AKIPRESS.COM - A member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association Serge Rakhlin exclusively for the Hollywood - Asia project of AKIpress and Los Angeles film festival executive Asel Sherniyazova talked to actress Carey Mulligan starring in Young Promising Woman.
Q: Promising Young Woman is a really intriguing film because it walks this fine line between being this incredibly introspective drama but has these comedic release valves throughout it. Please talk about the tone of the film for you, as a title character.
- I think what makes comedy so brilliant and witnessing the other actors doing it is just such a treat, is that it only works if you’re really truthful. That’s what was the brilliance of watching Jennifer Coolidge is that when Jenna first talking about her job at the dinner table it’s so funny because she absolutely is inhabiting that and it completely feels so real but it’s utterly absurd. But for me it was such a treat to be surrounded by comedians and to get to have that kind of…bits of improvisation on set and also the lightness that was the contrast to the darker stuff because obviously we are dealing with a sensitive subject matter. So, it is a kind of gallows humor that deals with really, really dark things and the levity that balances that out. And I think part of the experience of watching the film…part of the shame I suppose of it having probably less of a cinematic release as it might have done had things turned out differently this year is that there is a part of that tension and release and the darker moments and the laughter that you have as an audience that is a little bit more difficult when you’re watching on your own. But yeah, for me the comedic aspect I think, it makes it so that you’re constantly wrong footed, you never really feel…the minute you feel safe in the film you’re unsafe again. But also, that it does give you a bit of relief because the subject matter is obviously difficult.
- Your character has all this guilt for bad things somebody did to her friend…
- Yeah, I think she absolutely feels guilt. And Emerald [film director Fennell] and I have often talked about the idea that I don’t necessarily believe that this is a path that she would have gone on, on her own behalf but this is something that happened to the person that she loved most in the world.
- Did you become more reflective of the outside people in your life?
- Definitely, and I think that’s part of what’s so great about the film is that it’s not didactic and it’s also there’s no proper villains, there are people who think they’re good people who are being told perhaps they’ve done bad things or perhaps they’re not so good. And I think so much of this film feels so familiar because so many of the events happen in this film…first of all happen in our daily lives and we kind of grew up with this but also, we’ve seen this in so many films, we’ve just seen it from a different angle. We’ve seen the guy at a bar selecting a really drunk girl thinking that that’s his chance maybe to lose his virginity. This has all been the punch line to so many films that we’ve grown up watching. And so I also thought about it in terms of my own experience at that and of totally laughing along and finding it funny and I think it provides everybody a bit of definitely food for thought afterwards in so many different ways.
I think definitely in the way that the film was constructed and written and definitely in how it was designed my Cassie’s is very much representative of an avenging angel and that she is offering redemption but she’s also offering…there is also punishment. For me it was quite important to sort of stay really focused on her humanity and not try and think in those terms because the film is slightly heightened in the way that it looks and it feels and with the musical elements, I wanted to make sure that Cassie felt like a completely real person even amongst this environment and even with some outlandish things that she does, I wanted it to feel like she felt like a living breathing person with a real history. And so for me I think each scene felt so personal, I had such a personal reason why each of those people was going to have this lesson taught to them and a lot of that was figuring out with Emerald how those characters had behaved back when this event happened. So, we thought in detail about the reaction that the dean had, played by Connie Britton, and we thought about how Alison Brie’s character they had so much history in what Emerald and I discussed that when it came to their scenes it felt really personal between Cassie and Alison’s character and Cassie and the dean’s character because she remembers like it’s yesterday the way that they dismissed it and the way that Nina (her friend) was treated and all the events that lead to Nina’s death. I think the sort of obsessing of it in a way that it shocked and the way that it’s constructed makes it feel like that but for me as an actor I was always trying to make it feel very small and very focused on the truth. But the brilliance of what Emerald can do is manage performance in such minute detail but also the bigger picture in making the film look so beautiful and so stylistic and so different.
- When you read and later act in those horrible scenes, does it shake you a lot or you just do it as a performance?
