From the GATW Archives: TIFF 2010 Interview: NEVER LET ME GO’s Carey Mulligan


Carey Mulligan, what a beautiful and talented young lady. Her first burst on the scene got her an Academy Award nomination, and now she’s starring alongside Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley in a much-buzzed-about TIFF film, NEVER LET ME GO. The film is directed by Mark Romanek and is based off the novel of the same name by Kazuo Ishiguro.

As with Andrew Garfield, I sat with various journalists in a roundtable and interviewed Mulligan about NEVER LET ME GO, WALL STREET 2, and what it’s like work on independent films versus studio-budgeted. Check out the interview after the break. Big thank you to Katey Rich from Cinema Blend for sending me the interview transcription.

Are we in control of our own fates?

Oh, God. I just woke up! Well, no, not ultimately. We could all be hit by a bus tomorrow. But you can make choices to live the life that you want to.

And do we live for ourselves or for other people?

I don’t know. I suppose that’s individual to the person.

What about you?

I don’t know. I suppose I’m sort of in the position where I can be pretty selfish. Because I don’t have a family or kids or anything. I have my parents and my friends, that’s as big as my world gets.

Had you read the book before all this?

Yes, I had. My mum is a big Ishiguro fan, and I read it pretty much as soon as it came out, because she said I should read it and I loved it. I thought if they made a film, it’s in the book she’s 31 at the end, so I thought that was a couple of years away. Then they brought the ages down and made it so we could play them from ages 18 to 28. But I love the book, I was always in love with the book. I read it six times between getting the job and now.

What did you love about the book?

I hadn’t read anything else. I hadn’t even read Remains of the Day, which is the book pretty much everyone has read. I loved his writing. I loved how unsentimental it was, and how much he said in these little tiny phrases. And I love how his writing isn’t overly intellectual and doesn’t exclude the audience. It invites the audience in. Ishiguro is an incredibly intelligent person, and his writing could be really cerebral, and it’s not.

What is the trick to adaptations when you’re developing this character? You’re balancing between the character in the book and the character in the script.

When I was reading the script I was really nervous, because I always hate it when adaptations do a bad job. I wanted them to do it right, and I felt like they really did. The script really captured the book perfectly. There’s always a scene that you miss, and the whole way through the shoot I was asking if we could put in scenes from the book that we just didn’t have time for. So I think Alex [Garland, screenwriter] really got the book perfectly, and the way he divided it into three chapters was really smart. I think you have enough time with the characters and it’s not a long, laborious film. I got a lot from the script. I was with the book every day, always going back to look at the book. We had two weeks to talk about it, two weeks to sit around. I think the voiceover was the biggest indicator of who she was. It was so faithful to how unreliable she is as a narrator in the book. She’s always skirting around the subject, always diminishing her feelings. She’s saying, “I felt a tiny stab of pain,” these tiny statements that mean a huge amount. That’s what I loved about Kathy’s role in the film, how little she had to say. Most of the characters I’ve played have been really emotionally articulate and expressive and said everything on their mind. With Kathy, she really never does. Even in the voiceover she holds back so much. She says, “I reminded myself I was lucky to have any time with him at all,” and that sounds very virtuous and sweet, but it’s bollocks really. She’s talking herself into this state of acceptance all the time. And I thought that was cool, that she has the least dialogue.

What’s the accent? It sounds Northern.

I don’t know. Isobel, who played the younger Kathy, we just tried to have the vague accent.

Is it funny to be promoting this, realizing how much has changed since you shot it, before WALL STREET and the Oscar nomination?

I don’t know. Yeah, this was after Sundance, and before the film came out, and before I got WALL STREET. Well, I got offered WALL STREEET as we were wrapping NEVER LET ME GO. I suppose it is. It’s the polar opposite of WALL STREET. And in WALL STREET, she’s always emoting and expressing and saying everything.

Has the Oscar nomination changed you at all?

