Tavis: Carey Mulligan has quickly established herself as one of the bright, young stars of her generation, with notable roles in “Pride and Prejudice” and her Oscar-nominated turn, of course, in “An Education.”
In addition to her role in “Wall Street 2” this fall she also stars in “Never Let Me Go.” Here now, a scene from “Never Let Me Go.”
Tavis: I’m sure it wasn’t planned this way, but it appears that you don’t stop working when you’ve got projects coming out bam, bam, bam, back-to-back like this.
Carey Mulligan: I have, though. I took, like, a whole year off after “Wall Street.”
Tavis: Yeah, so it just worked out this way, that they’re coming out –
Mulligan: Yeah, it kind of looks like that.
Tavis: Yeah, it looks like that. (Laughter)
Mulligan: Now there’ll be a big gap for a while.
Tavis: You and I were talking before while that clip was playing about your beginning, which was really interesting to me. I was reading more about your back story last night, and I did not know that Julian Fellowes, whose name, of course, we know, a wonderful writer, was at once the guy who told you, “You don’t want to do this acting thing.”
Tavis: And then later (laughs) ends up being the guy that opens up the door to help you become the star that you are. Tell me about how that happened.
Mulligan: Well, he was a really good friend of my headmistress. I went to a school called Woldingham in Surrey, it was a boarding school. So he came to give a talk after he won the Oscar for writing “Gosford Park,” and I met him afterwards and I said that I wanted to be an actress. He didn’t discourage me from that; he told me to marry a lawyer or a banker and –
Tavis: That sounds like discouragement to me.
Mulligan: Well, yeah. (Laughter) Yeah.
Mulligan: But I think I was, like, 17, but he was the only actor I’d ever met. So when I left school and I had applied to drama school and not got in and applied to university and kind of not got in – I mean, I kind of messed up my A levels a little bit; I might have got slightly distracted. So I wrote to him and I said, “You’re the only actor I’ve ever met and I can’t get into drama school and I don’t want to go to university,” because I was going to go. “How do I get in?”
He and his wife took me out for dinner with a bunch of other people who had written similar letters, and she introduced me to a casting director who knew somebody who knew that they were looking for young girls for “Pride and Prejudice.” So it was all him.
Tavis: It’s a pretty remarkable story. I don’t mean to cast aspersion on anybody in this town, but I don’t know a whole bunch of Academy Award winners who take students in droves to dinner just because they wrote them letters saying, “I want to be in the business and I’ve been rejected by university,” et cetera.
Mulligan: Yeah, and I didn’t get into drama school, which isn’t a great indicator.
Tavis: I didn’t get into drama school, yeah, “Can you sit and have dinner with me and talk to me?”
Tavis: So as you look back on that, was that divine intervention? What do you make of that?
Mulligan: I don’t know. I was supposed to get, I think, two As and a B in my A levels, and I got three Bs, and so I just didn’t get in. I was going to go and study drama at university, and so I suppose if I had got the right grades I would have gone to university and none of it would ever happen.
But they’ve been amazing. They’ve always come to see me when I’ve done plays, Julian and his wife, and they always write to me, and I see them all the time.
Tavis: Why, how were you so certain at that age that this is exactly what you wanted to do?
Mulligan: I don’t know. There was nothing else I ever – I think when I was five I wanted to be a fireman, and then I wanted – I lived in hotels when I was growing up, so I wanted to be one of those lobby pianists. (Laughter) I still think that’s a really cool job.
Then my brother was in a production of “The King and I” at the school we were at in Germany; we went to the International School at Dusseldorf, and it was a huge production and so I got into that, and then from then on it was all I ever really – I didn’t have anything else.
Tavis: Now, you know I wouldn’t be doing my job for those watching if I didn’t ask why you grew up living in hotels.
Mulligan: Oh, my dad was a hotel manager.
Mulligan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Tavis: I knew that, I just wanted to ask you.
Mulligan: Okay. Yeah. (Laughter)
Tavis: You’d better explain that, yeah. So I’m going to let you do the honors. I was talking to our producer, Kimberly, and I said, “I’m going to let Carey explain this.” This is one of those films that if you’re not careful in how you explain it you give away too much of it, and then you’ve got a problem with the studio. So I don’t want to get the studio mad at me, so I will let you explain in your own words what “Never Let Me Go” is, the story line.
Mulligan: Okay. “Never Let Me Go” is – and it is, it’s difficult to talk about. The book is written by Kazuo Ishiguro, who wrote “Remains of the Day,” and it’s – Kazuo wanted to write a story about people who had a limited lifespan, and how they would handle that, how they – so the story is really a group of friends who grow up together and are presented with a circumstance where they realize they have a limited lifespan, and how they deal with that.
Tavis: These days, particularly a project like this, what’s attracting you to stuff? You said a moment ago that you did “Wall Street,” didn’t work for a year, there may be a little gap now. How are you going about picking stuff? What specifically attracts you to a script like this?
Mulligan: Well, I loved the book. I read the book when it came out and I always wanted to play Kathy. It’s just characters, really. I mean, I suppose – I’m doing a film at the moment with Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed “Bronson,” and that was a great script but it was mainly working with Nicolas that was – I just thought he was so brilliant, so I wanted to work with him.
