In the action drama Drive, actress Carey Mulligan plays Irene, the mother of a young son whose father (Oscar Isaacs) is in prison. One day, Driver (Ryan Gosling) meets Irene in an elevator ride at his apartment and he becomes transfixed. When trouble starts, Driver finds himself embroiled even further in Irene’s life.
Following the FilmDistrict Studio panel in Hall H at Comic-Con, Carey Mulligan sat down for a roundtable and talked about how Nicolas Refn was on her fantasy wish list of directors that she wanted to work with, the challenge of making a film where the dialogue has been stripped away, how she wishes she had more stunt work to do, and that she would love to play a butt-kicking heroine in an action movie, but preferably without a spandex costume.
Question: It seems like you’ve been working a lot lately.
CAREY MULLIGAN: Does it? That’s awful.
Is it true that you hadn’t worked in awhile before you made Drive?
MULLIGAN: I didn’t work for a year after Wall Street. I finished that in November, and then it was the following October that I did Drive, so I took a year off. I didn’t do anything at all, really. I just hung around.
Was it director Nicolas Refn that really interested you in the project?
MULLIGAN: I did Wall Street, and then everything that happened with An Education took me up until March. I didn’t want to work during that because there was just so much stuff. I didn’t realize you had to go to so many parties. It was a nightmare! I had to go to all these parties! The glamour! No. Then, everything I was reading after that and things that were around just seemed to be a little bit too similar to stuff that I’d done. There were some teenagers that felt a little bit like An Education and some similar roles to Never Let Me Go, and lots of TV things that I’d done earlier on, so I just didn’t find anything.
I had seen Bronson when it came out ‘cause I love Tom Hardy so much, and just thought it was the most incredible film. And then, I watched the Pusher trilogy because it was Nicolas. And then, last summer, I watched Valhalla Rising and emailed my agent and said, “I just want to work with someone like Winding-Refn. I want to work with anyone who makes films like he does.” And he emailed me back and said, “Well, he’s making a film.”
But, the character was originally written for a slightly older Latina woman, so my agent said, “We’ll get you a meeting and just see what happens.” So, I went and met him at his house. We’d actually met before, in Melbourne, a couple of years ago when I was there on the press tour for An Education, and we hadn’t really spoken very much, but when I walked into his house, Nic is the most brutally person I’ve ever met in my life, and he was sitting on the sofa and he turned and said, “Ah, Carey, you were much fatter last time we met.” So, from then on, I thought, “Right, well, he won’t lie. He’ll always tell me if I’m being crap.” And then, we just had the best time making it. He was on my fantasy wish list of directors, so I was just thrilled to be in it.
If you hadn’t have liked the character, could you have still done the film to work with him?
MULLIGAN: I don’t think I would have walked in and played a precious 16-year-old. I don’t think I would have done anything repetitive. But, other than that, I basically would have done anything to be in his film. It was lucky that it was something quite different for me, but I desperately wanted to work with him.
What did he discuss with you about your character? Do you see her as more of a reactionary character?
MULLIGAN: There are all these stories from the actors that worked on this film. Nic would invite you around to his house, you’d meet him and he’d ask you a series of questions, and basically use that to formulate what he thought the character was. So, I went in and just said bullshit. I just wanted the job so badly that I started saying anything that came to mind. I started having all these ideas that didn’t make any sense. I was trying to convince him to cast me basically, so I was trying to make it fit me, but then she has an 8-year-old child in the film. Oscar Isaacs, who plays my husband, and I came up with our whole love story together. There was a scene that was cut, that was about when we first met, and him being a couple of years older than me and me being 17 years old. We came up with all of our backstory. When it comes to the film, so much about my character’s relationship with Ryan Gosling’s character in the film is about this calm center, which is surrounded by just complete chaos. It was this fairy tale, slightly surreal love story, with a knight in shining armor and a girl stuck in a tower. It was really more about two lonely, struggling people who found a way to be temporarily peaceful, so dialogue and backstory and all that sort of stuff was stripped away.
So much is not said in the film. Does that make it easier or harder for you, as an actress?
MULLIGAN: It makes it easier, if you can’t do an American accent. I don’t know. It’s different. I played a character in Never Let Me Go where the script for my character was very sparse, and I enjoyed it. With Never Let Me Go, I had a whole book written from my character’s point of view, so I always knew where I was. But, with Ryan [Gosling], it was just easy. He’s such a brilliant actor and he is so prepared. He doesn’t have to warm himself up to be in a scene. He’s just in it. It draws you in, in a way. We had scenes where we stared at each other with no words for three minutes, until it was weird, but somehow I feel like it works because the rest of the film has all the complex and witty and intelligent and terrifying characters. This is the part of the film where there’s a little bit of hope. It’s quite nice.
Were you involved in the action at all?
MULLIGAN: No. I was really annoyed, though. I wanted to be in more stunt stuff. There was, for a moment, a scene there where Ryan was shooting someone and covering me, and I was so excited, and then it all got cut. I had never had anything involving a gun before. So, there’s one portion of the film where this love story crosses over with the action stuff, which is a scene in an elevator, but other than that, no I didn’t get to see the action stuff. I was on set a lot and Ryan nicked the producer’s Mini-Cooper and did some stunt driving in a parking lot that scared the shit out of me. It was just to scare me, pretty much.
Would you like to do an action movie where you’re the butt-kicking heroine?
MULLIGAN: Yeah. I don’t want to wear spandex, though. I don’t want to wear any of the lycra costumes. No, I would. I’d love to. I’d love to do a Paul Greengrass movie, or something like that, that’s a character-driven action film. I’d like someone to make me go to the gym every day, and all that stuff. I don’t know. Wherever the good characters are, I tend to try to get a job. It was nice because this was dipping my toe in the action genre. Maybe I might put my foot in, next time.
Were you a fan of this type of film, about criminals with a change of conscious when they meet the right sort of girl?
MULLIGAN: The only film I watched that really helped me, in terms of Irene, was Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. I thought her relationship with her son, in that film, was so beautiful. I was quite nervous about having a grown-up kid in the film, and her relationship with her son, in that film, was so beautiful and so honest. You don’t see very much between me and Kaden [Leos], the boy who plays my child, but I took a little bit from that.