex addiction, huh?

Mulligan: Yeah. Got to put it in there [laugh].

Tavis: I’m glad we’re on this, though, because what to your mind – I’ve traveled the world maybe not as much as you, I don’t know, but even I know the difference, the distinction between how sex is viewed and treated not just in entertainment, but just in life generally in Europe, say, for example, where you live versus how we treat it here.

You have thoughts about the difference since you’ve gone back and forth between the two parts of the world?

Mulligan: It’s funny. In England, we don’t like talking about it, but we’re not as concerned about showing it, I think. I think it is different here.

I mean, I think the attitude toward sex and violence in films is kind of slightly disproportionate. Yeah, especially in Europe, not in England, but in France and Germany, nudity isn’t such an issue.

Tavis: Tell me more about your character. We can’t show a lot, but we can certainly talk about it. So tell me about your character in the film.

Mulligan: I play Michael Fassbender’s sister, Sissy. She’s sort of kind of a wayward mess. She travels around and she’s sort of a lounge singer, but not a very successful one.

She comes to stay with her brother and she’s got a lot of problems. They both do, but they both kind of reacted to events that happened to them when they were children in completely different ways. She’s become a complete extrovert and an exhibitionist and she hurts herself.

She’s just trying to hold things together and he’s become sort of introverted and has trouble with intimacy and has this quite serious sex addiction. So they’ve gone in completely different paths and she’s just trying to reconnect with him in the story.

Tavis: How do you about, at this point in your career, choosing roles? I ask that because where nudity is concerned, certainly there are actresses in this town who, you know, take years to figure out whether or not they want to do this scene or don’t want to do this scene or how it’s gonna impact their career. How are you going about choosing roles because, obviously, you made the decision here and you stepped into it?

Mulligan: Yeah. I’d never wanted to do it before. I haven’t worn a bikini on a beach since I was a teenager. I don’t wear dresses above the knee, so I’m not a fan of showing my body.

But I’d seen “Hunger” which is Steve McQueen’s first film with Michael Fassbender and the way that he shot naked bodies in that film was so anatomical and it wasn’t sexual. I read this part and the first scene that she has in the film, she’s completely naked and it felt completely appropriate. She wants to be seen.

She’s a character who wants to be seen and she wants a closeness with her brother and she wants to reconnect with him and she likes to provoke him. It just felt correct and I trusted Steve and I knew that he was an artist and I wasn’t being used for any other purpose to tell the story of this character as best I could.

Tavis: I think most of you probably know this, but for those who don’t – put that picture back up, Jonathan, of Steve McQueen. I should explain to people who got lost when she said Steve McQueen.

Mulligan: Oh, yeah.

Tavis: He is a Black British director. That’s the brother. The brother’s name is actually Steve McQueen, so lest you think that Steve McQueen has come back from the dead. Not that Steve McQueen, a different Steve McQueen here.

So that’s the “Shame” project. “Drive” has been out this year, so you had that project out. I was teasing you when you walked on the set because you took a year off, I read, after “Wall Street.” You’re making up for it now with all these projects.

Mulligan: Yeah. Well, I did “Drive” last year and then I went to New York and did “Shame,” then I did a play in New York and now I’m in “Gatsby.” But I had a kind of month or so in the summer. “Drive” and “Shame” were short films to make and very supporting roles, so it wasn’t sort of that.

But “Gatsby” is now a big commitment because I’m in Sydney and filming that. So that’s sort of the biggest thing I’ve done since then.

Tavis: You like these Independent projects and “Gatsby,” to your point, is something very different. This is another big one.

Mulligan: Yeah, it is, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah.

Mulligan: You know, it’s just about the filmmaker and the script and the other actors and the character, Daisy, such an extraordinary character and something that I’ve not done in any of the rest of my – you know, she just has a personality that I’ve never explored before.

