Chances are, you’ve seen Carey Mulligan in at least one film or TV series. With her angelic looks, her rounded British accent, and her penchant for period films, Mulligan is, in many ways, the prototype of the "English rose." However, as fans of the actress will know, she’s got a lot more range in her repertoire. Mulligan’s roles have spanned genres and styles, with turns in period dramas like "Never Let Me Go," "An Education," "Suffragette," and "Pride and Prejudice," sitting alongside more modern, edgy roles in films like "Shame," "Drive," and "Promising Young Woman" (via IMDb). It’s no wonder that Vogue dubbed her "one of the best actors of her generation."
In many ways, Mulligan seems to be built for a career in film. However, it turns out, her journey to the top of her industry wasn’t always a straightforward one. Want to find out more about how the actress became who she is today? Here is the stunning transformation of Carey Mulligan.
Carey Mulligan grew up wanting to be an actor
Carey Mulligan was born in London. Her father was a hotel manager, a job which took him to Germany when she was 3 years old. Pretty quickly, Mulligan began to realize her calling. At school in Germany, she told The Guardian, "my brother was in The King and I, and I went to rehearsal and was completely enraptured by the whole thing, and desperately wanted to be in it." Apparently, she wept until they gave her a part in the play. From then on, she said, she was "just interested in one thing. I wanted to act."
As Mulligan explained to The Times, she grew up asking her brother to write her plays. This determination to act eventually led to her becoming the student head of drama at her boarding school when she returned to the U.K. "I was a drama geek, I was most definitely not one of the cool girls," she recalled.
Carey Mulligan’s religious upbringing made her cautious to be good
Alongside her interest in acting, Carey Mulligan grew up with another major influence in her life: religion. As the actress explained to The Guardian, her religious upbringing has made her something of a goodie-two-shoes. "I had a terrible guilty conscience from an early age," she revealed. However, as she explained, religion wasn’t a negative part of her life. "It provided a real community and that lasted into my adulthood," she said. In fact, her love of church comes from the same impulse as her love of acting. "You’re surrounded by people all the time," she said of acting. "And I love that about going to church every week and singing in the choir."
As Mulligan told W, her relationship with religion didn’t change much as she grew up. In fact, it’s still a part of her life — though she does keep it private.
Carey Mulligan met her future rock star husband as a child
Carey Mulligan eventually married the lead singer of the banjo-strumming band Mumford and Sons, Marcus Mumford. As it turns out, the pair first met when Mulligan was still a child. As Bustle reported, the pair began exchanging letters after they met at a church camp when they were roughly 12 years old. What an adorable story!
While Mulligan has never opened up about this meeting, she did tell Bustle about how she feels about love letters. "I think they’re becoming a lost art form, which is very sad," she said. "To have a love letter from someone, to hold it in your hand and know that you can keep it for your whole life… well that’s an amazing thing." We can only hope that Mulligan held onto her childhood love letters from Mumford — because this story is seriously adorable.
Carey Mulligan was rejected from three drama schools, but never gave up on her dreams
After finishing school, Carey Mulligan auditioned for drama schools — after all, she had spent her entire childhood dreaming of becoming an actress. However, things didn’t initially go as planned. In fact, according to The Times, she was turned down by three schools.
Instead of giving up, Mulligan looked for another entry route. Even though her parents wanted her to pursue a steadier career path, she wrote to Julian Fellowes, who had given a talk at her school. As fate would have it, his wife replied and invited her to a dinner for aspiring actors. Fellowes and his wife helped Mulligan connect with Joe Wright, who was directing the 2005 film "Pride and Prejudice" and who was on the hunt for new faces to play the young sisters. Mulligan was cast as Kitty, and the rest is history.
After appearing in "Pride and Prejudice," Mulligan quickly found more success, with roles in TV series like "Bleak House," "My Boy Jack" and a theater production of "The Seagull." As she told The Telegraph, her lack of training led her to learning on the job. "Every job I do is like going to drama school," she said.
