▶ Watch Video: “Promising Young Woman”: An elegant, gut-punch of a film

Recently, Carey Mulligan took a stroll down Memory Lane – London’s famed West End, where she started out, vying for parts, at just 18.

“What I always loved about it was the community,” Mulligan told correspondent Holly Williams. “I kind of loved the auditioning, kind of pounding pavements phase.”

Williams asked, “When things reopen, maybe later this year, do you think you’ll start doing theater roles again?”

“Oh, I’d love to. Yeah, I love it, I miss it. Just being in here makes me want to do a play.”

Actress Carey Mulligan (right), with correspondent Holly Williams, in London’s now-empty West End. 

CBS News

On screen, Mulligan cut her teeth with some very British period dramas, from “Pride and Prejudice” to “Far From the Madding Crowd.” She’s won praise as one of the most courageous actors of her generation, from “The Great Gatsby,” to “Suffragette.” Her performances, in films such as “Inside Llewyn Davis,” “Drive” and “Mudbound,” combine vulnerability and steeliness.

She said, “I’m drawn to stories about women that feel real and honest, and not just the bits that are kind of pretty and easily consumed.”

Growing up in a small English town, acting was the only thing she ever wanted to do, but she was rejected by every drama school to which she applied.

“Rejected everywhere, and yet you persisted?” asked Williams.


“You must have some pretty strong self-belief.”

“I watched other people audition, and they were brilliant, and I thought, ‘Yeah, like, I’m not that good yet,’ you know? ‘But I think I could be!'” she smiled.

Oscar nominee Carey Mulligan.

CBS News

And she was right. At 23, she won her first Oscar nomination for “An Education,” playing a schoolgirl manipulated by an older man.

And now Mulligan’s garnered her second Oscar nod for “Promising Young Woman,” a revenge thriller in which her character methodically wreaks vengeance after her best friend is sexually assaulted. She visits bars, pretending to be drunk, to expose the men who prey on women.

While the film’s won rave reviews, it’s made some people uncomfortable.

Mulligan said, “A couple of journalists that I spoke to said, ‘She’s a bit crazy, right? She smashes up that guy’s car, and she’s a bit nuts.’ You know, in all of these films where men are enacting revenge, or they’re going on a mission for somebody that they love, I’ve never heard any of those men being referred to as crazy. She’s basically doing the same thing, and actually what she’s doing is a lot less drastic than a lot of the things that happen in these other films, but she’s ‘crazy.'”

“Promising Young Woman” is the feature debut of writer-director Emerald Fennell, who shot the film in just 23 days while she was seven months pregnant. Nominated for five Oscars, it’s a gut-punch of a movie, with shades of Hitchcock set in a candy cane world.

Carey Mulligan stars in writer-director Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman.” The revenge thriller is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress. 

Focus Features

Williams said, “There’s no grit in the aesthetic. Is that Emerald Fennell playing with our heads?”

“Yeah!” Mulligan laughed. “Em described as, like, a beautifully-wrapped piece of candy that you just can’t wait to taste, but when you swallow it, you realize it’s poisonous.”

Ironically, while promoting the film, Mulligan was swept up in a storm of controversy about sexism. In a New York Times interview last year, she criticized a review of the film, published in Variety, that said she was an “odd choice” for the role, and that she “wears her pick-up bait gear like bad drag.”

“We know that appearance has nothing to do with these situations,” Mulligan said.

Variety later apologized, but Mulligan is worried that the critic who wrote the review has been harassed online, and says we’re missing the bigger picture.

“Everybody makes mistakes all the time,” Mulligan said. “But if we can have a bit more grace for each other, instead of deciding that one person is inherently, you know, in the wrong, can we look at, more, how we can work together, how we can improve things – a moving forward beyond the initial condemnation? If you’re sorry, you know, if you’re sorry?”

Away from the limelight, Mulligan’s life appears a picture of bucolic bliss. She lives in the English countryside with her husband, Marcus Mumford, lead singer of the band Mumford and Sons, and their two young children.

When she hosted “Saturday Night Live” last weekend, he crashed the opening monologue:

These days the woman who couldn’t make it into drama school is center stage – her new film, the surprise success of this awards season.

“The idea of this film really was to reach as many people as possible, not people who’ve already given this stuff a huge amount of thought,” Mulligan said. “If it can reach people who haven’t thought about this stuff, then that’s a really good thing.”

To watch a trailer for “Promising Young Woman” click on the video player below:

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Story produced by Justine Redman and Aria Shavelson. Editor: Carol Ross.

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