The Greatest is an intensely emotional drama from first-time writer/director Shana Feste, that explores all aspects of love – first love, lost love, the love of a parent and a couple’s second chance at love. When Allen (Pierce Brosnan) and Grace Brewer (Susan Sarandon) lose their teenage son Bennett in a car crash (Kick-Ass star Aaron Johnson), their family fractures to the point of breaking, until the appearance of a young woman named Rose (Carey Mulligan) helps everyone put the pieces back together.
Actress Carey Mulligan shot The Greatest two years ago, before all of the current buzz surrounding her. She admitted that telling such an emotional story was challenging, especially with only 28 days to shoot the film, but that she got closer to her co-stars than she ever had on almost any other film, as a result. Check out what she had to say about approaching her role after the jump:
Question: How did you approach this role?
Carey: There wasn’t a huge amount of pre-production, or a great amount of research or development because we had three days to rehearse. We came together and go to know each other, and Susan [Sarandon] ushered us into New York like the mother of New York. We had big dinners at her house with her family, and her sons both worked on the film.
It was a small crew. There were no trailers or dressing rooms. We just got ready in whatever room was available, wherever you were shooting. Because of that, we were all together a lot. And, the script gave us everything we needed. We played, but there wasn’t a huge amount of time to do lots and lots of takes and do lots of choices. You had to go in with an idea. But, the four of us just felt comfortable enough to try stuff and worth together. I had an idea of who she was from reading it, and then we just played around with it when we got on set.
Is it a real challenge to play these emotional scenes with people you don’t know that well?
Carey: No. You’ve got to do that. I’ve done lots of supporting parts where I’ve had to do that. In Brothers, I was only in one scene and that was quite heightened. In that case, you’ve just got to trust the writing and trust the director. Actually, on this, even though it was such a short period of time, we probably got closer than I have on a lot of jobs because it was so small and because the central cast was quite small.
Most of my scenes were with Pierce [Brosnan] and he’s the easiest person to get on with. Susan is as well. Johnny Simmons, who plays Aaron Johnson’s brother in the film, is awesome. You’ve got all the nerves, and acting in front of a stranger for the first time is nerve-wracking, but it’s that way with anyone, whether it’s the director at an audition or another actor. Pierce was a producer, so I wanted to be what he wanted me to be for the role because he invested himself in this film, in a lot of ways. But, we got all of that out of the way in the three days that we had to rehearse. We didn’t have much time to be nervous because it was a 28-day shoot and we just had to get it done. It was really fast.
What was Shana Feste like, as a director? Is it easier for you, as an actor, to have a director who is also the writer, in case you have any questions about the script?
Carey: Yeah, that does make a difference. Also, Shana was really generous with her script. She’s not precious about the writing. Sometimes you don’t want to insult someone by questioning a choice that they’ve made, and we rarely had reason to do that, but she was so open with it.
It was her first film, but she had complete command of the set. It was a really male-dominated crew, as it is a lot, and that didn’t phase her at all. She had a really experienced DoP and they worked together brilliantly. She understood what she’d written and she knew what she wanted without dictating your choices. She was brilliant.
The decision to put most of your scenes with Aaron Johnson in reverse chronological order and sprinkled throughout the film came during editing. Was that a big surprise to you?
Carey: Yeah. It was great, though. I hadn’t imagined it that way. I had only imagined it in the script, and it was all chronological, but I think that worked.
You’ve been through a lot since An Education, haven’t you?
Carey: Yeah. It’s been 13 months, on and off, talking about An Education.
When did you make The Greatest, in relation to An Education?
Carey: We started An Education in late February 2008, and filmed that for seven weeks. And then, I went to Chicago and did a week or two on Public Enemies, which all got cut, but I was in that very briefly. That’s why I died my hair, back then. Then, I went to L.A. and auditioned for The Greatest, and then went home for a couple of weeks, and then went out to New York and shot that in the summer. That was how it worked, and that was two years ago.