TIFF ’10: Mark Romanek and Carey Mulligan talk ‘Never Let Me Go’

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: Early last year, as Mark Romanek was busy mounting his adaptation of Kazou Ishiguro’s beloved novel “Never Let Me Go,” the director received a four-word text informing him who would headline his film.

“We had trouble finding a Kathy. And Peter Rice, who was running [Fox] at the time, had seen ‘An Education’ in Sundance and sent me a text that said, ‘Hire the genius Mulligan.’ It’s true. And I asked him later why it was such a terse message, and he said that the movie wasn’t even finished yet. He texted it in the middle of the film,” Romanek said.

If you think that puts extra pressure on Mulligan as she assumes the role of Kathy – a delicate clone living a difficult life in an alternate existence – well, you’d be right.

“The amount of pressure I feel even now is more than any job before,” Mulligan told me during a recent talk in Toronto. “With ‘An Education,’ we didn’t expect anyone to buy it, let alone see it come to America or get any awards. Kathy is the lead character in a well-loved book. My worst nightmare is upsetting the fans of the book. My mother being one if them!

“I think it’s pretty faithful,” Mulligan continued. “It’s difficult for me to really be objective. I tend to be very critical. I also don’t watch a lot of it because when I’m on screen, I [hang my head]. And then when I go, I can look up again. But I think that they did a really beautiful job with the editing, the music, and how beautifully shot it is.”

Credit Romanek, who hadn’t directed a full-length feature since “One Hour Photo” in 2002. He says he came to this project as opposed to it finding him. He loved Ishiguro’s novel and dreamed of adapting it, but had to jump through a number of hoops while campaigning for the chance to direct.

He found himself very emotional after reading the book and said, “I realize reading the book that this was about me. This book says that we are here for a very short time, all of us, and the book is about how does one come to the end of one’s life and not regret how you lived it. I just found that very moving.”

And while there are sci-fi elements that drive the plot, Romanek said he never wanted to make a science-fiction movie and intended “Never Let Me Go” to be a love story with a sci-fi context. To ground the human side of the relationships in the film, he immediately tapped into the years-long friendship that existed between his leading ladies, Mulligan and Keira Knightley.

“They have a very close relationship, and I could see instantly that that was going to give us a real running start of authenticity to their relationship,” Romanek said. “And you can see it on the screen, I think.”

The actresses are extremely close. Mulligan even refers to her co-star as her sister. “I remember on the first day of rehearsals, we just sat in a corner gossiping for like an hour,” Mulligan recalls. “And Mark came over and said, ‘Go and talk to Andrew [Garfield].’ And we were like, ‘Yeah, yeah … Andrew. We know!’ But it was very nice having a friend there.”

While Mulligan has had plenty of scripts sent her was following “An Education,” she has been picky and choosy about her projects. She’s only filmed “Never Let Me Go” and Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street” sequel since shooting “An Education.”

“I would have worked if I had found something,” she said. “There just wasn’t anything that I found to be dramatically different enough from stuff that I’ve already done.”

But Mulligan did reveal a few details about her next project, “Drive,” which she’ll film alongside Ryan Gosling for “Bronson” director Nicolas Winding Refn.

“I remember sending an e-mail to my agent over the summer saying something like, ‘I just want to do a film with someone like Nicholas Winding Refn!’ And then he was like, ‘Hey, by the way …’”

Before then, Mulligan will have a very busy month opening “Never Let Me Go” in limited release on Sept. 15, and “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” on Sept. 24.

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