- I think there a couple of points at this where I felt kind of…I felt a very strong sense of responsibility to do it right and to do it justice because this is an experience that so many people go through every single day. And I wanted to do that justice. And there were moments in the film where it felt really somber. The scene with Alfred Molina where he was talking about how easy it was to dismiss a girl just by finding a photo of her drunk at a party and how women’s lives could be torn apart by not being believed, by being discredited. That felt really…I felt really moved by that on the day, just when Alfred delivered the line. I’d felt that in the script but his performance just really brought that home obviously. And then obviously the climactic scene with Al Monroe when I was talking about Nina and the way that she was taken away and the way that she became all about Al, she sorts of lost her sense of self. You just feel the sense of responsibility talking about that stuff because it is so many people’s experience that they go through this. And having done a film I can’t begin to even imagine what that’s like but it was important to try and to be truthful and as honest as possible. So yeah, and particularly the ending, which is obviously difficult to talk about because it’s such a big spoiler but the way that Cassie’s life ends, the day we shot that was a very somber day on set. It was the only day on set that wasn’t fun really, there was just no laughter, we just knew that it was important to do it properly and to show it in an accurate way and a way that felt honest. And we just wanted to get it done. I think the film was just so much fun to do and it was so much full of laughter and we had such amazing comedians but there were…it was kind of punctuated by these parts of the story that are just undeniably sad and terrible because they’re just so true to life. So that was the sort of tougher part of it.
- Your character, the way she was portraid by you sometimes is "too much" of everything, but it's move to the more positive aspect of the movie. Can you tell us a few words about you singing in the movie.
- Yeah, everybody loves a montage. We were very excited at the idea of doing a montage. Yeah, it was always Emerald…it was in the script when I read it, it was Emerald’s idea, she wanted to imagine what song that her lover, her boyfriend would know and if he knew every single word it would make her fall completely in love with him. And she said it was never going to be like “Blowing in the Wind” by Bob Dylan, it had to be…and she realized it was Paris Hilton’s “Stars are Blind” but if a boy knew every single word to that she would just fall madly in love with him. So, they printed out the words…we both knew the song because everybody knows that song, I think…so we had to learn the words to it. And then we shot it…Bo (Burnham) and I had only known each other for two days, it was the fourth day of shooting and of course the first couple of takes Bo was really great and being so funny and picking up tins of Spam and popping open chips and I was just sort of doing what I thought was very Cassie, just being oh come on, shut up, you’re embarrassing. And I was trying to get out of it. And after about two takes Emerald came over and said Carey why aren’t you doing anything, you’ve got to dance and stuff. And I was, oh I don’t think Cassie would do that, I feel like she’s too cool, she’d never do that. And Emerald was, that’s a cop out, come on, she’s falling in love, people do insane things when they’re in love. And she was quite right, you do, and that’s what that montage is meant to feel like, the sort of insanity of the way you behave when you’ve just fallen in love and you just act like an idiot. So then on that third take I just sort of thought like, right, fuck it, let’s just go. And it was really fun and we sang at the top of our lungs and the music was blaring. But then of course they needed a clean take where they didn’t have the background noise so they gave us these little ear pods, we had little ear things so only we could hear the music. Then that was even worse because we were just too crazy people singing Paris Hilton on our own in a pharmacy. But it was hilarious. And my favorite thing about that day was when Bo picked up this tin of Spam and it was so funny in the shot. And afterwards we were, oh my gosh when he picked up the Spam, it’s hilarious. And then it was this whole thing with the producers where everyone was trying to get ahold of Spam corporate to make sure that we could get the rights to use Spam in the film. And there was a huge cheer on set when we found out that Spam were going to give us permission to…it was all just so ridiculous but it was incredibly good fun. And the montage in the film was just so great.
- You have two kids, a girl and a boy and this is a very important issue. So do you talk to them already about the mutual respect between women and men or if not how do you plan to tackle this issue with them?
- Yeah, I think they’re so little, they’re three and five but at this age we’re just trying to teach them fairness and empathy and kindness. But I think that’s the kind of long way to where you need to be anyway, a lot of this about empathy and a lot of it is about basic human kindness. And I think what was so interesting about making this film was that it really was looking at a lot of the cultural norms that we grew up with. Emerald and I are the same age, we’re both 35, we both grew up watching the same movies, same TV shows and what we show in our film we’ve seen in a million movies in the last 15 years, none of this is new, we’re just seeing it from a different angle. And so I think by now reaching this point where we understand that those are the things that are not acceptable, hopefully from here on out there’ll be somewhat of a responsibility for these things not to be used as broad comedy because they just aren’t funny. I think now we’re much more aware of that so I think culture informs us hugely and I imagine that children will be informed by what they see and I think we do have responsibility in that sense to tell stories that are truthful.
