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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

One of the most captivating characters on film right now is a luminous 16-year-old schoolgirl in the London suburbs who falls for an older man. The film is titled "An Education."

The actress who plays Jenny is 24-year-old Carey Mulligan. And her performance has so charmed critics that the words Oscar contender are now inevitably attached to her name. In this scene, Jenny challenges her school's headmistress, explaining why she's decided not to go to Oxford.

(Soundbite of film, "An Education")

Ms. CAREY MULLIGAN (Actor): (As Jenny) My choice is to do something hard and boring or to marry my Jew and go to Paris and Rome and listen to jazz and read and eat good food in nice restaurants and have fun. It's not enough to educate us anymore, Ms. Walters. You've got to tell us why you're doing it.

BLOCK: Carey Mulligan joins us from New York, where she's been filming "Wall Street 2" with director Oliver Stone.

Carey Mulligan, welcome to the program.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Hello.

BLOCK: Jenny seems to me to be so - you know, on one hand so innocent and naive and giggly. She's - you have these wonderful dimples and this incredible little laugh, but at the same time, there's such wisdom on your face in this part, even while, as a viewer, you know that you are headed towards some disastrous fall.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Yeah.

BLOCK: Is that how it was written in the script? Is that what you picked up from the director or the writer?

Ms. MULLIGAN: I mean, it was - yeah, it was in the script. I mean, she was the most intelligent girl in her class. So she - you know, that kind of adds a little bit. Also, it wasn't really, from my understanding, a time when, you know, there were no teenagers. You were either a child, or you were a young adult. You know, the teenage thing kind of kicked in the following years. You know, this is pre-Beatles and pre-swinging '60s, and it's still post-war. You know, the first couple of years of her life, she still would have been on rationing. You know, it wasn't a fun, fun society. It was kind of a getting-on, surviving society still.

People still had all that in their minds, and she was written very intelligently and very - and she was very witty. And in a way, Jenny does know, you know, she's headed into something not brilliant. I mean, she's not naive to it, which is why it doesn't feel like she's being taken advantage of in a sort of inappropriate way because she kind of drives certainly the romantic side of the relationship more than the Peter Sarsgaard character, David, does.

BLOCK: You think that Jenny's driving that? I mean, is that what kind of buffers it for you, anyway, from seeming too creepy?

Ms. MULLIGAN: Yeah, I mean, that was a decision at the beginning that, you know, we'd make sure that she was driving that relationship because really, David isn't interested in her sexually as a 16-year-old, or he doesn't think of her in those terms. And David - when Peter talks about David, he says, you know, he's just a guy who missed out on his teenage years. I mean, he was that age during the war, and he never got to be a kid, and this is more about him wanting to be young than be with someone who's young.

BLOCK: There's a scene when David, the older man, takes you to Paris, and you are sort of dancing along the Seine, and your hair is in this fantastic updo, and you're wearing this very slim, sleeveless, sheath dress, and you're very birdlike, you're a very tiny person, and you know, the Audrey Hepburn comparisons are just right in front of you as a viewer. You're just looking at you, thinking, my god, there she is again. I mean, when you look at that, when you look at yourself in those scenes, do you see that, or does it seem really other to you?

Ms. MULLIGAN: No, it doesn't seem like - I mean, those scenes were the last scenes we shot in the whole movie. We shot that on our wrap weekend, and we just went around in a van and shot, like, you know, shot dancing by the river, and then we'd run over there and shoot going up the steps, and you know, people were having a glass of wine. It was very relaxed and fun. And I watch that, and all of that comes into my head, and I just think about the crew and us all kind of hanging out, and the sound men being really hungover, and you know, I don't really think about any of that other stuff.

And you know, we had so much fun and improvised and messed about, and you know, it's all that kind of stuff for me.

BLOCK: And if the Audrey Hepburn comparisons come with it, so be it.

Ms. MULLIGAN: I mean, god, you know, it's hugely, enormously, madly flattering, but it doesn't - it's, too, sort of crazy to think about. It's just very kind of - it's like, well, it's nicer than being compared to Shrek or something.

BLOCK: I would think.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Yeah.

BLOCK: The film that you've been shooting in New York, "Wall Street 2," directed by Oliver Stone, you're playing Gordon Gekko's daughter, Gordon Gekko played by Michael Douglas.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Yes. Mm-hmm.

BLOCK: Tell me about working with Oliver Stone as a director.

Ms. MULLIGAN: He's wonderful. You know, Oliver's just got an incredible sense for truth, and so if you do a take, and he doesn't believe you, he just comes up and says I don't believe you, I don't buy it. He's just sort of very direct, and his directness is comforting because you know that he'll never let you move on or complete a scene without getting what he needs. So - and actually, we did a scene a month ago. It was something of - kind of a really emotional scene, and the camera kind of came towards my face, and I sometimes get this kind of stupid reaction to cameras, and I suddenly think, like, oh, I'm an actor, and I'm on set, and I'm wearing a costume, and I'm doing an American accent, and this is so weird and stupid, and I don't feel kind of like I'm in the scene at all.

And I had one of those, and I was getting really frustrated, and I went off into this back room to wait for them to set up to start again because I'd ruined the take, and Oliver came back and kind of stood next to me and went, all right, so what's going on?

I said oh, no, I'm just freaking out. I'm freaking out. I hate cameras, and I'm having a horrible time, and oh my god, it's a nightmare. And he said yeah, yeah, yeah, cameras are tough. Yeah. What do we do about that?

I said I don't know, I don't know. And he said, yeah, I guess you just have to accept that, you know, it's not normal. And I was like, yeah. Then we just sort of stood there, and he sort of stood next to me for about four minutes, and I kind of stopped crying. And it sounds like very random, but you know, I've just - I've had that on a lot of things, and I haven't had anyone who's dealt with it quite so deftly.

BLOCK: Huh, cameras are tough?

Ms. MULLIGAN: Cameras are really tough, yeah.

BLOCK: Words to live by.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Yeah, yeah, I know.

BLOCK: You know, I have to say, it's kind of jolting but also oddly reassuring to hear you say that as an actress, you get freaked out by a camera.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, I mean, it's just - it's incredibly unnatural to - I mean, a lot of it is to do with - actually, when I did "An Education," I made sure that I knew the crew before we started shooting because I knew that the thing that had usually got in my way was not knowing the crew.

If you know the crew, and you're friends with the crew, and you hang out with them and eat lunch with them, when you get on set, and you do a scene, you know, you feel like they're rooting for you. And if you don't know them - and I had this experience with - I did very small supporting roles in other films. I'd come in for my one or two days or my week, and I'd feel like a complete outsider, and it ramps up the pressure in such a huge way.

But the camera thing has always been weird for me. I've always, when I was a kid, I hated having my photo taken. And then I had braces when I was about 12 for a couple of years, and I kind of taught myself not to smile because I didn't want to show anyone my braces, and then I never kind of came out of that. So when I'm standing, like, on a red carpet, and people are asking me to smile, I get this sort of rising panic because I haven't found a smile that I'm comfortable with, that I - you know, that I look nice smiling. I, sort of, look sort of terrible.

So on set, you know, once I'm happy with the crew, then - and I've kind of hung out with them, then it's sort of easier, but just occasionally, you just sort of think my job is so ridiculous but, you know, fun at the same time.

BLOCK: Well, Carey Mulligan, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

Ms. MULLIGAN: Thank you very much.

BLOCK: Actress Carey Mulligan, her latest film is called "An Education."

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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