Carey Mulligan has had an impressive and varied acting career, as shown throughout her awards resume in films like “Shame,” “Drive,” “Mudbound” and “She Said.” But her two leading Oscar nominations came for “An Education” (2009), her first major starring role, and “Promising Young Woman” (2020), in one of the most uncertain and thrilling Best Actress races in a while. Let’s take a look back at those years as she returns with her next project “Maestro” as Felicia Montealegre, the wife of composer/conductor Leonard Bernstein, set to release November 22 before debuting on Netflix December 20.
After a variety of roles in film, television and theater, Mulligan came to light at the Academy Awards with her first leading feature, the coming-of-age drama “An Education,” directed by Lone Scherfig and adapted by Nick Hornby from the Lynn Barber memoir, about a promising young schoolgirl who falls in love with a much older man who turns out to be a con. The role of Jenny Mellor put Mulligan on the awards map with a Golden Globe, Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, leading up to her first Oscar bid, ultimately losing all of them to Sandra Bullock for “The Blind Side.” But she did snag some hardware in her native England with her first British Academy Film Award (BAFTA), the only win out of the movie’s eight mentions including Best Film. This was also the first year that Best Picture was expanded to 10 nominees, which allowed “An Education” to nab Critics Choice, Producers Guild and Academy Award nods in the top category, as well as Best Film Ensemble at the SAG Awards. Capping off the film’s total three nominations at the Oscars was Hornby’s citation for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Which brings us to Mulligan’s nom for the dark comedy revenge thriller “Promising Young Woman,” one of the craziest Best Actress races in recent memory, taking place during the COVID pandemic. Mulligan executive produces and stars in Emerald Fennell’s first feature directorial debut as a cunning woman avenging her best friend’s rape and the people involved to cover it up. Going into awards season, many believed that Mulligan would get her first Oscar win, given her shifting performance, history and support of the movie. But there turned out to be different winners at every single precursor award show – Andra Day (“The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) at the Golden Globes, Viola Davis (“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”) at SAG, and Frances McDormand (“Nomadland”) at BAFTA – leaving Mulligan’s only victory at the Critics Choice Awards. Due to the new juried nominating system being inaugurated for the acting categories at the BAFTAs to create more diversity, Mulligan, alongside other leading contenders, was not even recognized at that ceremony. McDormand and Vanessa Kirby (“Pieces of a Woman”) were the only nominees that translated to the Oscars.
Going into Oscar night, many were still unresolved with this category but Mulligan still had a lot of edge since “Promising Young Woman” received five nominations and she was one of two nominees with a correlating Best Picture nom. Ultimately, McDormand triumphed at the end to go along with the top category win for “Nomadland,” but “Promising Young Woman” picked up Best Original Screenplay for Fennell, along with mentions for Best Director and Best Editing.
That leads to Mulligan’s next buzzed role three years later in Cooper’s upcoming Netflix biopic “Maestro,” about the career of Bernstein and particularly his marriage to Montealegre that Cooper will write, direct, produce and star. Prior to the release, it has already generated increasing anticipation with powerful directors like Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese on the producing team. “Maestro” made its premiere at the Venice International Film Festival, with Mulligan being singled out for her performance as the Costa Rican and Chilean actress, with David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter calling it “heartbreaking.”
Mulligan will have another chance in the Best Actress category, where she will very likely be submitted given her name is first-billed over Cooper as well as being highly featured in the first released posters. The movie is looking to be a big contender at this year’s Oscars and if it ends up in the Best Picture as well in other varied categories, Mulligan could be looking at a chance at her first victory.
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