An early review of the film Promising Young Woman, which stars Carey Mulligan, received criticism after it implied that Mulligan wasn’t attractive enough to be believable in the role. The review, published by Variety Magazine in January 2020, originally said:
“Mulligan, a fine actress, seems a bit of an odd choice as this admittedly many-layered apparent femme fatale – Margot Robbie is a producer here, and one can (perhaps too easily) imagine the role might once have been intended for her. Whereas with this star, Cassie wears her pickup-bait gear like bad drag; even her long blonde hair seems a put-on.”
However, Variety updated the review with an editor’s note apologizing for the “insensitive language” in the review after Mulligan raised issue with it during an interview with the New York Times published in December.
“It felt like it was basically saying that I wasn’t hot enough to pull off this kind of ruse,” Mulligan said at the time. “It drove me so crazy. I was like, ‘Really? For this film, you’re going to write something that is so transparent? Now? In 2020?’ I just couldn’t believe it.”
Mulligan expanded on those thoughts during a recent conversation with Zendaya as part of Variety’s “Actors on Actors” video series.
“I feel it’s important that criticism is constructive. I think it’s important that we are looking at the right things when it comes to work, and we’re looking at the art and we’re looking at the performance. And I don’t think that goes to the appearance of the actor or your personal preference for what an actor does or doesn’t look like – which it felt that that article did.”
“I think in criticizing or bemoaning a lack of attractiveness on my part in a character, it wasn’t a personal slight. It didn’t wound my ego, but it made me concerned that in such a big publication an actress’s appearance could be criticized and it could be accepted as completely reasonable criticism.”
“It’s important to call out those things, because they seem small and they seem insignificant. People around me at the time said, ‘Oh, get over it. People love the film.’ But it stuck with me, because I think it’s these kind of everyday moments that add up.
We start to edit the way that women appear on-screen, and we want them to look a certain way. We want to airbrush them, and we want to make them look perfect. Or we want to edit the way that they work, the way they move and the way that they think and behave. And I think we need to see real women portrayed on-screen in all of their complexity. I felt that it was one small thing to point out that could be helpful.”
Watch the entire “Actors on Actors” conversation here.