The Skin She Lives In: The Effortlessness of Carey Mulligan

Carey Mulligan never fits into any one type of role. Instead, the actress has wowed audiences and critics time and again with her versatility, and her quiet resilience.
Carey Mulligan Wildlife
By  · Published on October 18th, 2018

Actress Carey Mulligan has been acting in front of the camera just over a decade. In that time, she has added to her character closet distinguishable women; one character never bearing resemblance to the other. It goes without saying, Mulligan’s career is only in its first few chapters. Bearing in mind her range of projects, it is worth examining that Mulligan never seems to fall into a rut, tackling new characters that bear few similarities and far more differences. Even more stunning than the high-profile projects she has taken on is Mulligan’s ease – her way of falling into the flesh of another person that seems natural yet possessed.

Without hesitation, Mulligan seems to take on new roles, give her all, and rarely, if ever, make her work seem difficult. When we watch Carey Mulligan, we no longer see the actress from London. What we see is giddy Kitty Bennet, an impressionable Jenny Mellor, or bursting at the seams with regret Laura McAllan. In examining her early work to her latest projects, we’ll take in the effortlessness of Carey Mulligan, as she falls into yet another role with Paul Dano’s directorial debut, Wildlife.

Carey Mulligan’s career began out of a lucky happenstance. Having been denied entry to three London drama schools, Mulligan wrote to screenwriter Julian Fellowes following a presentation on Gosford Park she attended in her late teens. After being invited to a dinner party for aspiring artists held at the Fellowes’ residence, Mulligan connected with a casting assistant. Following the facilitated acquaintance, Mulligan went through a few rounds of auditions, eventually securing the role of Kitty Bennet in Joe Wright’s Pride and Prejudice.

Mulligan’s most notable early performance came with the iconic prose of Jane Austen. As Kitty Bennet, the actress is a skipping high spirit. Flirty and following in the footsteps of sister Lydia, Kitty’s giggles and uniquely timed snorts are the joys and frustrations of Victorian adolescence. It’s in one of the youngest Bennet sisters where Mulligan finds scene-stealing moments in an otherwise limited role. But her range from tormented youth to bubbling, young party guest bear only glimpses to the roles she would live in following her 2005 debut.

It’s four years later when Mulligan tackles her first – and not last – Oscar Nominated role as Jenny Mallor in An Education. A young woman the antithesis of Kitty Bennet, Jenny, in her own words, “feels old but not very wise.” She’s a mature woman trapped with the limited experiences of a young girl. Here, the actress falls effortlessly into the inexhaustible emotions of a blooming young woman. She abandons innocence for heartbreak, concerning herself with the dramas an adult woman shouldn’t even have to face all the while frustrated that she is not taken seriously by the adults around her. It’s an arc that sees Mulligan absorbed in every emotion; reflecting the unconscionable actions of those around her. It’s rather an interesting examination of how Jenny, herself, is a mature and resilient woman. But falling into the fold of those who live fascinating lives finds herself among immature adults, unbeknownst to the consequences of their predatory actions, or simply not caring. Carey Mulligan lives in Jenny’s body; in her world. In walking the line between innocence and worldliness, her conflict though internal is read in every pore of her face.

It would have been easy for Mulligan to fall into the character type of Jenny following her wide success. Instead of aligning herself in a type, Mulligan continued to surprise audiences with films like Never Let Me Go, Shame, The Great Gatsby, Inside Llewyn Davis, and Drive. There is not one place we can pinhole Carey Mulligan, and that is the absolute beauty and power of her work. A chameleon who doesn’t just blend in but molds herself to the blithe repose of Daisy Buchanan, the unassured curiosity of Kathy, and the quiet frustration of Irene. When Mulligan as Laura McAllan utters in voice-over the words, “I learned how to stitch up a bleeding wound, load and fire a shotgun, reach into the womb of a heavin’ sow to deliver a breeched piglet. My hands did these things but I was never easy in my mind,” we see the barren, wild world in her tremored, tired voice. This is no longer Carey Mulligan as Laura to whom we are listening, it is Laura McAllan.

Mulligan transfers her own quiet resilience to her acting roles, time and again. As a professional, she could not be more model; her job as an actress is just that, a job. But her unmatched authenticity, and the way she imbues each character with their own ticks, resting demeanors, and quizzical look, makes her a treasure in the world of acting. On Friday, October 19, fans of the actress will see her as a different woman. As Jeannette Brinson, Mulligan’s resilience makes for a woman’s misguided means of survival; of feeling. It is a portrait of a woman where every brush stroke to paint her drips with anxiety, capriciousness, and unabashed insecurity. It is something we haven’t thoroughly witnessed within Mulligan’s wheelhouse. As she said during a Q&A at New York Film Festival, “When we see them [women] out of control or struggling it doesn’t ring true because of everything we’ve been brought up to understand that women are always perfect and can do anything. That’s an unrealistic expectation of a woman. Seeing real humanity on-screen can be really jarring from a female perspective.”

Nearly ten years have passed since Carey Mulligan’s star-making role in An Education. With Wildlife, fans and audiences will bear witness to a mold of woman rarely depicted. Leave it to Mulligan to bring her own authenticity and empathy to fleshing out this character, adding a new character to her growing trove of brilliant performances.

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An entertainment writer, with work featured in multiple places. Loves movies and television almost as much as her cat.