Carey Mulligan on 'Far From The Madding Crowd': ‘I’m Always Drawn to Strong Characters’

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One of the most respected actresses working in film, Carey Mulligan has portrayed an array of unique film heroines. Her latest turn in FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is no different. As Bathsheba Everdene, Mulligan is vivacious yet stern.

Based on the classic 1874 novel, the film follows the character as she attempts to establish herself as strong and independent during a time when women were expected to live as property of the men they married. As three suitors (Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen) attempt to woo her, she must fend them off… until one of them steals her heart.

At a recent press conference for the film, Mulligan discussed playing an independent woman during the Victorian Era, and what drives her choice of roles.

Far From Maddening Crowd Carey Mulligan movie3Can you talk a little bit about just how unique Bathsheba is for the time she’s living in?

I’d never read the book. When I read it, that’s what I was most excited about that it was a story that started with a woman who turned down a proposal of marriage and a good one… a really good one in our film.

It’s a young woman in a Victorian classic that isn’t looking to be married and isn’t looking to be defined by a man. It hasn’t even crossed her mind. That’s what was so exciting. it’s obviously not the viewpoint of most women during that time and throughout the whole story, she sort of enjoys bucking social convention and being different. That’s who she is. There’s so much to her. She’s incredibly complicated and stubborn, fallible, spontaneous and impetuous.  

Do you find that there’s a similarity between this character and Kyra, who you’re currently playing on Broadway (in Skylight ).

Yeah, there’s definitely a similarity between them. The thing about Bathsheba is that she’s so extraordinary in her time but Kyra isn’t that extraordinary in modern times - so I think it’s that Bathsheba feels so contemporary. They both have a real drive. Neither of them want to be defined by men but both have the capacity to fall head over heels in love.

They’re both really strong yet flawed people, which is rare as an actress to get to play.

This kind of period romance has been done quite a bit. How did you make sure that the the performance differed from others before it?

When you get to work with actors like this, there’s a certain security to that. Especially when you make an idiot of yourself. One of my improvisations with Michael was my interview to be a governess and he was the master of the house. It was the first time I was ever acting with Michael Sheen. It was terrifying and at the same time it was also brilliant because after that I could do anything in front of him and it wasn’t scary. The same with Matthias. All of that was good preparation.

Also, so many long conversations with Thomas Vinterberg (the director) and David Nicholls (the screenwriter). We had an awful lot of time in comparison with other projects I’ve done and we were able to hash things out over and over and over again. [ Laughs ] I was really annoying and we came to a point where we were on set and it was a complete collaboration between all of our ideas for the story and what we wanted to do.

This is a character who has so many sides to her. How do you think that was reflecting in the clothing, hair and makeup choices?

That was a conversation with Janet Patterson, our costume designer, and Charlotte Rogers, who did the hair and makeup. We wanted it to feel like real people and not actors wearing outfits and makeup. Working with Thomas and working with David’s version of the story - it never felt like a buttoned up costume drama. It was about real people. The way that Thomas shoots is about the performances. The camera moves with you and it’s all very relaxed on set.

The makeup and the hair, because we were outside all the time, had to be durable and functional as well.

Skylight has been on hiatus for a week while you promote the film. Can you speak about taking a break from the show to do press?

Yes, the show has been on hiatus so that we could do press in London. That was the generosity of the producers. They knew well in advance when this film was coming out and we’re all so excited about it and wanted to be able to really do good press junkets [ Laughs ]

It’s just a headspace break I suppose. When you do a play, you do it for a long run and I took it as an opportunity to take a break from it. Then coming back to it, you have more energy in a may because you’ve been away from it. It can get a bit relentless.

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How modern was life on set? Did you stay immersed in the time period in between takes?

No, I took it with me like you take your homework home and tried to learn my lines for the next day. I’m not a method actor. When you’re on set and playing a very famous character, you obviously are thinking about it a lot but it wasn’t a character thing that I was carrying with me. We used our phones on set sometimes. [ Laughs ]

Bathsheba is a character who has influenced the modern kickass woman on film. Would you consider playing an action hero?

Never say never to anything. The choices that I’ve made over the last couple of years have been driven by the characters and driven by the script. This was a perfect marriage of all of those things. I wasn’t really looking to do a period drama. I’ve done a lot of films that have been period recently and I did a lot of Austen and Dickens when I was younger. This was too good an opportunity not to work out.

I don’t rule anything out but I’m always drawn to strong characters and characters who have a lot to them. Bathsheba is so many different things in one and if that came along in the form of an action hero, then of course that’d be great.

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FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD is in movie theaters May 1st.

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