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A Minute With: Carey Mulligan on singing, playing literary heroines

Cast member Carey Mulligan reacts as she attends a news confernce for the film 'Inside Llewyn Davis' during the 66th Cannes Film Festival in
Cast member Carey Mulligan reacts as she attends a news confernce for the film 'Inside Llewyn Davis' during the 66th Cannes Film Festival in

By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Actress Carey Mulligan has taken on a wildly diverse range of film roles, from a naive schoolgirl in "An Education" to a struggling single mother in "Drive" to the coquettish Daisy Buchanan in this year's "The Great Gatsby."

The 28-year-old London native was thrust into the spotlight with her breakout role as a smart but innocent schoolgirl in the coming-of-age drama "An Education," earning her a best actress Oscar nomination in 2010.

Since then, she has become one of Hollywood's most sought-after young actresses, most recently picked by directors Joel and Ethan Coen for their latest film on the 1960s folk scene "Inside Llewyn Davis," in which Mulligan plays the supporting role of Jean alongside lead star Oscar Isaac.

Mulligan sat down with Reuters to discuss singing with Justin Timberlake, playing literature's leading ladies and her most challenging role yet.

Q: What drew you to the role of the feisty Jean?

A: The reason the Coen brothers asked me to audition for it is that they had not seen me play a part like that before, and I had not gotten the opportunity to play a part like that. She was just so incensed and furious and behind that, you could see the intimate relationship between (Jean and Llewyn), she was just brilliantly written.

Q: You sing alongside Justin Timberlake in the film. How was that experience?

A: It was nerve-racking at first. We had a week of singing rehearsals where we all played music together, and that's when I first sat down with Justin and T Bone Burnett, he orchestrated the whole thing. But they were so lovely. Justin was so encouraging to a non-singer and he made me feel really great. We just got really into it as our little trio, our tribute to Peter, Paul & Mary, that I forgot about all the nerves by the time we were doing it.

Q: You call yourself a non-singer, but you also showcased your singing talents in 2011's "Shame." Is singing something that you want to do more of?

A: No, it's just sort of bizarre. I sang in the choir at school, that was the extent of my singing and when I was much younger, I was into musical theater, but these jobs just came up. "Shame" came relatively close to "Inside Llewyn Davis," and they both happened to have singing things. It's been a great part of those characters, but not something I would do outside of film.

Q: So no album in the works?

A: No album! I'll spare everyone my album.

Q: You've played some great literary ladies -- Kitty Bennet in 2005's "Pride & Prejudice," Daisy Buchanan in this year's "The Great Gatsby" and Bathsheba Everdene in the upcoming film version of "Far From the Madding Crowd." Do you feel any pressure in bringing these characters to life?

A: Huge pressure. I love doing adaptations of novels because you've got such a lot of material to work from that's so interesting and it's so fun to bring that to life ... The characters that are written in these great pieces of literature are amazing and really rare. Bathsheba's the same as that, she was such a crazy character and the things that she experiences throughout her story are amazing.

Q: What did you take away from the experience of playing Daisy Buchanan in Baz Luhrmann's "The Great Gatsby"?

A: Being my first experience in a big film, I imagined it would be different to how it was, but actually I came away having really had great acting moments. I had such a good time acting with Leo (DiCaprio) and Tobey (Maguire), and was so absorbed by working with them.

Q: How have you gone about selecting roles after your best actress Oscar nomination in 2010?

A: It gave me an opportunity to stop for a second and figure out what I wanted to do. I realized that working incessantly, which I had been doing for a long time, wasn't really good for me and wasn't good for the work I was doing, so I just started trying to get jobs that were really once-in-a-lifetime parts that you just couldn't bear the idea of anyone else doing and that's how it ended up being.

Q: What has been your biggest challenge so far?

A: My biggest challenge acting-wise has probably been "Far From the Madding Crowd," which I just finished, only that I hadn't played a lead role in a while. I've been doing these really great supporting roles like in "Inside Llewyn Davis," so I had forgotten how much work it is, and it ended up being really physically demanding. She's a crazy character.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Andrew Hay)

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