Carey Mulligan’s interview with Elle UK, for its feminist-themed November issue, is a far cry from your classic celebrity cover story. In the multipage spread, the talented 30-year-old discusses her lead role in the upcoming film Suffragette (releasing October 23), among other things.
Chief among them were the star’s comments on the portrayal of women in film. A recent study by the University of Southern California found that women have less than a third of speaking parts in the most popular films of the last seven years. Mulligan is clearly part of that minority with her impressive résumé, and when the interviewer brought that statistic up, Mulligan said she takes issue with people commenting on her choice to portray ‘strong’ female characters. “You don’t say to men: ‘You played another really strong man.’ The idea that women are inherently weak—and we’ve identified the few strong ones to tell stories about—is mad.”
We’ve heard a lot about the objectification of actresses recently with campaigns such as #AskHerMore. Mulligan mentions how the intense scrutiny that women face on the red carpet often leaves her with tears in her eyes by the end of the evening. “This is not about selling my body to you; I’m representing a film. They don’t tell men to give it over their shoulder. And the way they run the camera up and down your body. What are they looking for? A flaw or some great attribute. Either way, it’s objectifying women,” she says.
Working on Suffragette with its female-dominated cast and crew was a huge relief, then. “[In the past when] it has been a really male environment, it has been hard to get my voice heard or to maintain the integrity of the character I play. . . . I didn’t have that fear in this film.” In a somewhat ironic turning of the tables, it was revealed at a press conference yesterday that it was unusually difficult to attract actors to the “complex but supporting” male roles in the film. Scriptwriter Abi Morgan said that it was a “huge tribute” to the actors who did ultimately come on board with the project.
When you think about it, it’s incredible that the powerful, fascinating, and hugely relevant story of the suffragettes hasn’t been turned into a major film before now. But according to Morgan, public records revealing the level of police surveillance at the time of the suffragettes were only opened around 2002. “It [was] a real detective job to unpick the research” and write the story for the film, she explained.
What’s so unique and refreshing about this interview, though, is that Mulligan doesn’t shy away from vulnerability or, say, expressing how excited she was to be expecting her first baby (which just arrived!). “I’ve always wanted to be a mother,” she exclaimed. “I love what I do, but I’m excited for this next phase of my life.” It feels like a rare instance of a woman being given space in the public eye to express herself in all her passionate and complex humanity. I can’t help but be reminded of what Zooey Deschanel said about feeling “continually shhh’ed” as a woman: “Don’t let someone steal your tenderness. Don’t allow the coldness and fear of others to tarnish your perfectly vulnerable beating heart. Nothing is more powerful than allowing yourself to truly be affected by things.”
Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.