Carey Mulligan: ‘I May Have Taken It All Too Seriously Before’

Westminster-born actress Carey Mulligan on her new one-woman play, Girls & Boys, at the Royal Court, why she thinks she’ll never play a superhero and the challenges of filming while pregnant

Words: Karen Anne Overton
Lead image: Johan Persson

Carey Mulligan appears to be in creative overdrive at the moment; feverishly making critically-acclaimed films, highly-anticipated television dramas, babies (her second child, Wilfred, was born in August 2017), all topped off with a five-week run at London’s Royal Court, where she will star in a new one-woman play by Dennis Kelly called Girls & Boys. No pressure there, then.

Most mere mortals would be exhausted at the prospect of such a schedule, but the affable and earnest actress seems to be more relaxed and comfortable than ever, even appearing happy to court the promotion circuit – a process she previously found daunting. So what’s changed? ‘I think perhaps I may have taken it all a little too seriously before,’ demurs Mulligan. ‘And now, the emphasis can’t be that; it’s on your dependents and their world. I see this is a much lighter approach.’

Though born in Westminster, Mulligan and her husband of five years, musician Marcus Mumford, decided to venture far from the madding crowd, as it were, by settling down in a remote 16th century farmhouse in Devon, with their two-year-old daughter Evelyn and infant son.

But as the 32-year-old prepares to return to her home city for what is set to be a gruelling solo theatre run in Girls & Boys, she nonetheless appears full of joyous anticipation. ‘Coming back to London is special, whatever the occasion, and I can’t wait to get started. It’s very rare to get a one-woman show: there are more written for men and I think I’ve only ever seen one written for a woman, so I actually never thought it would come up.’

Having garnered huge praise for her last stage performance in the 2014 revival of David Hare’s Skylight, Mulligan has often confided that she feels most at home treading the boards, but talking of her first return to the Sloane Square theatre since a 2007 run in The Seagull, the Westminster-born star also has a healthy amount of anxiety, stating: ‘In theatre, once you get through the initial previews, which are unbearably nerve-racking – I don’t even know how I’m going to do this one – you kind of get into your stride, and then it feels great.’

In theatre, once you get through the initial previews, which are unbearably nerve-racking, you kind of get into your stride, and then it feels great

Girls & Boys explores the disturbing events that follow on from a couple setting up a life together after an unexpected meeting at an airport, and is the latest in a run of challenging and gritty roles the An Education star has sunk her teeth into.

Last year Mulligan played the downtrodden wife of a damaged WWII veteran in the Netflix produced Mudbound. Set on a farm on the Mississippi Delta, the harrowing drama highlighted the rampant and often violent racism of the deep south during the 1940s, an issue which, Mulligan observes, has not been fully dealt with, particularly in America.

‘It’s a difficult, horrible, testing time for the world, for human beings,’ she says. ‘But crisis breeds opportunity and I believe there is now an amazing spirit of activism born from all of this, and that to me is very inspiring and encouraging as more people, every day, become involved, speaking out and standing up for what they believe in.’ Fervently, she adds: ‘I have to focus on that positivity within because, without it, it’s heart-breaking.’

Carey Mulligan stars in Collateral (photo: BBC/The Forge Photographer: Liam Daniel)

Mulligan stars in the BBC’s Collateral (photo: BBC/The Forge Photographer: Liam Daniel)

Mulligan is also on our television screens as Detective Inspector Kip Glaspie in BBC crime drama, Collateral. Written by David Hare, the action takes place over four days in modern-day London, following what appears to be the random death of a pizza delivery man.

The role was particularly challenging for the actress as she was pregnant with her son throughout filming, a plight which Hare remedied by writing the pregnancy into the storyline. ‘It was strange to be living a dream in real life through acting,’ she says. ‘But that show will always have that now, and that makes it even more special.’

As Detective Glaspie, Mulligan appears miles away from her naturally beautiful self, her hair dyed a mousy hue, with bump proudly on show in a dowdy suit jacket and slacks combo. The Drive star appears happy with this slightly plainer image (she remarked recently that arguably her most challenging role to date was playing the glamourous and shallow Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann’s exuberant reimagining of The Great Gatsby.)

It all makes you wonder if we could ever expect the devoted actress to appear in one of the many superhero blockbusters currently winging their way to cinemas. But alas, though Mulligan enjoys watching the odd spandex extravaganza, she admits to never having been offered one. ‘I don’t think I would be very good in something like that,’ she admits as she bids farewell. ‘I prefer to keep the fourth wall intact in that instance.’

Girls & Boys runs at the Royal Court from 8 February-17 March;