Yeah, the scale of the production is different and bigger than I’ve done before, but Baz Luhrmann is such an incredible director and, the other actors, an amazing cast.

Tavis: Since you referenced it, what did you make of your Broadway experience?

Mulligan: Oh, I loved it. I did a play a couple of years ago on Broadway and I’ve been desperate to do a play again. Then this year, I did “Through a Glass Darkly,” but it was in a small space. It was a 200-seat theater in the East Village, so it was really fun. It was intimate.

Tavis: I read somewhere, and I could be wrong about this. You never know what to believe when you read it. But I read that you’re actually comfortable, maybe even comfortable, on stage than on film.

Mulligan: Yeah.

Tavis: Explain that to me.

Mulligan: I think I’m getting better on film. Acting better, I mean [laugh]. I’m getting more comfortable. I mean, I’m getting better every time I do a film. No, I think I’m getting more comfortable with cameras.

It wasn’t what I intended to do when I was a kid and I’m really lucky and I do enjoy it, but it takes me some time to forget that the camera and the crew are there and to feel comfortable. With stage, you have however long the play is, two or three hours, and no one can tell you to stop and you can’t really see anything because the lights are so bright.

So you can kind of fall into that world in the way that you can’t when someone’s saying action, cut, stop, start again, move, wait around for five hours and then come back and do it again.

Tavis: The flip side is, though, you also can’t mess up either. I mean, you’re in the moment and you got to bring your A game on stage.

Mulligan: But the cool thing about this was, if you come on and you do mess up, you have sort of two hours to redeem yourself and to find your way back in. So it’s kind of exciting like that.

Tavis: Is this career unfolding the way that you thought it would when you got in the business? I ask that because, with every movie you do, the expectation grows and you keep doing these projects that generate Oscar buzz. I’m just curious as to whether or not this is kind of rolling out the way you thought it would career-wise.

Mulligan: No. I mean, it’s not how I thought it would. I don’t know. It’s sort of got ahead of me at the moment. I just wanted to do plays and, of course, I sort of thought it would be amazing to be in a film, but I wanted to do theater.

So just to work consistently as an actress is sort of beyond anything I thought. But to be doing it with the directors and the people I’m working with, I never imagined.

Tavis: Does the pace of it ever scare you?

Mulligan: It would seem silly to be concerned with it because it’s such good fortune. So if I do feel like it’s getting ahead of me, I remind myself that I’m in this position and it’s just the time to enjoy it. This may last for another year and then it won’t be the case, so I try to enjoy it. But, yeah, sometimes it’s a little bit sort of fast.

Tavis: You’re enjoying it, though?

Mulligan: Yeah, it’s the best.

Tavis: But your comment, though, raises the final question which is, if it were to end – I can’t imagine that and your fans certainly pray God that never is the case. But what else might you do in your life if you weren’t on the stage or on the screen?

Mulligan: I don’t know. I mean, it’s what I’ve wanted to do since I was six years old. I never really had any other great turns. I more and more would love to be back in England and spend more time at home, but I don’t know career-wise what I would do. I never went to university. I’d probably want to go and study and try to get a qualification.

Tavis: Since you have no backup plan, this better work out well for you [laugh].

Mulligan: Yeah, I know [laugh].

Tavis: But I think there’s no problem. What can you tell me, if anything, about the “Gatsby?” How’s that project coming together?

Mulligan: It’s great. It is. You know, it’s different. It’s 3-D and it’s Baz Luhrmann, so the sets are enormous and the costumes are amazing. It’s intricate and beautiful, but it’s an amazing group of people and I love it. I mean, I’ve done a couple of weeks of filming and I’ve got the majority of it left to do.

Tavis: Well, people are excited about that. Leo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan on the same project. That’s a real lot of fun. But the one out now is called “Shame” and I think you want to go check it out. Carey, good to have you here.

Mulligan: Thank you very much.

Tavis: My delight to have you back.

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Last modified: December 5, 2011 at 7:13 pm