By Christy Grosz
Appearing in a small British indie film that makes a splash at the Sundance Film Festival would be considered a success for any actress. But for 25-year-old Carey Mulligan, her starring role in 2009's "An Education" marked the beginning of an 18-month blur of red carpets and revelry.
"It sort of feels like none of it really ever happened," says the actress, whose Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for that film propelled her to the top of many directors' must-cast lists.
Looking back on the glitz and glamour, Mulligan says she would have liked to have been less nervous about the whole thing.
"It was a little bit scary," she confesses. "In retrospect, I wish I'd just had a drink and had more fun."
While industry rumors abound about Mulligan appearing in everything from Ridley Scott's 3-D "Alien" prequel to Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby," her roles in this year's "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps," directed by Oliver Stone, and Mark Romanek's "Never Let Me Go" are keeping her on the minds of moviegoers and academy voters alike.
Despite the high-profile casting rumors, she insists that earning an Oscar nomination didn't result in being buried in juicy scripts. It's been a gradual build rather than an overnight shift.
"I don't think I would have gotten 'Never Let Me Go' had it not been for 'An Education' getting good reviews out of Sundance," she says, adding that, post-Oscar nomination, "it wasn't suddenly an onslaught of offers."
Mulligan is currently shooting the recent American Film Market pickup "Drive," with Ryan Gosling and Christina Hendricks, which marks her first time in front of the camera in nearly a year.
"I didn't work from 'Wall Street' [wrapping] until about a month and a half ago," she explains. "It's funny, because the whole awards thing took me up until March, so it sort of felt like I was working even though I wasn't."
Although award-circuit chatter continues to build for her performance in "Never Let Me Go," in which she stars alongside Keira Knightley and Andrew Garfield, she's taking an introspective approach to both the ego-inflating season and her next project.
"I feel a little bit less afraid of everything," she explains. "Taking the year off was great in terms of figuring out what kind of stuff I wanted to do. [I'm] trying not to repeat myself and trying to find different characters."
There's no fear of repetition in "Drive," which is slated for a 2011 release. She plays a Los Angeles-born mother who's raising a 7-year-old child.
"So that was a bit of a departure," she says wryly, adding that she was particularly interested in working with director Nicolas Winding Refn.
In fact, she said she e-mailed her agent in August saying that she wanted to work with a director like Refn because she was a fan of "Bronson" and "Valhalla Rising." Having no idea that Refn was casting "Drive," she heard back two weeks later about the script.
"My agent said, 'It's a Latina woman in her late 20s, and you should just read it.' So I went and met [Refn], trying to persuade him that he should let me do it," she recounts, pointing out that Refn made some obvious script adjustments to accommodate her in the role.
Shooting in L.A. has meant that Mulligan sees the other side of fame — the paparazzi — a little more often, but that seems to be one more thing the actress takes in stride.
"I'm more nervous doing the red carpet than I am of somebody photographing me from behind a tree. I'm never doing anything particularly naughty," she says with a laugh.