We’ve seen countless male-led action films of men saving their daughters or avenging the deaths of their wives. So “Promising Young Woman” writer, director and producer Emerald Fennell sought to flip the trope on its head and make a revenge movie that felt innately female and put a spotlight on the friendship between two women.
In the Variety Streaming Room, hosted by film and media reporter Angelique Jackson, Fennell and star Carey Mulligan discussed their five-time Oscar-nominated film.
While the movie, which is nominated for an Academy Award for best picture, is intrinsically centered around a female experience, Fennell noted that “Promising Young Woman” was developed for a broad audience.
“What’s been really heartening is how widely it has connected with people,” Fennell said. “We’ve heard from everyone from much older men, to really young women, to boys and girls who are just starting high school and are talking about sex and consent.”
Mulligan, who is nominated for best actress, also discussed the deeply personal reaction that audiences have had to the project, saying that she’s had a number of intimate, interesting conversations with people about how they feel about the film.
“It’s not often that you make a film that really people feel incredibly strongly about,” she said. “And perhaps not favorably and that’s okay too. But people have felt real passion in what the film talks about, how they feel about the story that’s being told and the importance of the story that’s being told.”
Praising the movie’s “incredible script,” the actor, who also served as an executive producer on the film, talked about the unique experience of playing Cassie.
“There was nothing familiar about this, but it was also painfully familiar. This person didn’t feel like a character that I had seen before,” Mulligan said. “But everything about the film just felt so close and honest in spite of the fact that it is a thriller, and it does take you on a real journey.”
Mulligan said that working with co-stars Bo Burnham and Laverne Cox helped her bring out the many sides of Cassie.
“Bo was just such a brilliant actor to work with and also hilarious and lovely and all those things, but his performance was just so incredible,” Mulligan said. “And Laverne imbued Gail with so much history as well.”
Mulligan and Fennell also dissected the film’s timely themes, such as the renewed discussion of how pop culture has treated women both onscreen and behind the scenes. The topic is particularly apt, especially in the wake of documentaries centering on Britney Spears and Paris Hilton, whose music is also featured prominently in the film.
“It’s very interesting the way that we treat famous women’s bodies, because we have a sense of ownership over them,” Fennell said. “The lines of consent are very blurred when it comes to women in the public eye, but that trickles down to all of us… Now, quite rightly, people are examining how complicit they were in the whole industry of that.”
Fennell, who had never worked with Mulligan before “Promising Young Woman,” also discussed the importance of having a shared vision with the actor and producer.
“It had to come from love and joy and friendship because it’s a film about love and friendship,” Fennell said. “We needed that very strong female friendship. Both of us are acutely aware that it would have been impossible without the other person.”
Watch the full discussion above.