Ahead of her latest role as an avenging antiheroine, Carey Mulligan discusses learning from self-doubt, rooting for dubious characters and standing up for herself.
Words by Sophie Elmhirst
Carey Mulligan is at home, where she’s been – like everyone else – for the best part of a year. The day we speak she’s in her bedroom, in her house in Devon, and through the oddly personal glimpse Zoom allows into people’s lives, I can see a large, neatly made bed, little bottles of cream on a bedside table, the odds and ends of family life strewn around the room.
Mulligan and her husband, the musician Marcus Mumford, have two young children, and until 2020, lived a fairly nomadic life, following his band, Mumford & Sons, on tour, or relocating near whatever film she was making.
Then, the pandemic shut us down, and for the first time since she started working as an actress at the age of 18 (she’s now 35), Mulligan felt like she was rooted in one place, part of a community. “I’ve never been able to be part of a book club,” she says, sitting submerged in a woolly rollneck, her face half-covered by enormous gold-framed glasses. It was a revelation, if one with its own limits. “Lots of people were learning to knit,” she recalls. “I got knitting stuff at the beginning of lockdown and I tried it once, and was like, I don’t have fucking time to knit. I can’t do this. I can’t learn anything. I’m just going to keep the children entertained and then go to bed and do it again.”
When everything stopped, Mulligan was just starting to promote one of her two new films, Promising Young Woman, written and directed by the Killing Eve writer Emerald Fennell. Already, the movie had provoked the kind of conversations that reached beyond mere buzz. The story follows Cassie, played by Mulligan, who is on a path to avenge her best friend’s sexual assault by pretending to be drunk in bars, allowing men to take advantage, and then suddenly, soberly, calling them out.