Early in her career, Carey Mulligan dealt with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt
Even though Carey Mulligan’s early career took off quickly with a series of impressive roles, she initially struggled with feelings of inadequacy and doubt — particularly in her first play. As she told Margot Robbie in an interview for Vogue Australia, "The first play I did I was about 18, and the director had to prise me out of my dressing room and force me into rehearsal and into the warm-ups because I was crying." As Mulligan explained, her co-stars in the play all had professional training and theater experience. "I had done one film and had no idea what I was doing," she said.
Luckily, Mulligan had nothing to worry about. Just three years into her career, she had already made a name for herself on stage. As The Telegraph wrote of her performance in "The Seagull," "Her reviews were certainly the stuff that careers are built on." By the sounds of things, her success came from her honest, truthful approach. She told Robbie, "I feel like I’m on a film set and I don’t adapt anything else other than making my voice louder, I still make the same choices" (via Vogue Australia).
Carey Mulligan struggled against typecasting in her early career
Even though Carey Mulligan was hugely successful in her early years as a professional actress, she soon realized that she was in danger of falling into a pattern of typecasting. She told The Guardian in 2014, "I used to have a typecast thing, and I fought my age and baby face." She added, "When I was younger, I used to play much younger than myself all the time and that got a little bit tiring."
Mulligan certainly did seem to fit a specific type. In "Pride and Prejudice," she played 17-year-old Kitty, a young woman in the Regency period. In "Bleak House," she played the angelic young heiress Ada Clare. In "Northanger Abbey," she took on the role of Isabella, a slightly ditzy young lady. It’s safe to say that playing the corseted ingenue was quickly becoming Mulligan’s forte. It’s no wonder she became anxious to distance herself from these young, wide-eyed roles. As she said, "I don’t think recently I’ve played a particular type."
Carey Mulligan used to be somewhat of a workaholic
Carey Mulligan quickly racked up an impressive list of credits in her 20s. She was just 24 when she was nominated for her first Oscar for her performance in "An Education." When she wasn’t appearing in starring roles in big-budget films like "Shame," "Drive," and "Far From the Madding Crowd," she was back on stage.
In fact, as Mulligan confessed to The Times, she was a bit of a workaholic. "I used to freak out if I didn’t have back-to-back work lined up," she said.
When she wasn’t on set or on stage, Mulligan was preparing for her roles, scribbling letters, poems, and artwork into notebooks. As she went on to explain, research became a big part of her process. For her role in "The Great Gatsby," she said, she did "months of research." As Mulligan explained, this workaholic mentality developed out of imposter syndrome. "I didn’t get into drama school, I didn’t go to university, so this was my homework," she said.
Carey Mulligan got "career-defining" advice after the film Wall Street and changed her approach
While Carey Mulligan can hardly complain about her career, she did hit a point around 2011 when she started to feel unsure about her next move. As she told The Guardian, she had just made "Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps." "It was a great experience doing ‘Wall Street,’" she explained, "but it didn’t feel there was a depth to the character." After being disappointed by the film, and without any upcoming projects that excited her, she felt a bit adrift.
Then, her agent took her to lunch and gave her advice that changed her mindset. "She said, ‘You shouldn’t do anything unless you can’t bear the idea of anybody else doing it,’" Mulligan said. She realized that her agent was right — but it wasn’t until "Shame" came along that she found the meaty role she was looking for.
Being selective with her career is still something that the actress is careful to do. As she told Entertainment Weekly, she has even passed on a few big films because she knew they weren’t the right choice for her.
Carey Mulligan married Marcus Mumford in 2012
After meeting Marcus Mumford at church camp (as rumor has it), Carey Mulligan and Mumford eventually reconnected at a house party in Nashville, Tennessee, in February of 2011. Soon, the pair began dating. Less than a year later, they married (via Bustle). As the Daily Mail reported at the time, the wedding took place in a picturesque barn in the British countryside with Mumford’s father officiating the service.
Mulligan has always been private about their relationship. As she once told Vogue, "Marcus is the only thing that’s mine that I can keep totally away, so I try to."
