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Saturday, 10 November 2007

Carey Mulligan: All or nothing

Carey Mulligan has wanted to be an actress since she was a child. She wouldn't let her family's doubts get in the way, and now she is a shining light in the classiest of British productions. By Chloe Fox. Photograph by Poppy de Villeneuve

'As I read the script, over and over again, every time I cried,' Carey Mulligan says of the story of My Boy Jack, which documents a heartbreaking episode in Rudyard Kipling's life when his son Jack went missing during the First World War. Written by David Haig (who also stars as Kipling), the television film stars Daniel Radcliffe as Jack and Kim Cattrall as his mother, Caroline. For Mulligan, who plays Jack's beloved sister Elsie, it was an offer she couldn't refuse. 'The minute I heard I had got the part, I went to my room and highlighted all my lines, like an excited schoolgirl,' she admits.
Carey Mulligan

Having been acting for only three years, Mulligan is already one of our brightest stars. 'It's like a dream come true,' says the girl who, when she was six years old, was so inconsolable at not being allowed to join her elder brother in a school production of The King and I that she was eventually let into the chorus.

It was only the beginning of a determined battle to get her way. Ten years later, while at Woldingham School in Surrey, she went to see Kenneth Branagh play Henry V. So inspired was she by his performance that she wrote asking him to be her mentor. 'I explained that my parents didn't want me to act, but that I felt it was my vocation in life,' she says. She still has the letter she got back from Branagh's sister saying, 'Kenneth says that if you feel such a strong need to be an actress, you must be an actress.'

Two years later Mulligan was on her gap year, waiting, at the insistence of her parents (her father is a hotel management consultant, her mother a lecturer), to start at Reading University. 'It was as if I had got into an arranged marriage and the clock was ticking away,' she says. 'The only actor I had ever met in my life was Julian Fellowes, who came to do a talk at my school. I wrote to my headmistress explaining that I didn't want to go to university and wanted to get in touch with him. I knew it was a bit of a long shot, but I was desperate.'

A few weeks later Mulligan received a phone call from Fellowes's wife, Emma, asking her to a dinner they were having for young hopefuls at Le Caprice. Shortly afterwards, her new mentors told her that the director Joe Wright was looking for unknown young actresses to play Elizabeth Bennet's sisters in his production of Pride & Prejudice. Mulligan landed the role of Kitty. Her elder brother, she has since discovered, sent a text to their mother on hearing the news that read, 'Looks like we will have to eat our words.'

Since that happy summer three years ago, Mulligan, who has the added advantage of looking like the most delicate of English roses, has been working solidly on some of the classiest British television, film and theatre productions. Her television credits include Northanger Abbey, The Amazing Mrs Pritchard and most notably Bleak House, the award-winning BBC series in which she played Ada Clare. On film she recently gave a confident turn in And When Did You Last See Your Father? But it is on stage that she has most excelled, notably in this year's sell-out Royal Court production of The Seagull, in which she played Nina to Kristin Scott Thomas's Arkadina and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Trigorin. Her reviews were certainly the stuff that careers are built on. The Daily Telegraph said she was 'quite extraordinarily radiating'; the Observer described her as 'almost unbearably affecting'; 'exquisite' was the Independent's view.

'The time I spent doing The Seagull was everything to me,' Mulligan, now 22, remembers. 'It was like falling in love with life.' In the middle of the run she was struck down with appendicitis. Having been told the recovery period was three to six weeks, she was back on stage in one, although she couldn't wear a corset because of the stitches.

Her agent had sent her the script of My Boy Jack before she finished the run but it wasn't until several weeks later that Mulligan could bring herself to think about anything else. When she did read the script she knew she had to play Elsie. 'I could relate to her in every way,' Mulligan says of her character, who is vociferously opposed to her brother going to war.

After graduating from Oxford University, Mulligan's own brother volunteered to serve with the Territorial Army in Iraq. He is now back home but, perhaps as a result of her empathy, Mulligan's presence in the film is as affecting as its subject matter. Her Elsie veers from youthful optimism to profound sadness without drawing attention to the process. It is a very accomplished performance, especially from one who has had no real training. 'I consider it a great advantage,' she smiles, 'that every job I do is like going to drama school.'
# 'My Boy Jack' is on ITV1 tomorrow


Kehinde said...

I like her. She was completely unaffected in P+P and Bleak House, but it was in Northanger Abbey that i really like her. She was really innocent and charming while being incredibly selfish and manipulative at the same time. She should play darker roles. Its so much more interesting when English roses play against type. There's an inner bitch waiting to come out.

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