Shy Carey Mulligan is on song
The shy actress doesn't like being filmed, but she's getting over it, writes Will Lawrence
Things just keep getting better for Carey Mulligan. The English actress, who broke through with 2009's An Education, once found her rising celebrity something of a chore, especially when she began dating her co-star on Wall Street 2, Shia Labeouf, with the paparazzi pressure contributing to the demise of their relationship.
Now happily married to Marcus Mumford from folk-rockers Mumford & Sons, Mulligan is finally getting to grips with the constant press attention. "I think now I am less stressed," she concedes when we meet ahead of the release of her latest movie, Inside Llewyn Davies, the most recent offering from critically acclaimed filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen.
"At the beginning I would get so freaked out about red carpets and things," continues the 28-year-old. "I still get nervous because it is an odd reality having 150 people taking your picture. It is strange that people are very interested in what you are wearing. But now I realise that nothing bad can happen.
"Ultimately it doesn't matter what you look like because the next minute everyone is interested in what someone else is wearing," she adds with a smile, "so I think I have calmed down a bit. Also, I am around people who have done it a lot and who are very relaxed about it. You make it so much worse for yourself if you worry about it too much."
These are happy times for Mulligan, personally and professionally. After finishing work on her latest film she took 18 months off and only went back to work at the tail end of last year when she started on Thomas Vinterberg's adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd, the celebrated novel by Thomas Hardy.
During her time off she married Mumford, who also worked on Inside Llewyn Davies, contributing to the film's musical arrangements alongside celebrated musician T Bone Burnett.
"It is funny, but Marcus and I didn't really work together at all on this film," she says. "We worked on separate elements. The soundtrack and all that stuff was done in pre and post-production while my stuff was all in the middle while we were filming, so they ended up being separate things."
She did, however, get to work with Justin Timberlake, with whom she sings a folk song midway through the movie.
"I was nervous about singing with Justin, but I met him and we had a week of hanging out before we did the music stuff and he is the nicest guy," she says, "really sweet and funny and normal. He knew that I wasn't a singer and was trying to make me feel good about it."
Singing on screen is becoming something of a speciality for Mulligan, despite her lack of training. The actress sang a cappella on the 2011 Steve McQueen movie, Shame.
"Singing on Shame was much more intimidating than on this film because it was live and was done in one take," she says. "It was a lot darker in its meaning as well, while this was light and fun. I did a lot more practice for Shame, because Steve McQueen knew what he wanted it to sound like.
"On Inside Llewyn Davies, we just spent a couple of hours in the studio, no real practice. I had T Bone Burnett as a vocal coach. He was amazing. He is so excited about the film and the musicians and kept giving me big bear hugs and telling me I was great, which was lovely."
Burnett is not the only Hollywood player to rave about Mulligan. The young actress has already worked with some of the most brilliant filmmakers around. Alongside the Coens and McQueen she has worked under the tutelage of Danish filmmakers Nicholas Winding Refn and Lone Scherfig, as well as Oliver Stone and Baz Luhrmann.
"I can't quite believe some of the directors I have worked with in recent years," she says. "When I started out, I had no expectations for An Education, so I had no idea I'd work with such amazing people since.
"The most amazing thing about the last couple of years has been that I haven't had to work when I haven't found the right thing to do," she adds. "I took a year and half off after this film and just started working again on Madding Crowd. I have been so lucky that I only have to work when I find something amazing."
Far From the Madding Crowd sees the actresses return to period drama (she made her film debut in 2005's Pride & Prejudice). "Madding Crowd just came together when Thomas asked me to do it," she explains. "I think he is such a brilliant filmmaker and he just asked me to do it."
Sometimes she auditions, she notes, and sometimes she does not. "I auditioned for The Great Gatsby and for Inside Llewyn Davies, but not for Drive and not for Shame. I love auditioning, though, and I am always happy to do it.
"Basically, I am good at auditions," she beams, "although then I get on set and am mildly disappointing. I struggle with it when I get there!"
For Llewyn Davies she submitted a taped audition. "I was in LA and was doing press for Shame, that's when I got the script. I spoke to the Coens on the phone and I was terrified. I did the tape in my hotel room after doing a talk show, and sent it in with no hope of getting the job.
"But I got it the next day. I had no interaction with the Coens until four months later. I was astonished when I got the job."
Mulligan is typically British when it comes to modesty. Unusually for an actress, she is actually a little shy. She was born in Westminster, London in 1985, although her father worked for a large hotel group and she spent much of her youth abroad. When she hit her teens, her family moved to Vienna.
She says that she was always "quite straight-laced" at school, and says that, "the only excitement I got was when I was 16, I was in love with the guy who mowed the lawn at boarding school! But even then I could barely bring myself to say, 'Hello'."
That shyness still lingers, despite her success on screen and on stage (where she has shone in adaptations of The Seagull and Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly), and she says that she can only relax when her directors calm her down.
"The Coens are so relaxed and that calms me down. I don't know why. Maybe I don't like being filmed!" She chuckles. "I have to get over that.
"I usually think I will be overlooked for the roles that I go for. I suppose you have to think that, to a degree, otherwise you are constantly disappointed. With Inside Llewyn Davies, I felt like it was kind of unattainable.
"The Coen brothers are like this other world. You almost have to be in the club. Especially as a British actor – I thought it was a different world. You dream about being in a Coen brothers' film and didn't think it could ever happen. It is the coolest thing you could be involved in."
"I loved the character. I thought she was so great and so angry. There is something liberating about shouting and swearing at seven o'clock in the morning." Of course there is; she is having a ball. Things just keep getting better for Carey Mulligan.
Carey Mulligan: a director's dream ...
Pride and Prejudice (2005)
Englishman Joe Wright casts her as Kitty Bennet in this Keira Knightley piece
Irish director Jim Sheridan finds her a small role in his starry ensemble
Public Enemies (2009)
Acclaimed filmmaker Michael Mann spots her talent in this gangster picture
An Education (2009)
Lone Scherfig catapults Mulligan to stardom
Never Let Me Go (2010)
American Mark Romanek reunites her with old friend Keira Knightley
Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)
Oliver Stone recognises her talent (as does co-star Shia LaBeouf!)
Nicolas Winding Refn elicits another memorable performance
Arty director Steve McQueen is another to see her fine talent. And gets her to sing
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Showy filmmaker Baz Luhrmann casts her as a leading lady
Far From the Madding Crowd (2014)
A third Danish director, Thomas Vinterberg, asks her to take centre stage ...