- When you play a character such as Cassie, something has to stick with you. So, by the end of the shooting or midway, did people around you, friends, family, notics any difference in you?
- Well I went from really not liking long nails to really being into my manicure (laughter). So I was very excited about my manicure, I felt very sad when it got taken away from me at the end, and my very long hair extensions. Yeah, I mean to a degree, I think it’s funny, when you got a family to go home to, you can’t sort of, in a way you have to just shrug it off, you have got to get back, no one will tolerate you coming back and being an odd sort of depressed person full of rage, you have to sort of leave it and get back into a different zone, so I think in that sense I was protected. But I did find myself buying lots of pink clothes when we were filming weirdly, which is weird, because I usually just wear black, so that was a change. But I think because of my home life I just need to be able to leave work at work, and so very much.
- Talk also about "The Dig" on Netflix. Please tell a little bit about that experience? It is a history piece, costume film, completely different from "Promising Young Woman"?
- Yeah, it was a polar opposite from “Promising Young Woman,” which was quite nice, it’s always nice to do something different from the last thing that you have done. So it was, it came around kind of on late notice, I was replacing an actor who became unavailable due to scheduling and stuff. And it was an opportunity to work with Ray Fiennes who is just one of I think our greatest living actors. So, it was very exciting. And it’s an amazing, based on true events about the Sutton Hoo dig, which is something that if you were brought up in the UK, you would know all about because you do it at school. But it was basically a Viking burial ship that was discovered in Suffolk just before the Second World War. And yeah, it was found on this woman’s land by this very kind of, what people would have described as an amateur archeologist who is played by Ralph Fiennes.
- "Promising Young Woman" indeed is very different from what you have done before. What kind of conversations did you have with Emerald before you accepted this part? And how did she actually convince you to take this part?
- Well it’s funny because Emerald and I were talking about this the other day, neither of us can really remember what the meeting was like. (laughs) I read it and I immediately wanted to meet her. And in the meantime, I think it was two days between sort of reading it and meeting her, she wanted to send me a playlist. So she sent me a playlist of music on which was “Boys,” by Charli XCX, which is the first song in the movie, Britney Spears' “Toxic” was on there twice, in two different, the original and the orchestral version of “Toxic.” And she sent me this amazing mood ball that had all these different references of how she imagined the world and what Cassie would look like. So I had a very good idea of where she was heading. I think after five minutes I just said yes and it wasn’t really a convincing thing, it was sort of like I had just had a gut instinct that I would be really irritated if anyone else did the job and I felt the sort of ownership over it and was just so thrilled to be asked. So yeah, it was pretty immediate.
- About the styling of this film. Can you please talk about your hair and your costumes?
- Well the hair and the makeup were all very intentional and very much how Emerald sort of envisioned it and the vision that we shared. And when we started working with Nancy on the costumes, that was a huge amount of fun. I think we needed to figure out who Cassie was before all of this happened, because I think she is not the same person that she was ten years before, she doesn’t look anything like she used to, I don’t think she ever put this much effort into her appearance. And I think part of it is just hiding in plain sight. I think part of it is that you don’t suspect somebody necessarily who has a multicolored manicure and long blonde hair in a sort of ponytail. And the other side of it is this is somebody who is struggling with something very, very difficult, very calcified in a sort of anger and an injustice that she’s lived with for years and years and years. And I think she’s learned that appearance matters in that if you dress perhaps the way you feel, you attract a lot of attention. And she doesn’t want any, she wants people to leave her alone. So if she looked sort of like she was struggling, then I think people would, she would attract people saying are you okay, checking in there, and she just doesn’t want any of that. So I think part of it is hiding in plain sight and wanting to look like somebody who is functioning and is okay, which she is clearly not. And then of course the sort of different characters that she assumes to sort of go on her night time events, happenings, I don’t know how to describe them, (laughs) were all really fun to sort of think through and explore. But we had just such a wonderful hair and makeup and costume team, so it was really fun.
