Carey Mulligan and Margot Robbie know each other, having worked together on Emerald Fennell’s “Promising Young Woman,” which Mulligan starred in and Robbie produced through her company, LuckyChap Entertainment. So when they sit down to discuss their recent projects — Mulligan’s turn in “She Said” as Megan Twohey, the New York Times reporter whose investigative work with Jodi Kantor helped bring down Harvey Weinstein, and Robbie’s portrayal in “Babylon” of Nellie LaRoy, a self-destructive silent film star — it’s like watching two old friends chatting. During the conversation, Mulligan talks about getting to know Twohey, and Robbie gives insight into working with Damien Chazelle on the wild provocation that is “Babylon.” Naturally, Robbie’s upcoming summer film, “Barbie,” by way of Greta Gerwig, also comes up.
Carey Mulligan: I have lots of questions about “Babylon.” Actually, on “Maestro,” which I just finished, I was talking to Steve Morrow, the sound guy, and he was like, “I worked on ‘Babylon.’ It’s incredible.”
Margot Robbie: It’s crazy! I mean, when I read the script, I was like, this is like “La Dolce Vita” and “Wolf of Wall Street” had a baby — and I love it. But I was like, are we allowed to show that? Are we allowed to show that? I mean, there were so many scenes where I was like, a) I have no idea how I’m going to do that, and b) are we going to get away with this?
Mulligan: How close is the finished film to when you first read the script?
Robbie: Pretty close. As is the case with a lot of writer-directors, Damien’s not finding it in the edit; he has a vision. And because he’s so musically gifted, I think even the rhythm of it felt evident on the page, and then totally translated.
Mulligan: The music is so amazing. I watched it with my mum, and she was…
Robbie: What’d she think? Oh, my God.
Mulligan: It’s a fun one to see with your mum.
Robbie: Everyone should see “Babylon” with their parents. It won’t be awkward at all.
Mulligan: I sent my mum, years ago, with my boyfriend of probably two months, now husband, to go see “Shame” together. It was, yeah, rough.
Robbie: That’s an icebreaker.
Mulligan: But, no, she loved “Babylon.” So the whole first sequence is a giant party — with an elephant. How much of the elephant was real? Don’t ruin cinema for me.
Robbie: The elephant wasn’t real.
Mulligan: To explain, the whole opening sequence is this enormously debauched, crazy, wild party. And there’s lots of people wearing very little or nothing.
Robbie: It’s pretty much a party-slash-orgy. It kind of turns into an orgy.
Mulligan: It’s a porgy! So who were all these background actors? Because they’re all incredible dancers.
Robbie: A lot of dancers. And also I asked some of my friends, because it was important to have the party atmosphere throughout the whole film. I would always have friends in the trailer. Base camp was a little ongoing party. I was like, I kind of needed it for Nellie; I need her to never have a minute of quiet, never compose herself.
But, yeah, speaking of dissolving into a character, can we please talk about you and this film, “She Said”? It really stuck with me after watching it. I was just reliving different moments of the movie again in my head. As I was watching, I was like, “Oh, I’m so excited. I’m going to watch Carey’s movie!” But I don’t think of you as an actor when I’m watching you; I think of you as a real-life human being. You bring so much humanity, it’s like you’re not acting at all. Except then you do these crazy crying scenes, or scream at the guy in the bar, and I’m like, “She’s acting her pants off, but it just doesn’t feel like acting.” I was blown away.
Mulligan: Oh, mate, thank you. So when I first read the script, we were still doing all of our press for “Promising Young Woman,” which you produced. You were behind the camera.
Robbie: You were our glorious star. It’s weird, the correlation.
Mulligan: And, of course, you’re talking about really sensitive stuff with “She Said.” Our story — “Promising Young Woman” — was a kind of fantasy based on stuff that we all know and experience, but it wasn’t real; we weren’t talking about someone’s actual testimony. But Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor are very real, very alive, still working in the world, and incredibly talented, formidable journalists. And the story that they wrote, it’s very loaded material. It’s just an extra responsibility. And I was so fascinated by Megan — who she is and how her brain works.
Robbie: She seems like a badass. What she’s done is insane.
Mulligan: It’s amazing. And the work that they did in developing these relationships with the survivors who ultimately came forward — whether they went on the record or not — it did seem like, gosh, there’s this group of women who did this really heroic thing. I’ve been describing it to my kids because they’re seeing billboards. And they’re like, “What’s ‘She Said’?”
“We can watch it when you’re 40, but it’s about these women who were being bullied by a man. And they were being bullied for a long time. And it was really unfair, and they decided they were going to do something about it. So they all came together, and they stood up to him. He was held accountable.”
Robbie: That is a great way to explain it.
Mulligan: And I just thought, “That’s it.” More examples of that, please. More examples in the world of how women can come together and be really strong.
Robbie: And did you get to spend time with Megan?
Mulligan: Loads, actually. We did lots of Zooming at first, and then I moved the family to New York, and we got to spend lots of time together with our kids. Megan was really open. She was really honest about her experience of postnatal depression and lots of things that were going on in her home life.
Robbie: I remember when we went to you on “Promising Young Woman” to play Cassandra. I was like, “We’re never going to get Carey Mulligan.” And I was totally eating my words. I’ve said this to you before: I hold you, like Meryl Streep, in this rarefied air of prestige actors. And I was like, I want to see a legit prestige actor wearing a spandex dress with her mascara running down her face, being drunk in a bar.
Mulligan: The dream was that if we could make even one of her costumes into a Halloween costume that women would wear… And they do.
Robbie: I’ve always thought to myself, I’ll know I’ve really made it when a legit rapper uses my name in a rap.
Mulligan: That must have happened.
Robbie: It’s actually Jack Harlow. I was very excited. My friends all sent it to me because they were like, “It’s happened. You’ve made it.”
Mulligan: I do want to ask about “Barbie.” So Greta Gerwig, I have not met her properly. She’s the best — this from a distance. But her doing “Barbie” and you doing “Barbie” and Ryan Gosling doing “Barbie” — my God.
Robbie: Of course, you’ve worked with…
Mulligan: I worked with Ryan back in the day on “Drive.”
Robbie: Isn’t he the most glorious human being?
Mulligan: The sweetest, nicest man in the world, and an incredible actor. So the two of you doing “Barbie” together with Greta — that’s so funny.
Robbie: I saw a lot of similarities between Greta and Damien. They referenced the same things. They both love “Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” I mean, a lot of directors do, but, oddly, I’d find them referencing similar things. And I did ask, I was like, “Have you guys chatted before?” She was like, “No, we’ve never met.”
Mulligan: It was a wild swing for Greta.
Robbie: I’ve been working on it for about four or five years now — it’s a LuckyChap project. And we went after Greta. There were maybe three people that we would want to make a Barbie movie with, and I was like, if she says no …. So thank God she said yes. She’s just brilliant.
Mulligan: Do you make giant Barbie houses in the film?
Robbie: The dream houses? You’ll see some dream houses. And it will be everything you ever dreamed of.