Carey Mulligan plays medical student Cassie Thomas, who is seeking justice after her friend was raped (Picture: AP)
In years to come, when people reflect on Carey Mulligan’s career, the figure of Cassie Thomas will likely loom large.
In her white nurse’s costume, blood-red lipstick and multicoloured wig, this avenging angel has already become one of the most talked-about characters of the year.
‘I just felt very lucky to work on this as an actor,’ admits the London-born Mulligan, modestly, on Zoom. ‘This is the kind of story that I wish had come out when I was 18.’
It’s easy to see what she means. It’s a film that feels like it’s born from the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, which came alive after revelations concerning the appalling sexual misconduct of producer Harvey Weinstein.
And yet – as the recent example of hundreds of British school pupils reporting incidents of sexual assaults has shown – this is not a phenomenon confined to Hollywood.
(Picture: Focus Features via AP)
‘What was sort of so immediately obvious to me reading the script, was how regrettably commonplace so much of this was,’ says Mulligan, 35.
‘Of course it’s important to have a broader understanding, but really, it felt like such a tragically familiar story. There are countless examples of things like this happening to people that you know, people you love, and every woman has a connection to somebody who’s been through something close to this.’
A med school dropout who still lives with her parents, Cassie is filled with rage after the rape of her friend Nina, and she’s looking to hunt down the perpetrator and those that brushed the case aside. Is it revenge?
‘I don’t think that’s a word that would come into her vocabulary with what she’s doing,’ says Mulligan.
‘She’s simply putting something right that was so wrong. She can’t live with a world where such an injustice could be sort of casually ignored.’
The film has already been a revelation after its debut at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020.
It was nominated for four Golden Globes and won two Baftas – and will compete for five Oscars, including best picture, at the Academy Awards this month.
Mulligan has been nominated for best actress at all three events, making this her most successful role since her breakthrough as the schoolgirl dating an older man in 2009’s An Education.
Writer/ director Emerald Fennell has already picked up two Baftas for the film (Picture: Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP, File)
She’s since made a beeline for water-cooler movies like Shame, which dealt with sex addiction. ‘I am interested in being in films that when you leave the cinema, you can’t stop talking about it,’ she says.
She spent hours talking with Promising Young Woman writer-director Emerald Fennell about their experiences in a world where abuse and prejudice are all too commonplace.
‘This was a culture that we grew up in,’ she sighs. ‘This is something that we were inured to in our childhoods and in our teen years and coming into our 20s.’
Determined to succeed at the start of her career, Mulligan wrote for advice to Kenneth Branagh and Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes, which led to an audition for her first role, in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice.
Now she’s the one able to shape the narrative. Promising Young Woman is her first film where she’s received an executive producer credit, although she pays tribute to actress Margot Robbie, whose company LuckyChap produced the film. ‘She promotes stories about real women.’
Whether she’ll continue working behind the scenes, she’s not sure. Married to singer Marcus Mumford, she has two children – Evelyn, five, and Wilfred, three – to contend with.
Then she’s working with Bradley Cooper on Maestro, a biopic of composer Leonard Bernstein that he’s directing for Netflix.
And, of course, anything that her bestie Fennell does. ‘I don’t even need to be in it,’ she grins. ‘I’ll just be there, just sort of hanging out to be part of the good times.’
Promising Young Woman is available on Sky Cinema from Friday.