'Promising Young Woman': Carey Mulligan and Emerald Fennell talk sexual assault revenge thriller, title's similarity to Brock Turner case

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Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman has been called the ultimate #MeToo revenge thriller, but the film was already in the works at the time of the public reckoning that cascaded in the fall of 2017. After all, the epidemic of sexual assault in our culture is hardly a new issue.

“Most women and a lot of men would say that these are conversations we’ve been having an incredibly long time,” Fennell (Killing Eve) tells Yahoo Entertainment during a recent virtual press day for the film, where she was joined by star Carey Mulligan (watch above). “This is just a film about people who think they’re good being told by someone that they’re not good. And I think that’s what’s so unnerving about it.”

Mulligan (An Education, Mudbound) plays Cassandra, an ex-medical student now working at a coffee shop who feigns intoxication at local bars in order to tear down would-be assaulters while also plotting to avenge a horrific incident from her time in school.

“I thought it was the best script I had read in a really long time,” Mulligan says about her first reaction to the project. “I felt Emerald’s perspective on things was so unique.”

Carey Mulligan in 'Promising Young Woman' (Focus Features)
Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman. (Photo: Focus Features)

The Oscar-nominated actress was comforted by the gaze and lensing of Fennell, also an actress who’s appeared on The Crown, particularly when it came to a late sequence where Cassandra disguises herself as a stripper in a “sexy nurse” costume.

“I think I said something like, ‘S***,’ I really don’t want to take my clothes off,’ or something like, ‘I’ve had two kids,’” recounts Mulligan, who has a son and daughter with singer husband Marcus Mumford. “And Em was like, ‘Oh no. The second your finger is on the zip, we will be on the men, and you will see the visceral reactions from them…’ And that became the case throughout the entire film.”

It’s been theorized that the film’s title is a reference to the case of Brock Turner, the disgraced Stanford student who, despite being convicted of sexual assault and intent to rape (Turner served only three months in jail), was often referred to in the media as a “promising young man.”

“I don’t think that it was, but certainly that as a phrase is so commonly used when young men do something wrong,” Fennell says when asked if that was the intent. “They are almost always referred to as ‘promising young man’ whether it’s a case like this of assault or if they get a gun and do something completely reprehensible. There’s always this inclination to be forgiving. I believe entirely in forgiveness, but it’s an interesting thing, when you look at the phrase ‘promising young woman,’ it’s hardly ever used, and if it is used, it’s usually to describe a girl who’s no longer alive.

“You can only really be a ‘promising young woman’ when it’s too late, when your promise is completely aborted.”

Watch the trailer:

Promising Young Woman opens Friday, Dec. 25; check Fandango for ticket and showtime information.

—Video produced by Jen Kucsak and edited by Jimmie Rhee

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