A memorable guest spot in a "Doctor Who" episode gave British actress Carey Mulligan a cult following.
Now she's finding Hollywood fame with a star-making turn in "An Education," plus a juicy supporting role as the daughter of Michael Douglas' Gordon Gekko in the "Wall Street" sequel.
Mulligan, who has been on Oscar-watchers' short list for a best-actress slot since "An Education" premiered at January's Sundance Film Festival, endeared herself to sci-fi fans as the spirited Sally Sparrow on a creepy "Doctor Who" installment in 2007.
"We went out to promote a film in Australia. I was doing a Q&A in Melbourne, and someone was like, 'Hi, Sally Sparrow!'" Mulligan said at September's Toronto International Film Festival, where "An Education" played. "It was bizarre. It just goes everywhere."
Sally Sparrow now is getting bumped down Mulligan's list of credits after a breakout year for the 24-year-old actress. "An Education" opened last week to great reviews and box-office results in limited release, with the film expanding to more theaters as awards season progresses.
Set in early 1960s London, the film stars Mulligan as a brilliant teen whose dream of an Oxford University education gets sidetracked by an affair with a man (Peter Sarsgaard) twice her age.
The film languished in several incarnations with different filmmakers until director Lone Scherfig cast Mulligan.
"Everything rode on finding an unknown actress who could carry every single scene in the movie," said author Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity," "About a Boy"), who wrote the screenplay.
Sarsgaard said it was clear Mulligan was the right choice as soon as she auditioned.
"The quality of her acting, the freshness, the non-cynical nature of her acting...She has no tattoos, do you know what I mean?" Sarsgaard said. "All of her feelings were just right on the surface. She's, like, quaking with feeling."
Mulligan started the year with a second Sundance entry, the domestic drama "The Greatest," starring with Pierce Brosnan and Susan Sarandon. Last summer, she had her first role in a major Hollywood film, co-starring in Johnny Depp's "Public Enemies."
Along with Oliver Stone's "Wall Street" follow-up, Mulligan appears in Jim Sheridan's upcoming drama "Brothers," alongside Tobey Maguire, Natalie Portman and Jake Gyllenhaal. And for the drama "Never Let Me Go," she reunites with good friend Keira Knightley, whose "Pride and Prejudice" gave Mulligan her first film role.
Mulligan started acting in school productions at age 6 and did plays all through her teens, but she didn't pursue drama professionally until finishing school.
A veteran of the London stage, Mulligan hopes to mix in a play every year between films. She's still growing accustomed to Hollywood sets after smaller British productions.
"Honestly, the main difference is the catering. The catering in America is so much better. But really, every job is the same in terms of the fear that you feel walking into the room on the first day. The desperation to please the director and to fit in with everybody else," Mulligan said.
"The scale is always interesting. The scale on 'Public Enemies' was just 87 times larger than 'An Education.' But you still have the same camaraderie among the crew and the same connection between the cast, hopefully. All crews are the same. It's that lovely family thing. That's what I love so much about film."