A Sunday Afternoon Chat with Carey Mulligan

Today I had the privilege of attending The New York Times Arts & Leisure Weekend talk with award-winning actress Carey Mulligan.

For over an hour, New York Times journalist Charles McGrath spoke to the young star about a career, which has included a string of highly, regarded roles on both stage and screen.

Hers is a journey of a girl who had a theater in her blood and despite no formal theatrical training, found herself making her film debut as a supporting player in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice.

From there, she went on to co-star in well-received The Seagull first at the Royal Court Theatre (UK) then on Broadway. McGrath and Mulligan then went on to discuss at great length some of her most popular roles to date – her breakthrough performance in An Education; the largely under-appreciated Never Let Me Go; and two critically acclaimed films of 2011 – Drive and Shame; each discussion was accompanied by a clip from the film being discussed.

At the tender age of 26, Carey Mulligan finds herself in an enviable position that many other actors could only dream of. Clearly she is a fan of the medium because, as she says, partly what attracts her to the roles she seeks is the opportunity to work with people whose work she greatly admires. This was the case with Drive (director Nicholas Winding Refn) and Shame (director Steve McQueen and actor Michael Fassbender)

Ms. Mulligan came across as an affable person who is passionate about her craft and seeks to challenge herself at every possible opportunity. During the audience question and answer period, she was very open and engaging.

She mentioned a couple of her upcoming projects as well: finishing touches on Baz Luhrmann’s highly anticipated The Great Gatsby and preproduction on the Coen Brothers’ Inside Llewyn Davis.

Shame (2011), directed by Steve McQueen

Abbot Genser/Fox Searchlight Pictures

On its surface, Shame appears to be a straightforward dramatic piece about a man battling with sexual addiction. Encapsulating it so succinctly in these terms really does the film a disservice. The lead character, Brandon (Michael Fassbender), obviously has a problem, but the way I see it, this problem is the symptom and not necessarily the issue that needs to be directly addressed.

The sexuality DOES feature prominently throughout the story, but this is not a film exclusively about that subject. The clue to the story is in the title. This ‘shame’ applies to both Brandon AND his sister, Sissy (Carey Mulligan). Something about their disordered upbringing leads them to two very different places in life and ways of expressing their pain. At its core, they are both are self-harming – Sissy’s actions are more visibly destructive while Brandon’s turmoil is internal; in many ways it is more painful to watch.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

We get a glimpse into just how messed up Brandon’s ability to emotionally connect with others is in his attempt at some sort of normal relationship with Marianne (Nicole Beharie), a work colleague. The mutual attraction and fascination with one another is obvious, so one would expect it to result in a satisfying ‘encounter.’ However, it should come as no surprise that things don’t fall neatly into place and the sequential scenes of (1) the failed attempt at consummation and (2) Brandon’s actions after Marianne leaves wonderfully illustrate exactly how out of balance his life has become.

Photo Courtesy of Fox Searchlight

While the story is clearly told from Brandon’s point of view, I felt it was as much Sissy’s story. After all, they are siblings and have a shared experience and dysfunction which stems from someplace really dark (and scary) from what the audience can gather.

At this point, it has just dawned upon me that I have not really gone into details about the plot (what Brandon does for a living, what has made him and his sister this way, etc.). In the film, these are not given much specific attention and are not really outlined.  On some level, this is all irrelevant.

Shame is an emotional, visceral piece that draws you in based on the strength of the performances of the leads; leads that strike a very fine balance between dealing (or not) with their troubles and trying to get on with their lives.

And, as in life, there are those much needed moments of levity. In Shame these moments come mostly in the form of Brandon’s boss, Dave (James Badge Dale).

It is obvious from his second outing as a film director that Steve McQueen is able to create visually arresting, raw films that leave his audience captivated.  As compared to his debut, Hunger, I feel that Shame is a little more attainable to its audience. I liked Hunger, but it was a tough watch. It was very sparse on dialogue and very heavy on visuals, some of which were disturbing at times. Shame definitely has its moments too, but I feel like this film is a more mainstream appeal. According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB), McQueen’s next feature is Twelve Years a Slave, based on the true story of a free man kidnapped in New York and sold into slavery in the Deep South; it is scheduled for release in 2014. Media sources have listed Brad Pitt, (the underused) Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Fassbender as the principal leads.

In the end, Shame gives its audience pieces to the puzzle of these people’s complicated lives. At its conclusion, the narrative comes full circle (?) and we are left wondering what lies on the other side of the abyss that Brandon and Sissy have found themselves in. There may be a few hints there but only enough for us to speculate and always wonder.

Shame Posters

I love movie posters – especially when they are done well. Here are a trio of posters for the upcoming (12/2) Steve McQueen picture, Shame starring two of my personal faves – Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan.

All three posters play on the obvious theme, but visually I find the coolness and muted tones of the second and the third posters to be quite evocative. But then again I was sold on this film from jump, so I am hardly an impartial observer here.

Let me know what you think.

Michael Fassbender Talks About “Shame” (NY Times Interview)

Since it is a Friday, I will make this right simple — after watching the video what do you think? 

An Education

Production Still from "An Education"

So as per my way in catching movies WELL after they have been released, I finally got around to seeing An Education this weekend; not exactly Halloween viewing!

Overall I thought it was a good movie – and not quite the movie I was expected in a good way. I was anticipating a dominant theme of high drama. Instead what I experienced was a perfectly balanced film that reflects what many of us go through in our own lives much like life itself – a mixture of light and dark, joy and sorrow, heartbreak and triumph.  Add to this the fact that it is a mid-20th century period piece which is also a coming-of-age story means that it could have easily fallen into the trap of melodramatic sentimentality. It does not largely due to the great screenplay by Nick Hornby and performances, lead of course by a wonderful Carey Mulligan.

Another fantastic artifact of this film going experience is that the director is Lone Scherfig, whose CV is while a bit brief, quite impressive. Her films include Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself (a film recommended to me by a blog reader) and Italian for Beginners a film that constantly appears in my Netflix queue of which I have a fleeting interest to check out. So An Education has been an education for me in many respects.

Before She was an Oscar Nominated Actress…

Carey Mulligan as Sally Sparrow in "Blink" (Doctor Who Series 3 Ep. 10). Photo Credit: BBC

Turn your dials to BBC America next Saturday (3/20) at 7:00pm. One of the best episodes of television will be repeated. I mention the episode of Doctor Who titled “Blink” on this blog because it features a fantastic performance by the then-little known Carey Mulligan. This episode also has the distinction of being one of the rare Who outings in which “The Doctor” (in this case the 10th Doctor as portrayed by David Tennant) is not prominently featured. All the emotion and drama to be experienced rests on the shoulders of Ms. Mulligan. And she proves to be more than up to the task. As a result of her performance she became one of my favorite up and coming actresses.