Carey Mulligan is an accomplished actress who has starred in several award-nominated films, including An Education and Drive, but this British performer has a rich background that not even her diehard fans might realize. While Mulligan has been in the spotlight lately for her roles in Promising Young Woman and The Dig, she has been acting professionally since she was 18, when she landed a role in Forty Winks at the Royal Court Theatre, according to Deadline. The following year in 2005, she earned her first major film role, playing one of the Bennett sisters in Pride & Prejudice alongside Kiera Knightley.
After her first major award nominations for An Education, Mulligan told Wales Online that her parents never wanted her to be an actor. "They didn’t know any actors, no one in my family was an actor," she said. "They were scared." She added that her 2010 best actress Academy Award nomination for her role in An Education didn’t win her much respect from her mother. "I phoned up and said, ‘Mum, mum, mum! I got nominated for an Oscar!’ And she said, ‘Oh fabulous, I’m just with a student — can you call me back in 45 minutes?’" Mulligan told the publication.
Her path to acting wasn’t easy
Carey Mulligan first caught the acting bug when she was 6 after she went to rehearsals for her brother’s school production of The King and I, according to The Telegraph. She begged his teachers to put her in the play, and she ended up with a minor part in the chorus. Despite her parent’s objections, she also decided to pursue acting as a career, applying to numerous drama schools, which she said was the most rebellious thing she’d ever done. "I applied to drama school instead of university and got rejected from every one. And Drama Center London told me to be a children’s TV show presenter," she said (per Digital Spy).
The decision to audition for drama schools came after she wrote a letter to actor Kenneth Branagh after seeing him in Henry V on stage. "I explained that my parents didn’t want me to act, but that I felt it was my vocation in life," she said. She received a reply from Branagh’s sister, which read, "Kenneth says that if you feel such a strong need to be an actress, you must be an actress" (via the Alliance of Women Film Journalists).
Her persistence gained her a valuable ally early on
Fortunately for Carey Mulligan, actor and screenwriter Julian Fellowes of future Downton Abbey fame spoke at Mulligan’s school prior to her graduation. Afterward, the teenager asked her headmistress for help contacting Fellowes, even though she knew it was unlikely her request would be granted. Fellowes’ wife, Emma, received Mulligan’s letter and invited her to attend a dinner with other aspiring actors. Mrs. Fellowes saw Mulligan’s potential, and the next day, the couple called every agent and casting director they knew. This led to her first meeting with director Joe Wright, who was casting unknowns as Elizabeth Bennet’s sisters in a film adaptation of Pride & Prejudice.
Mulligan told People TV she "somehow miraculously got the job. It was just this kind of crazy twist of fate." Mulligan played Kitty Bennett, the second youngest sibling of Elizabeth Bennett, played by Kiera Knightley. The role helped earn her the attention of casting directors for the British TV series Bleak House and The Amazing Mrs. Pritchard, on which she played lead roles (per IMDb).
She had a memorable role on Doctor Who, too
Diehard Doctor Who fans are very familiar with Carey Mulligan, who guest starred as Sally Sparrow in the fan favorite episode "Blink," which introduced the series’ villains the Weeping Angels. The episode, which aired in 2007 as part of David Tennant’s turn as the Tenth Doctor, is widely considered one of the show’s greatest hours of television for its suspense, according to Gizmodo.
Mulligan carried the episode without much interaction with The Doctor or his then-companion Martha, played by Freema Agyeman. In "Blink," the Doctor is trapped in 1969 and leaves a set of cryptic clues for a young woman in then-modern times to prevent the statue-like Weeping Angels from taking control of his time-traveling machine, the TARDIS. Many viewers felt the episode was setting Sally Sparrow up to be a new companion for The Doctor, but it was the only episode in which Mulligan or the character ever appeared.
Mulligan recently reflected on the episode for People TV, admitting she felt like she’d made it because of Doctor Who‘s popularity in Britain. "It was a big deal. … It’s so a part of our culture here — Doctor Who. I grew up watching Doctor Who, so to be in it was crazy." She said fans still send her photos of Sally Sparrow through the mail to autograph. When asked if she’d ever revisit the character, she excitedly answered, "I’d totally revisit Sally Sparrow. It was so much fun."
She has a famous husband (and famous exes)
In 2012, Carey Mulligan married her husband Marcus Mumford, lead singer of the band Mumford & Sons. The two attended the same church camp as kids and were childhood pen pals. The couple drifted apart as teenagers and dated others before reconnecting as adults.
Prior to her marriage, Mulligan was romantically connected to actors Shia LaBeouf, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Eddie Redmayne (via Bustle). She recently told Harper’s Bazaar that she and Mumford and their two small children frequently traveled to accompany Mumford on tour. Since the COVID-19 pandemic though, the family has been on lockdown in their home.
"I got knitting stuff at the beginning of lockdown and I tried it once, and was like … I can’t do this. I can’t learn anything. I’m just going to keep the children entertained and then go to bed and do it again," she said.
Her Promising Young Woman role is controversial
Carey Mulligan’s role in the much-hyped movie Promising Young Woman hasn’t been without its share of controversy. In December, Mulligan responded to Variety’s review of the film, in which the reviewer wrote, "Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale — Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her." Mulligan told The New York Times that, "It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse. It drove me so crazy."
The Golden Globe-nominated film is about a young woman who seeks revenge for her best friend’s rape by targeting each of the men involved. Mulligan’s remarks led to an apology by Variety, which earned Mulligan praise from fellow actors. Zendaya spoke to Mulligan about the apology during Variety‘s "Actors on Actors" series, prompting Mulligan to elaborate on her earlier comments. "I feel it’s important that criticism is constructive," she said. "I think it’s important that we are looking at the right things when it comes to work, and we’re looking at the art, and we’re looking at the performance and the way that a film is made