British actress Carey Mulligan, 29, stars in the romantic period drama, Far From the Madding Crowd, based on the 1874 novel of the same name by Thomas Hardy. The film focuses on an unusually independent woman of her time who is surrounded by suitors offering their hand in marriage. The film also stars Matthias Schoenarts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, and Juno Temple.
In real life, Mulligan is very much spoken for as wife of Marcus Mumford, the lead singer of the group Mumford & Sons. The couple married three years ago and they, too, share an old-fashioned romantic past of their own; they were childhood pen pals whose fondness for each other grew through letter-writing.
The story gives us much to think about when it comes to feminism – how far we’ve come (and in some cases, haven’t) since the 19th century. Mulligan weighs in on how it is in Hollywood.
HOW MUCH DO YOU IDENTIFY WITH YOUR CHARACTER AND DO YOU CONSIDER YOURSELF A FEMINIST?
Yes, definitely. And I think it’s funny, she clearly is a feminist character and she’s incredibly modern, ahead of her time and is a forward thinking person but I don’t think she particularly sees herself in that way. I don’t think she realises that she’s bucking the trend quite so much. I think she knows within her social context she’s behaving differently to other women, but I think that’s who she is born to be. And I think most modern women would have associated with her because back then she was so ahead of her time.
HAVE YOU EVER HAD TO CHOOSE BETWEEN MORE THAN ONE SUITOR IN YOUR LIFE?
(Laughs) No, I have never been in that position but I love that about the story. I love that it starts in one place and you think there’s such an obvious conclusion that she is going to marry this lovely farmer, and why wouldn’t you? And then the story turns so quickly and goes off in a completely different direction. I think that’s part of the reason I wanted to do the film because it was a Victorian/British classic that started with a woman turning down a proposal of marriage instead of going out looking for it.
HAD YOU READ THE BOOK?
Yeah. Well, I never read the book until I got offered the film and then I read the book before I read the script, and then loved the adaptation and loved the idea of working with Thomas.
WITH THE SUITORS: ONE REPRESENTS PASSION, ONE REPRESENTS STATUS AND FINANCIAL SECUITY AND THE OTHER, RESPECT. SO WHICH TO YOU IS THE TRUEST LOVE?
I think everyone has a special connection to that story because that’s ultimately the love story that you are rooting for and I think you have to want those two characters to be together and I think the reason you want that is because they have this companionship and friendship. They really know each other and they know the worst parts and the best parts of each other and I think it shows a real marriage that these two characters grew up together. I think that shows a real relationship and the other two relationships are very different. One of them is about passion and the sort of youthful infatuation and the other one has to do with society’s conventions pressing down on her. But the real relationship in the story is between the two of them.
THE MOVIE IS REALLY ABOUT THE STORY OF A WOMAN BEING INDEPENDENT IN A TIME WHEN WOMEN WERE NOT LIKE THAT. WHEN YOU WERE PREPARING FOR THE PART HOW MUCH WERE YOU LOOKING AT INDEPENDENCE TODAY, BECAUSE WRITTEN TODAY, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN COMPLETELY DIFFERENT, SO HOW MUCH DO YOU BELIEVE WOMEN LOST AND GAINED?
I didn’t think about it in terms of losing values; I think in terms of family values and I didn’t really view it like that. I think that was an imbalanced society and it was a society where women were treated as second class citizens. The only to rise through that, even at all, was with a great deal of money or class. But even then, women were kept very much subordinate to men. So I think nothing has been lost by women finding independence over the last 150 years. I think just everything to be gained really. And I think women prove that every day.
I WOULD LIKE TO KNOW A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR LIFESTYLE. DO YOU SING WITH YOUR HUSBAND? DO YOU HAVE LOTS OF MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS AROUND YOUR LIVING ROOM?
(laughs) How interesting. No, not really no. I think our lives are pretty kind of separate in that respect; he does his work and I do mine. But I enjoyed singing in this film. Singing with Michael Sheen was a really lovely experience. He’s got such a beautiful voice.
NO MUSICAL COLLABORATION WITH YOUR HUSBAND?
No. Sorry. I know boring. Well we both worked on the same film (Inside Llewyn Davis) so I guess you could call that a collaboration though we didn’t really have that much to do with each other.
DURING YOUR SINGLE DAYS, WERE YOU THE KIND OF IMPETUOUS WOMAN WHO JUST WENT ON THAT FIRST GLANCE OR DID YOU NEED THE LONG COURTSHIP?
(Laughs) I don’t know. I think when you are very young, you can make snap judgments or be spontaneous or be impetuous. Yeah, I suppose when you are young you can pick the wrong person and regret it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT THE TERM FEMINISM? THESE DAYS IT SEEMS IT’S QUITE A DIVISIVE WORD, WHICH IS CRAZY.
I think it’s become a divisive word. I don’t think it is by its nature and by its definition and it shouldn’t be. But I think for some reason, over the last couple of decades, it’s become this sort of taboo word and has strange connotations where really the definition of it is so simple and so unaggressive and easy to sort of get on board with. So, yeah, for some reason it’s become this sort of slightly almost controversial word, where it’s such a basic concept, it really shouldn’t be.
EVEN IN THE MOVIE BUSINESS THERE IS STILL INEQUALITY. MEN STILL GET PAID MUCH MORE AND YET SOME ARE OF THE VIEW THAT THAT’S JUSTIFIED.
Well, I don’t think it’s justified. I think if you were doing, I mean, I can understand a very, very famous actor getting paid more than a fairly unknown actress, and that makes sense. But two incredibly famous actors, male and female should be paid the same amount of money. So no, I don’t see the justification in men being paid more.
IS THERE A MOVEMENT WITHIN THE INDUSTRY AMONGST THE WOMEN TO TALK ABOUT THIS MORE?
I suppose. Patricia Arquette probably has kicked off a bit and it’s been an ongoing conversation for a while. You are paid very well as an actor but it’s not about the sums of money, it’s just the equality of the sums of money. It shouldn’t be that there’s a disparity between men and women and there is constantly, and so yeah, I think it’s an ongoing thing and I think women can command so much and so they can bring in huge audiences, like Jennifer Lawrence and Meryl Streep. These people can bring in millions and billions of dollars and they are not paid the same as their male counterparts. That’s just nuts.