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Carey Mulligan talks about assuming the role of a journalism legend in 'An Education'

Carey Mulligan plays Jenny and Peter Sarsgaard is David in An Education.

Sony Pictures Classics

Carey Mulligan plays Jenny and Peter Sarsgaard is David in An Education.

High altitude wasn't the only thing taking away moviegoers' breath at this year's Telluride Film Festival, held in a Rocky Mountain town nearly 10,000 feet above sea level.

They also were light-headed about Carey Mulligan, 24, star of An Education and a best actress Oscar contender for a portrayal drawing comparisons to young Audrey Hepburn. Mulligan plays Jenny, a winsome teenager in 1961 London whose affair with an older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard) paves the way to first heartbreak and lessons learned from it.

Some lessons are esoteric; Jenny's lover deals in classical art and enjoys Parisian holidays. Others are dreadfully personal, as David turns out to be something other than Jenny expected. The screenplay by Nick Hornby (High Fidelity, About a Boy) is based on a memoir by British journalist Lynn Barber.

An Education is currently playing in select Tampa Bay area theaters.

Mulligan also stars in the upcoming Iraq War drama Brothers, alongside Jake Gyllenhaal, Natalie Portman and Tobey Maguire. She's currently filming Oliver Stone's Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps with her reported boyfriend Shia LaBeouf.

But at Telluride in September, Mulligan was all about An Education, briefly speaking about preparing her role. Here's what she had to say about …

Researching an era occurring before she was born: "I'd love to say that I did a lot of very clever research. I watched films and listened to music but, really, everything for me it was all in the script, what Nick wrote.

"I soaked up for a couple of weeks with this cabdriver who'd take me to work every day during preproduction, who was 16 in the early '60s. He would talk for hours and I listened. I listened to a lot of French music. I spent, like, a week looking up pre-Raphaelite paintings. But that's about it.

"I do this thing when I do a job where I get a book, and I cut and stick and paste, and do a lot of light writing in the margins. It all makes me feel like I have a better idea of what I'm doing. Then I get on set and I lose the book; then it means nothing."

On Barber: "She's a journalist in London for the Guardian who is quite famous for writing fairly ruthless interviews with people she tamps down quite a bit. I was a bit scared of her.

"But she did this autobiographical piece that Nick adapted, just this small year of her life when she met this older man. I read that piece then I read the script. That was it. I didn't try to find out anything else about her. Things I heard about her later life were not helpful.

"She came on set one day when we were filming in a schoolroom, and she was really nervous. I don't know, she didn't strike me as someone who would be nervous, but she was shaking. We shook hands then she watched the monitor for about 20 minutes, then she left.

"I thought: 'Crikey, she hates me.' I haven't spoken to her since, but I know she has seen the film and she liked it, I think. Or else she lied."

Steve Persall can be reached at persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.

Carey Mulligan talks about assuming the role of a journalism legend in 'An Education' 11/19/09 [Last modified: Thursday, November 19, 2009 9:39pm]
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