No, not really. I haven’t worked since WALL STREET. It was all a big surprise. It was quite nice though, because I was really ignorant to the whole process of this festival wards, buzz, all that stuff. I was just dancing around Telluride with Lone [Scherfig, director of AN EDUCATION], having a really nice time. I wasn’t aware of all the people on their Blackberries checking reviews and going all crazy. It’s different this year. I feel like I know what’s going on. It makes me a bit uncomfortable. I don’t like that its heading towards that the only merit a film can have, the only value it can have is if it gets nominated for an award. That seems like such a shame, because all we wanted in this film was to make the best film possible, and most faithful film, and try not to mess up what Ishiguro wrote. That’s the only thing that’s changed; I’m slightly more aware of the industry going around these things rather than just the films. Last year was a lot more relaxing.

Then does something like a comedy intimidate you?

I was the straight man in AN EDUCATION, but I don’t think any of us thought — it’s only when you’re in front of an audience that you realize when things work and when things don’t. I don’t think I’m interested in like a straight-out comedy, with no real heart or anything. I definitely lean toward drama. But I wouldn’t want to do something, just a vacuous comedy about nothing. I like FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL, things that have a heart and then there’s funny surrounding it.

With NEVER LET ME GO, you’re working with younger actors. Can you talk about the difference between that and moving on to something like WALL STREET, where you’re playing Michael Douglas’s daughter and being directed by Oliver Stone. It’s quite a leap.

NEVER LET ME GO felt quite comfortable, because I knew a lot of the crew, I had worked on TV things with them, and I kind of knew the producers really well byte he time we were shooting. Keira and I have been friends for years. It was nerve-wracking because Kathy is supposed to be holding the story together — not holding the story together, but I felt kind of pressured, because she’s the narrator, to not upset fans of the book. That was always running through my mind to make sure we were faithful to the book, and would my mom think that’s a good choice, because she’s a massive fan of the book. So when you’ve got her in your mind every day… and WALL STREET, yeah, I kind of wanted to be in a big boy’s film and be intimidated. There were other roles going on in England that I was kind of involved in, but there was nothing going on that I would wake up in the morning and go, “oh, shit, how am I going to do this?” The challenge was to try and make the girlfriend role in a Hollywood film effective and not just redundant. I think a lot of the time, through no fault of the actress, the girlfriend can be marginalized and just an accessory to the plot. I thought there was something to play there, and more than just the girlfriend. That was sort of exciting. I did want to be one of the few women in a big, masculine film. And it was fun. Oliver didn’t treat me like a girl. I don’t think he saw me as a girl, because I had short hair or something. I do think I got equal treatment. I loved working with all of them, including Michael. We sort of kept a distance from each other. We didn’t get all cuddly off set, we were quite removed, so when we played those scenes, I didn’t really know him, and that was appropriate because I didn’t know him in the film.

Did you go back and watch the original WALL STREET, not just to get a sense for the story but see how Daryl Hannah’s character existed in that masculine world?

Yeah, I did. Oliver wanted me to watch it to try and glean Gekko-isms. There wasn’t much I could do, because the character was so different. Not really Daryl Hannah’s character so much. She was in that world and attracted by those things in a way that Winnie’s not. There wasn’t any need to study her so much. The reason I looked at it really was to glean what Gekko’s doing, to look at my mum in the film to gain some sense memory of her. But she’s not in the second film, she’s disappeared by that point.

Is it true your parents didn’t want you to become an actress?

Well, no, it’s a silly job. Not a silly job, but it’s difficult to be able to get a break to work at all, and then work consistently. They wanted me to have something else that I could do if the whole acting thing didn’t work you. They would have let me have a go eventually, but they wanted me to go to university, get a degree, be able to teach at least or do something sensible. I was very angry at the time, but then I get it. I know so many brilliant, talented, way more talented than me— and they don’t work. They haven’t had that one meeting that sparks off another meeting, and they haven’t gotten that one job that gets them seen. It’s like a chain of events that gets you somewhere safe.