- We are all sort of collectively fumbling through these masse changes in exhibition this year, but I think because of the way it juggles disparate tonalities and because of the way it challenges audiences, "Promising Young Woman" feels like the tyoe of film that can really dominate a cultural conversation online, and then maybe make end roads with audiences who might have resistant to seeit it in threaters. So I am interested in sort of looing out on the horizon post-Covid, what do you see as the future for so-called independent cinema and challenging films like "Promising Young Woman" and mayby how that future that you see may or may not differ from what you would want, given your druthers as a performer?
- Well, I think it’s interesting, because I do think obviously we have been driven online this year with our viewing, which I kind of loved (laughs). But I do think obviously the films that, the majority of films being made now are films that have a huge budget to be able to sort of cope with, with all of the demands of how to do things safely with COVID. So I think it’s changed in the short term and I hope that the kind of work that’s being made, I don’t think Indie films can really survive, they will struggle to survive at the moment in being made. But I think what “Promising Young Woman” has done such an amazing job of is that this is a film that was made in 23 days on a shoestring budget and it has, by its sheer sort of merit, found this platform. And I think that’s an indication to people that if you just make a really good film, it can have a broad appeal. I think there’s a tendency to simplify films and give audiences answers where they don’t need them and it underestimates the audience a lot. And Emerald hasn’t done that with the film and it is challenging and it does provoke conversation. But it also has, it does seem to appeal. So I think that’s a really good sign for independent film, I think we have seen that quite a lot, where films have started from a sort of tiny place where the expectations have been very low and for me they certainly were with this film, and then they can capture something and really make a bigger thing. But going forward, I hope we can come back to a place where independent film is thriving, it’s certainly where I’ve worked really for the last ten years. I love independent film and that is where I found the sort of most enjoyable rich, kind of crunchy characters. I just think this is going to be a difficult patch because financially I think it’s just going to be harder for those really small films to get off the ground for a while.
- You took an executive producer credit on the film as well as you progress in your career. Do you see yourself eventually having an interest in directing as well?
- Oh gosh, I don’t think so. But you know, it’s hard to know where you will be ten, fifteen years down the line. But it hasn’t ever been my passion. I think I thought, perhaps I sort of pondered in the past that maybe one day I might direct a play or something. But film, no. The thing about my job and career is that it constantly feels like such a sort of miracle to me that I get to do the thing that I wanted to do when I was six, which is like show up and tell a story. And so I feel like such an actor for hire in that respect. I don’t want to see behind the curtain and I never want to see the monitor and I just sort of like doing my part of it. So no, I mean Emerald is just despicably talented with her directing and acting and writing and producing. But I feel like this is sort of the thing that I really feel strongly about at this point.
- You were talking about that you cannot allow yourself to bring your character home, because you have a family. How has that "real" Carey been now, especially during the pandemic that you have been more at home, how is that person, the home one, not the one that we see on the screen?
- Yeah, really good (laughs). It’s odd isn’t it, because it’s been such a difficult year for so many people. But I do feel very lucky to have been one of the few that has had a good experience of this year in that I have got to be at home a lot and not travel and not be away. And I have got very young children and I felt like you really only get those years where they are so tiny once and I feel very lucky to have kind of got this really concentrated period of time. Which of course came with a lot of trying to entertain them for months on end without being able to leave the house. But it does feel like I got a real amazing memories of them at this age. And not that I work a huge amount anyway, usually I only do sort of one movie a year. But no, it’s been really nice actually. And even doing Press, without having to get on an airplane, it would have been a week of having to leave them and now I don’t have to do that anymore. So, I have been very lucky to have a good year.
- Was there a lot of baking and cooking and tutoring at home? How was that part?
- Yeah lots of that, I mean lots of coming up with things to try and keep it interesting, for all of us really, though it definitely got monotonous. But we were lucky to have amazing weather and we are lucky to not be in a city, we have outside space, so I think all of that was really good. But yeah, we dealt with it like any other young family, just constantly trying to come up with ideas of how to make things feel different and fun and yeah, it was good.