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Carey Mulligan on acting, and her other life

Carey Mulligan played Daisy Buchanan opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the 2013 film "The Great Gatsby." It's a role unlike any she's played before, or since -- which is just the way she likes it. Ben Tracy has our Sunday Profile:

Whether she is dancing with "The Great Gatsby," being seduced by a con man in "An Education," or fighting for equal rights in "Suffragette," the one thing Carey Mulligan does not want you to see onscreen is ... Carey Mulligan.

"We live in a time where so many people seem so desperate to be famous, and you actively fight against it," said Tracy.


"Growing up, I wanted to be an actress and I wanted to pretend to be other people, and for people to believe that I was other people," Mulligan said. "I don't want people to watch me on screen and think about who I'm married to or where I live or what restaurant they've seen me coming out of. I want to sort of trick people. And I think they shouldn't know a lot about you, and nor do they need to."

The Hollywood Reporter just declared Mulligan one of the eight great actresses working today, but despite that, she is still one of the least recognizable.

She changes her look according to her roles. "If I see someone who looks identical from film to film but playing different people, I just find that harder to buy," she said. "So I try to look different."

She's transformed herself once again in her latest film, "Suffragette." She plays a woman who loses custody of her son in the violent fight for women's rights in early 20th century Britain.

"My agent called me and said, 'They're making a film about the Suffragettes.' And I was like, cool, Mary Poppins and, you know, ladies drinking tea. And then I read the script and it just completely changed everything. I was just so shocked by everything that I read in it."

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Carey Mulligan is a laundress who becomes active in the fight for voting rights for women in early 20th century Britain, in "Suffragette." Focus Features

"It was so shocking that we'd never told this story. But sort of so shocking to remember that this is still the case with so many women now. Sixty-two million girls in the world can't go to school, one in three women experience sexual violence. So it never felt like we were making historical drama; it felt like were sort of saluting these women for the sacrifices they made, but also trying to look at where we are now and bring it back 'round to the modern day."

"This also happens at a time where there is this discussion about the wage disparity in Hollywood between actors and actresses," Tracy said.

"There's a wage gap in most jobs, in most positions," Mulligan said. "And it's particularly rife in Hollywood, I think. It has been for a long time."

It's no coincidence that her desire to play strong female characters has led to many film projects adapted from classic works of literature.

"I mean, the thing with the literary adaptations, they've just been the roles that have spoken to me, they've been the strongest roles," she said. "There's a reason that great literature is adapted time and time again. It's because it has these brilliant characters."

Mulligan knows her film choices may have given her a certain reputation.

Tracy asked, "Are you a serious person?"

"No. No, I'm not!" she replied. "I think I'm drawn to serious material because I find it difficult, and that's exciting and challenging. But I'm not a serious person in my own life. And I don't do serious things. I don't go home and read Nietzsche! I'm pretty kind of relaxed. But yes, the material I'm drawn to is often quite serious.

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Carey Mulligan starred in the 2015 adaptation of Thomas Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd." Alex Bailey/Fox Searchlight

The acting bug bit her early. She was born in London, and from about age six Mulligan was in every school play that would have her. Her first love is still the stage.

It was during a trip to New York that she realized exactly what she was going to be when she grew up. "I saw Kevin Bacon doing a one-man show. I can't remember what it was about. But I do remember I was sitting somewhere in the back with my mum," she laughed.

Several years later, in 2008, she would find herself on the New York stage, starring as Nina in Chekhov's "The Seagull."

"There's a line in the play where my character sort of, you know, she's falling in love and she's a young actress and she wants to be on the stage, and everyone leaves the stage and she looks out across this lake and says, 'I'm dreaming.' And I remember the first night when I came on stage and I said that line in the theater that I had seen Kevin Bacon acting in when I was 14, I said that line and felt it was just a complete dream come true."

Mulligan's dream got even bigger in 2009, when Hollywood sat up and took notice. She starred in the British coming-of-age film, "An Education," which earned her an Oscar nomination and a comparison to Audrey Hepburn.


She played Jenny, a 16-year-old girl dutifully living up to her parents' expectations until love leads her astray. In Mulligan's own life it was acting that almost came between her and her family.

Tracy asked, "When you told your parents, 'I want to be an actress,' what was the response?"

"They wanted me to go to university and then pursue acting once I had a degree," Mulligan said. "I went off and did auditions and lied about where I was going and, you know, it was the most deceitful I've ever been, and probably the biggest fight I've ever had with my parents when they found out."

"You paint a picture of being a very good child," said Tracy. "Did you ever have a real rebellious phase?"

"When I was 16, I asked to have a party, and I'd never had a party before," she said. "I had a superheroes party at my house, and it was a complete disaster. The police came twice. There were cigarette burns in the carpets and, you know, it was carnage! And my parents were so, so disappointed in me!"

"So I have to ask, what superhero were you?"

"I was a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle!" she laughed. "Which has been my superhero costume of choice ever since then, actually. Turtle power!"

So rebellion was not her strong suit, but determination was. By 2011 Mulligan was on a fast-track to stardom.

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With Ryan Gosling in "Drive." FilmDistrict

In one of her earliest Hollywood projects, the film "Drive," she played the love interest of Ryan Gosling. During filming she lived at the Best Western Plus Hollywood Hills Hotel and frequented the coffee shop downstairs.

"I used to stay here when I was in L.A.," she told Tracy. "I could see the Hollywood sign from my window, and I remember taking a photo of it and sending it to my mum saying, ''I can see the Hollywood sign. I'm really here!'"

Now, at age 30, Mulligan has taken on a new role. She and her husband, Marcus Mumford, the lead singer of the band Mumford and Sons, recently became first-time parents.

How has being a mom changed her? "I think I'm more relaxed," Mulligan said. "I take my work very seriously, but I think I've started to take life around it a little bit less seriously."

"That's great," said Tracy, "because I don't think 'relaxed' is the word first-time mothers usually use!"

And even with talk of another Oscar nomination for her role in "Suffragette," Mulligan says she can now put it all in perspective.

"I love doing my job, and I really like talking about it and all the great things that come from it are wonderful," Mulligan said. "But at the end of the day, I go home and take off that hat and, you know, it's another life."

To watch a trailer for "Suffragette," click on the player below.


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