Alfred Molina on Carey Mulligan and How He Approached His Character in ‘Promising Young Woman’

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“What’s important is to find out, or try and understand, what happens to a person after the event…. What happens to you when you come to terms with some terrible thing you’ve done?” – Alfred Molina

Emmy Award-nominated actor Alfred Molina has had plenty experience playing unscrupulous characters in film and television and on stage, but he might top all of his previous nefarious characters with his brief, but significant appearance in the Oscar-winning film Promising Young Woman. Molina spoke with Variety about his role and working again with actress Carey Mulligan.

Molina first worked with Mulligan when he played her character’s father in Mulligan’s breakthrough film role, 2009’s An Education. That experience from a decade ago helped them fall into familiar territory behind the scenes. He explains, “I know that Carey likes to gather herself before a take, and she likes to kind of get into a quiet zone. She knows that I’m a bit of a goofball on set, and I’m making jokes and trying to make the cameramen laugh. We didn’t have to do any sort of protocol or prep. We just dove straight in.”

However, Molina and Mulligan’s characters have a very different relationship in Promising Young Woman — Molina portrays a lawyer who had convinced a woman, Nina, not to press charges against the man who raped her and now feels remorse for his actions. On playing the character, Molina explains:

“We know that he was probably as responsible for Nina’s death as anyone else. We know that kind of person. What’s important is to find out, or try and understand, what happens to a person after the event. What happens to a person in the darkness, in the silence and the loneliness, and in the solitary-ness of their own room? What happens to you when you come to terms with some terrible thing you’ve done? Or when you realize the enormity of the system that you’ve been part of and have been supporting. Does it crush you? Does it make you double down?

I’m not in AA, but I was thinking in terms of a 12-step program — how you make amends, how you come to terms with and acknowledge your history. I was talking to a couple of people who have had experience with this, and they said to me, ‘It’s all about exhaustion. You don’t sleep. There’s no joy — every ounce of joy has left your life.’

I’ve never been lonely in my life, because I’ve always been surrounded by people. So it was an interesting thing to think about from a performing point of view.”

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