Then the reason I didn’t work this year was mainly just – there are brilliant things being written, but there was just nothing that was significantly different from everything I’d done before, and I didn’t want to repeat myself. So I was just waiting for something different.
Tavis: Not long ago – actually, both of them have been here recently, I guess – Morgan Freeman and Tim Robbins both in this chair not too long ago for different projects, of course. I raise them because I loved the film “The Shawshank Redemption,” where Morgan Freeman isn’t just acting in this; he’s also narrating this.
You have the same experience here – you’re acting this but you’re also narrating it from your point of view. That experience is like what, when you’re doing both?
Mulligan: It’s the best, really, because my character narrates the book, so. We had a great script, but it was pared down because you have to when you adapt books, and it’s always difficulty. But Alex Garland, who wrote “The Beach,” adapted it, and he did an amazing job of – he’s known Ishiguro for years and he knew him when he was writing it, so he captured the book perfectly.
But for me, when I’m doing a scene, everything – every line in the script references something in the book, and within that there’s a chapter that’s devoted to that one scene. So everything that I did, every time I needed an idea or I needed a new thought, I could just go back to the book. So it was just the best way to work.
Tavis: You and I were chatting before we came on camera here, which I think I can bring this on the air now; I won’t embarrass you. (Laughs) We were chatting before we came on the air here and I was saying to you that I walked on the lot today and as always, I’m given a briefing about the day, what’s happening, et cetera, et cetera.
So they’re telling me in this briefing that we’ve got all these talk shows and magazines and everybody in town is calling today asking for a clip of this conversation. So I said to my team, “We’re not going to have anything – we’re not going to talk about anything salacious. I don’t know what they think they’re going to get in a clip with me talking to Carey Mulligan.”
But it raised this issue for me of the fact that you, whether you like it or not, whether you planned this or not, you’re like the “It” girl now. You’re the It girl, and everybody wants a clip and everybody wants a picture and you’re on the cover of every magazine and this, that and the other. It’s a long way from somebody telling you maybe this isn’t exactly what you want to do. How do you manage that on a daily basis, and does it scare you at all?
Mulligan: No. It wasn’t – I never planned – film really was never the plan. I wanted to be a theater actress, and initially, I wanted to work in musical theater. Then I realized I wasn’t quite good enough at singing or dancing or any of the things that you have to do.
But theater was the plan, and so when I ended up doing “The Seagull” on Broadway a couple of years ago, that was the best moment. Last year was amazing, but that was the dream come true moment.
Really, that sort of stuff is like being in costume. I don’t wear high heels ever, but I’m wearing high heels right now – like, really high heels. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah, so you’re in – yeah, they’re really high. You can’t really see it but they are really high, yeah.
Mulligan: No, they’re massive. (Laughter) So it’s like you put on a thing and it’s part of your work, but it doesn’t really affect my life. I can wander around. I love my job and I’m so lucky, and I never imagined that I’d get to work with the people that I get to work with, or do any of the things that I get to do. So it’s like tiny negatives in a really –
Tavis: Yeah, so you don’t feel pressured by all this exposure and glam?
Mulligan: No, no. No, it’s just like a side of the work, really, and all the magazines and all of that stuff is hopefully promotion for the things that you’re proud of.
Tavis: You mentioned earlier that this was not originally a part of the plan, that you thought you’d be on the stage. What kind of stuff on the stage did you think you would be doing? Shakespeare, or?
Mulligan: Yeah, I’ve never done Shakespeare, but I would love to. Because I didn’t go to drama school – I think a lot of people who go to drama school have this ease with the text and they all have five monologues that they know by heart, and I never had that. I’ve done Chekov and I’ve done Moliere and I’ve done classic stuff.
Tavis: Chekov ain’t bad.
Mulligan: No, no, that was my favorite.
Tavis: Ain’t much better than Chekov, exactly.
Mulligan: No, that’s the best. So yes, straight dramas, I lean towards drama, really, more than anything, where I’m most comfortable.
Tavis: This is a strange question – as you look back on it now, is there a blessing, is there something rewarding, about the fact that it did happen this way and not the drama school route?
I don’t mean to demonize or cast aspersion on drama school, but your experience is different. Obviously, it worked out for you, and I assume you’re okay with that.
Mulligan: Yeah. (Laughs)
Tavis: Yeah. (Laughs)
Mulligan: Yeah. There are things that I definitely – the first time I did a play I felt like my voice wasn’t strong enough, and so someone came in and helped me with my voice. I always loved the idea of going to drama school, because you spend three years with 29 other actors, just playing all day.
But my career started out, I did lots of supporting roles and no one was really looking at me for the first four, almost five years of my career, so I could make mistakes and I could watch, and I was lucky in that most every cast that I worked with was full of amazing – and the British actors at the beginning, Ian Richardson and Judi Dench and all of these incredible actors.
So I could sort of be in the background and watch a lot, and then finally I started getting slightly better jobs.
Tavis: Yeah, slightly better. (Laughter) Yeah, that’s an understatement of the day. More than slightly better, she’s out front, and we’re all watching. The new project is “Never Let Me Go,” starring Carey Mulligan. Carey, good to have you on the program.
Mulligan: Thank you.
Tavis: My pleasure.
[Walmart – Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.