Carey Mulligan and Emerald Fennell on How ‘Promising Young Woman’ Sparked a Real-Life Fight

Carey Mulligan, left, and Emerald Fennell attend the premiere of "Promising Young Woman" at the MARC theater during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival on Saturday, Jan. 25, 2020, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

When Emerald Fennell and Carey Mulligan set out to make “Promising Young Woman,” they knew it would spark conversation. But they didn’t think it would lead to an actual fight in the audience during a screening.

“It was just a really completely mixed audience, all sorts of ages and genders,” Fennell says of the early test screening. “There’s a scene in the middle of the movie, an argument between two people, and a shouting argument [erupted in the audience] in the middle of it. For me, at the time, it was sort of horrifying because I wasn’t expecting anything like that. You don’t necessarily want there to be fisticuffs through your film.”

She adds: “But actually, afterwards, I thought: Well, that’s sort of what it’s supposed to do really, this film is it is supposed to make you feel, not answer any questions. I don’t know the answer to any questions. None of us do. But it is supposed to make us all talk about it, at least in a more conscious way.”

In this week’s Awards Circuit Podcast, Fennell and Mulligan talk about their highly anticipated film, which marks the feature directorial debut of the multi-talented Fennell, an actor currently playing Camilla Parker Bowles on “The Crown” and an Emmy-nominated writer and producer for “Killing Eve.” Listen below!

In the “Promising Young Woman,” Oscar nominee Mulligan plays Cassandra, a woman who dropped out of medical school following a personal tragedy, and who now goes to bars pretending to be drunk to see which men might try to take advantage of her.

In choosing to play Cassandra, Mulligan referenced her past roles in period pieces, joking that “I’ve long been wanting to not wear a corset in a film. That was a massive career goal of mine… I just had never read anything like it. And I had not seen anything like it. And I just didn’t even know where to put it. And it sort of terrified me, and also made me laugh, and also I read it sort of all in one go, sort of manic.”

For Cassandra, Mulligan sports a manicure in a rainbow of cotton candy colors and long hair, which Mulligan says “perplexed” her children, though her daughter loved it: “My daughter was like, ‘This is the greatest thing ever, Mommy’s a princess!'”

And there was some educational value. “One of my youngest learnt colors on my fingernails,” she says. “It’s one of my kind of fondest memories of it, was he was learning what pink was and yellow.”

Says Fennell: “I was always very specific about how I wanted Cassie to look, I think that there’s this really common misconception that when we’re sad, we look sad. I just do not believe it to be the case. Even economically it’s one of those famous things when there’s a recession, lipstick goes up. I think women are very used to responding to hard times by trying to kind of cover it up and make things pretty make things nice.”

Later in the show, we also talk to “Da 5 Bloods” and “Lovecraft Country” star Jonathan Majors. He discusses those projects, what it was like to work with Spike Lee, and reveals his favorite superhero.

But first, our Awards Circuit roundtable looks at the 2021 directors race, the start of critics awards season and George Clooney’s beard.

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, hosted by Clayton Davis, Jenelle Riley, Jazz Tangcay and Michael Schneider (who produces), is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.