When Daisy Buchanan attends a party at Jay Gatsby’s mansion in the new film version of “The Great Gatsby,” she’s wearing a crystal-coated chandelier dress by Prada and a drool-worthy pearl and diamond headpiece by Tiffany.
The look is the glamour of the Jazz Age personified.
Such costumes were a big help to Carey Mulligan, who plays Daisy in director Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic, which many consider the defining novel of America’s 20th century.
“To be wearing literally millions of dollars worth of jewelry every day really lends a quality of elegance, in a way. You feel very kind of expensive when you’re walking about. I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Mulligan, speaking by phone from London.
In many ways, the 27-year-old actress is an ideal symbol for this “Gatsby,” Luhrmann’s latest effort at bringing contemporary razzle-dazzle to a tale from a bygone era.
Like his “Moulin Rouge!” and “Romeo + Juliet,” the movie is a young, vibrant, visual and musical ride. It’s shot in 3-D and features a soundtrack executive-produced by Jay-Z, who adds a jolt of energy with modern songs that fit neatly into the nervous energy of the Roaring Twenties.
And, of course, there are the gorgeously lavish clothes by Oscar-winning costume designer Catherine Martin, who’s married to Luhrmann.
But this “Gatsby” is also interested in being a careful character study that extends beyond the surface sparkle. That goal is in keeping with the indie film work that Mulligan has done in “An Education,” “Shame” and “Drive” — small, intriguing movies that put her on the map.
Luhrmann, who’s been envisioning a “Gatsby” adaptation for nearly a decade, found a logical choice for the title role in Leonardo DiCaprio, who worked with him on 1996’s “Romeo + Juliet.” DiCaprio represents the star quality required for Gatsby, a self-made millionaire whose quest for money and power is driven by his love for the woman, Daisy, he lost to another man.
But who would play Daisy? Keira Knightley, Blake Lively and Michelle Williams were among the actresses reportedly considered. But it was Mulligan who won the part after wowing Luhrmann during her audition with DiCaprio, which involved a tense lunch scene from later in the movie and also a kiss between Gatsby and Daisy.
“I said to Baz, ‘Should I kiss him?’ Because it said it in the script. And he said yes, so I kissed him,” Mulligan said about Luhrmann’s comments that the moment helped seal the deal. “It seemed like a pretty easy way to get a job,” she added playfully.
Mulligan purposely didn’t watch the 1974 version of “The Great Gatsby,” which starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow. “I tried to avoid it once I was cast in the film, because I’m such a big fan of Mia Farrow and I was really nervous that if saw it I would try to steal things from that performance,” she said.
She needn’t worry. Since her breakthrough Oscar-nominated role in 2009’s “An Education” as a middle-class girl who has a romance with a businessman who isn’t what he seems, she’s been stealing scenes in subsequent films like “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” where she played Gordon Gekko’s daughter, and “Shame,” where she was the younger sister of Michael Fassbender’s sex addict.
Mulligan got her start in films as Elizabeth Bennet’s sister Kitty in 2005’s “Pride and Prejudice.” The story goes that she told “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes that she wanted to be an actor when he spoke at her school and he responded with a very Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess-like quip.
“He said, ‘Oh dear, if you do, you should probably marry a banker or a lawyer,”‘ she recalled. She wrote to Fellowes afterward and was invited to a lunch with other aspiring young actors, which led to his wife, Emma, helping her get an audition for “Pride and Prejudice.”
“The Great Gatsby” represents her first attempt at playing such an iconic object of desire.
“I’ve never played someone who people feel the way that they do about Daisy in the novel, so that was daunting to a degree. Yeah, it was sort of a challenge, in the performance and also physically. To be described as the king’s daughter and the golden girl, it sets the bar pretty high.”