How did they finally change their mind?

When I got my first job, when I got PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, they were behind it. I didn’t even expect to get another job after that. But they were supportive from then.

Do you feel like an exception in Hollywood right now, in terms of casting a young woman your age?

No, not really. I don’t know. I think there are brilliant young actresses my age. I did a Vanity Fair cover with twelve of them — I was like, “fuck, you guys…this is scary.” I haven’t worked this year because I haven’t found the one — everyone’s looking for something different. There are parts out there, but there weren’t parts out there that were dramatically different from what I had already done. I’m starting one later this month.

From the GATW Archives: TIFF 2010 Interview: NEVER LET ME GO director Mark Romanek


In the third part of our interviews for LET ME GO, we spoke to director Mark Romanek. You might remember Romanek’s ONE HOUR PHOTO, which broadcasts one of the many weird sides of Robin Williams. With a background of directing music videos, Romanek has a very unique vision for film and he seems very passionate about every project he takes on.

This week, NEVER LET ME GO released to the public. After you see the film, read this interview. Romanek goes into a lot of great detail on why this movie is very effective when it comes to life intimating art and the feelings you should pull coming out of the movie. Interview after the break!

So at what point did you come onto this project and how long did it take to get made?

We finished about three months ago. We shot about a year and a half ago, I think. It hasn’t been sitting around on the shelf too long. I got involved with it about two years ago. Peter Rice recommended me to Andrew McDonald, and Alex [Garland] and I went and met with them in London and met Kazuo [Ishiguro]. I guess they liked my idea as a movie, it jived with what they wanted to do. From that point on it was all about finding the right Kathy. Peter Rice saw Carey in AN EDUCATION at Sundance and sent all of us a four word text that said, “hire the genius Mulligan.” I asked him why it was such a brief [text] and he said, “because the movie isn’t even over yet.” He knew that we were struggling to find the right actress and he saw this girl, and just like everyone else in the world they went “holy crap, she’s amazing.” He said “that’s Kathy,” and at that point the movie was greenlit.

At that point were you wanting to make Kathy a little bit younger than she is in the book?

We were just looking for the right actress and it didn’t seem to be a big deal if she was a bit younger than in the book - it didn’t seem to change anything fundamentally, so when we found Carey we made her a little bit younger. I didn’t see the matter, as long as they were pushing the late twenties.

It is funny, though, that when the movie was made, obviously people in the industry knew who Carey Mulligan was and we have Andrew [Garfield], who looks to be on his way to stardom. When you shot it, Keira Knightley was the biggest star, and in five years people might be [saying], “oh, this has Andrew Garfield and Carey Mulligan in it.” Why do you think this is all happening for them?

They have it, whatever “that” is. They’re brilliantly good. There’s an appeal that they have. They’re both beautiful to photograph and yet unusual looking in a way - not traditionally or classically beautiful - and they have the chops. They’re serious young actors.

What kind of discussions did you have about filming the donations? It’s one thing to read about things, it’s another to watch them on-screen.

We felt like it would be a cop out to not deal with the reality of what’s going on. It’s meant to be shocking, it’s not meant to be disgusting. I tried to infuse it with a sadness and emotion to it when she’s sort of left there all alone, like a piece of meat, and so it’s not just shocking and gratuitous. I think it would have felt wrong to not deal with it directly at some point.

Do you see yourself continuing in the independent arena? You kinda had flirted with big budget studio stuff.

Yeah, probably for a couple more films. I’d love to make a bigger film if [we had] resources, if the story is exciting to me.  But I’d rather do it when I have more autonomy to navigate the studio process, which I didn’t really have the last time around. Look at David Fincher or Christopher Nolan, they’ve worked themselves into the position where they can make big budget films in the way they ‘d like to. I’d rather wait until I get to that place, if I’m lucky enough.

