"What I loved is that she starts the story completely ordinary, and that it's by meeting these women and by joining this movement that she becomes extraordinary," says Carey Mulligan about her role in the historical drama "Suffragette." She discussed the film and its place in the modern feminist movement at the Plaza Athénée in New York City on November 17.
Mulligan plays Maud Watts, a fictional working-class woman who joins the fight for women's voting rights in early 20th century England, but while Maud begins the story as a reluctant activist, the actress never saw her as a shrinking violet. "My biggest fear in playing her was that she would appear passive, and that's just the opposite of what she is," reveals Mulligan. "She's full of energy, she just doesn't have anywhere to direct it yet, and it's these women that give her focus and a way of expressing everything that's bubbling up inside her. The victim side of her is eradicated the second she has a voice."
Women were fully enfranchised in the UK in 1928, but "Suffragette" "was never intended as just a historical slice," Mulligan explains. "At the end [of the film] you're brought back around to the modern day by talking about the years in which women finally got the vote in different parts of the world, and there are so many issues in the film that still affect women today."
Women still battle for equality, and Hollywood is no exception. Women are underrepresented as writers, directors and in leadership positions in the film industry, which was illustrated last year by the dearth of female-driven stories nominated for Oscars.
"This year feels like a turning point," says Mulligan, noting female-centered films like "Carol," "Room" and "Joy" in addition to the female-directed "Suffragette" in this fall's awards campaign. "I hope it's not just an anomaly and next year it's going to be the opposite, but it does feel like we're part of that conversation. It's kind of ridiculous that it's so unique. A film directed by a woman – when I've said that over the last couple of weeks people have cheered, and I thought, 'Really?' But I suppose it's cheer-worthy, and I hope that it becomes less cheer-worthy over the next couple of years, that it becomes the norm."
Mulligan took part in a campaign called Hope for Our Daughters in conjunction with the film, and having recently given birth to a daughter of her own, Mulligan hopes her child "can have equality without having to prove it. I think that's the thing I've often felt, that I've had to pick my battles a lot in my work and had to prove myself to be worthy. My hope is that isn't the case in the future, that as a woman you don't have to fight harder to be accepted as part of the conversation."
How do you think Mulligan will fare at the Oscars?
Photo Credit: Moviestore/REX