The couple’s friend, Sienna Miller, opened up to Vogue about their relationship in a little more detail, sharing that what she loves about the couple is their "normalcy." "They both come from very solid families and have a real sense of the life they want to live," she said. "They have chickens and a dog, and roasts and friends, jams by campfires. It’s sort of idyllic." Wow, it definitely sounds like Mulligan found the perfect partner to suit her low-key lifestyle.
Becoming a mother gave Carey Mulligan a "new outlook"
Carey Mulligan gave birth to her first child in 2015 and her second in 2017 (via Us Weekly). While Mulligan is always very private about her family life, becoming a mother was unsurprisingly eye-opening for the actress. As she told Baby, "It’s undeniable — it changes everything." After her first child, Mulligan ended up taking two years off filmmaking. After her second, she was less afraid to get back to work. "With a second child," she said, "you’re a lot less paranoid, and I definitely felt I was ready for new challenges this time around."
Not only did having children make Mulligan consider choosing projects with more care, it also gave her new insight into playing maternal figures. "I’d played mothers before without having ever known what it’s like to have your own child," she said. When she played a mother after giving birth, she recalled that "it felt so much more intense."
Working with this charity gave Carey Mulligan a new perspective on the world
Despite being something of a workaholic, Carey Mulligan still finds time for charity work. One of her biggest projects has been collaborating with War Child. As the actress explained to Glamour, being a long-time ambassador for the charity became a hugely important part of her life and has shaped her perspective on the world. For instance, on her first trip with the organization in 2014, she traveled to Goma, where she met a young girl whose story stuck with her. "She would dream at night that men would come into her house in the middle of the night shouting, hurt her, take her away … She was 11 years old, and that was her fear," Mulligan recalled.
These kinds of stories have made Mulligan realize her own privilege to live a comfortable and safe life. And that’s not all — they’ve also made her realize her responsibility to speak up and use her platform for good. "It feels like you have to do it," she said.
Carey Mulligan has become increasingly dedicated to female friendships over the years
Carey Mulligan’s main focuses have always been career and family — but over the years, a new focus appeared. She began to cherish her female friendships. As she explained to Porter, "My female friendships have become increasingly important — particularly the ones with friends I made when I was 14 at school." For Mulligan, these are the people who have been there with her through it all. As she put it, "It’s something about doing stages of life together and supporting each other."
These school friends have become an important constant for Mulligan, and, we have to say, their friendships sound pretty adorable. "Every year, we do our birthdays together," she said, "because all our birthdays are within six days of one another. It’s great."
Mulligan’s female friends also offer her support when it comes to living a life in the public eye, or, as she called it, "Twitter and all that stuff."
The coronavirus lockdown gave Carey Mulligan a chance to settle down in one place
While the coronavirus lockdown was difficult for just about everyone, it did come with a few positives for Carey Mulligan and her family. A sort of workaholic, Mulligan was finally able to settle down and enjoy family life when everything shut down. The actress told Harper’s Bazaar that her life before the pandemic was undeniably hectic, with her husband spending months on tour followed by her own stints filming on location. In some ways, the pandemic gave her a more normal life. "I’ve never been able to be part of a book club," she said. She even started knitting!
The pandemic also gave Mulligan a sense of the goodness of humanity. As she told Vogue, "A lot of it is so sad but also when you see examples of humanity at its absolute best, when people are really doing astonishing things."
Carey Mulligan made a big stir in the film Promising Young Woman
Carey Mulligan took on the role of Cassie in the 2020 film "Promising Young Woman," written by Emerald Fennell — a film that really needs to be watched more than once. The part turned out to be something of a career-defining role. Not only did she rack up awards and nominations, she also got the chance to play a fascinating female lead.
As she told IndieWire, she was hooked from the moment she read the script. "That’s what I loved so much, every five pages, getting wrong-footed. That was so refreshing to read something and have no idea what was going to happen with each character."
As Fennell said, Mulligan was born to play the role. "Carey is so good and just famously good and she chooses so carefully and she’s really always kept to her own journey in terms of what she picks," she said. Because Mulligan is naturally such a private person, Fennell said, she has an enigmatic quality on screen. "She was my dream person," she gushed. By the sounds of things, Mulligan’s career has led her to this fantastic project quite naturally — and chances are, there will be many more great things to come for her.