Carey Mulligan: In the driving seat

What's a nice girl like Carey Mulligan doing in a violent crime movie like Drive? Des Sampson asks her.

After her breakthrough performance in An Education, which earned her a best actress Oscar nomination and Bafta award, Carey Mulligan was likened to Audrey Hepburn and hailed as one of the best British actresses in a generation. Her assured performances in Never Let Me Go and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, as the estranged daughter of Gordon "greed-is-good" Gekko, further cemented her credentials.

However, despite the plaudits, there's nothing remotely starry or affected about Mulligan. Instead, she's refreshingly down-to-earth and dismissive of the attention and expectation that have been piled upon her.

"I think anyone who comes from a country that's very patriotic and is lucky enough to be successful finds themselves labelled as the 'next, great British' whatever," suggests Mulligan, shrugging her shoulders. "We seemingly always want to champion people, or put them in a box. Sometimes that can be flattering, but it doesn't really mean anything - it's not something of substance - so it's really not a consideration for me.

"There's certainly no pressure because of it: I don't wake up, having the motivation to become the 'best actor' of my generation'," she snorts. "I think that sort of ambition should be reserved for athletes - for Olympians - rather than actors."

Instead, she readily admits that her day-to-day life hasn't really changed since An Education, despite the ensuing press, publicity and countless ceremonies she attended in the wake of its success. "When you're part of that award season it does make you feel like something's happening, but it's all just an illusion," she stresses.

"Things happen in short spurts, but then your life goes back to being normal. In the long term, nothing alters because of it. It's not as if I suddenly started getting a lot more parts. Actually, I didn't work for almost a year after the Oscars.

"That was partly my choice, because I was looking for something different from the parts I'd done," explains Mulligan. "But everything just seemed to be variations on the characters I'd already played in An Education, Never Let Me Go or Wall Street, so I decided to stop until I found something that made me want to work again.

"It's about trying to keep myself interested, trying to do different things, rather than repeating myself," she clarifies.

"That's the only way I want to work now: I want to feel out of my depth; I want to be terrified by the parts I take on because if I know exactly what I'm going to be doing, then that's not really exciting or challenging."

Mulligan's sabbatical saw her watching a stash of films. Among them was Valhalla, by Danish director, Nicolas Winding Refn.

"It was brilliant, so I emailed my agent and said 'that's the type of film I want to be in. Can you please find me someone like Nicolas Winding Refn to work with?' My agent called me straight back and said he actually had a new script from Nicolas, called Drive, with a character that might work for me, even though she's an older, Latino woman, and suggested I talk to him."

Mulligan dutifully trekked across town to meet with Refn. But, before she'd had a chance to utter a single word, she thought she'd blown her chance because his reception wasn't as warm or welcoming as she'd hoped.

"I'd met him before, in Melbourne, when we were both doing some press there, so we kind of knew each other," she explains. "But when I went to his house to meet him and walked in he just turned round, glanced at me and then turned away and said; 'Ah, you were much fatter before.' I thought; 'Oh, that's that then,' because he didn't seem very interested."

But she was wrong. Instead, Refn was so impressed by her passion for the project that he completely rewrote the role of Irene, in Drive, to accommodate Mulligan, casting her as the love interest of Ryan Gosling, after witnessing the chemistry between them during a read-through.

It's easy to see why. The pair smoulder in their scenes together in Drive, with their budding romance providing a foil to the gruesome violence by Gosling's character - a Hollywood stunt driver, who freelances as a getaway wheelman.

"Ryan and I had never met before, but the moment we did I just knew it was going to be fine. We had such a great time working together," Mulligan enthuses. "Even when we weren't working, we just hung out with each other at Nicolas' house and watched some [film] scenes together.

"To be honest, I had way too much fun on this film. It was ridiculous," she sniggers. "I think it's because I hadn't worked in a really long time, so I just wanted to be on set every day. I was like the most enthusiastic kid at school, who always turns up early. Even on days I wasn't filming, I'd make carrot cake for everyone and take it in.

"It really felt like one big happy family, hanging out with all the gangster boys, like Ron Perlman, Albert Brooks and Bryan Cranston," she grins. "They have a collection of anecdotes you'd never believe and are just the kindest men."

Not that you'd sense it from the thuggish roles they play in Drive, or the brutal, bloody murders they commit and the gratuitous, gruesome violence they indulge in.

"It is a pretty brutal film in places. It would probably put me off my breakfast, if I had to watch it in the morning," Mulligan concedes, chuckling. "Luckily I'm not that squeamish - I don't mind blood and guts - although even I recognise that having your eye gouged-out by a fork would be terrifying."

LOWDOWN

Who: Carey Mulligan

What: Drive

When: Opens at cinemas on November 3

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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