We are in a time when a lot of people, after one independent film, are getting offers. SPIDER-MAN is the ultimate example of that happening. Do you feel like you have to be especially wary since someone could be dangling a lot of money in front of you and then push you around?

That’s a yes or no question and the answer is yes. You know, it’s a jungle out there. I had a really nice experience on this movie. All the director wants is their idea of the movie to be believed in. And for the producers to facilitate, you do the job that they hired you to do. People underestimate how, if a film comes out well, how it has to be beautifully produced as well, not just beautifully directed and acted. Sometimes producers get a bad wrap and on this film, I think you met some of them, Alex and Kazuo are technically producers. It was a very supportive and collaborative thing. Whether you like it or don’t like it, it’s the film we wanted to make.

The thing I think is kind of interesting with this movie is it fits in the sci-fi era where we’re talking about cloning, but in the past. Normally I’ve seen topics like this dealt in the future. Did you feel like you had to approach it in any different way, because normally in the future you see everything is very modern and sleek?

Yeah, it’s more hard sci-fi! First of all, I wasn’t making a science fiction movie, I was making a love story. I always felt like the science fiction, maybe Kazuo said something similar, is really just a delivery system for these more interesting themes about immortality and friendship and love and how we choose to make use of this brief time we have in the world and how we come to the end of our lives and regret not lived it. These are the things that Kazuo writes about in a lot of his books. I was making a love story, the science fiction is the suit that the whole thing played out in, and it’s Kazuo’s original conception to be in alternate history, not futuristic, so it never felt right. You know we dabbled with some more futuristic-looking buildings or some of the sci-fi tropes you’d expect in sci-fi films…it never felt right. Since the film is about the preciousness of time, the brevity of our time, having things show the patina and age of time and the wear, having things be old, and show the effects of time, it felt like a more evocative setting for the themes in the movie. It’s one of the things that makes it an original idea as a novel.

Since you’re dealing with those themes every day, before you start, while you shoot, as you’re putting it together, do you have a different approach to life now?

Well, I think the book affected a lot of people. It affected me before I made the film. It made me think about how every day is so precious. We really are here for a very brief amount of time. I have two beautiful children and a beautiful wife and every day I put this [iPhone 4] away when I’m with my kids and I try to make those moments count. One of the nicest things I had someone say to me about the film was that they called their father, because they realized they haven’t spoken to him in like, three or four weeks, and called him to say ”I love you, Dad. Thanks for being a good dad.” And, you know, this moved people to tell people that they love them because that’s what’s important.

Things like that can be a part of movies a lot, but not necessarily spoken out loud. You know how they always say there’s the seven stories. That’s one of these themes. Is it hard to kind of deal with that, you know “live every moment” thing, and how did it feel original when you’re making a movie like this, because the story is original, but the themes are as old as time?

You’re lucky enough to find that, some original new idea for a story or a tone of a film you haven’t quite seen before, and yet the themes that are in it are sincerely expressed and meaningful - that’s what you’re looking for. That’s why I wanted to do it. I felt it was sincere and that I could do something that I hadn’t quite seen before. It’s not wholly original, there are other films that have similar plots. There’s other cloning stories or whatever, but the tone of it I felt I hadn’t really seen. I couldn’t find a template for a movie that had handled this type of thing, so it felt a bit out on a limb. There’s like, Truffaut’s FAHRENHEIT 451 is kind of a literally subtle science fiction, but you know, it’s not the same. Godard’s ALPHAVILLE is a subtle science fiction film, but that film’s much more of an arch.

So subtle science fiction you think is a good banner?

No, I mean it’s a love story and science fiction gives it an original twist. I mean this sort of patina of science fiction gives the love story an original twist, but I’m very concerned that people come to see it [as an] emotional story and engage with it emotionally. If they think they’re coming to see a film with ideas on social commentary and the ethics of biology and stuff they’re going to miss the movie. They’re going to be watching the wrong movie.

Be sure to also check out Kate’s review of NEVER LET ME GO, along with my interviews with stars Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield.