One of the most acclaimed movies of the year, Carol is a beautifully crafted, superbly acted love story about Carol, a wealthy, sophisticated, unhappily married suburban housewife and mother and Therese, a young shop girl in the 1950s, a time when same sex lovers kept their relationships secret—or faced devastating consequences. Stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara have racked up Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Independent Spirit nominations, and numerous critics’ and film festival accolades, making nods from Oscar all but guaranteed.

In the midst of the award season whirlwind, the actresses attended a Variety Screening Series showing of Carol to discuss the film, their roles and some memorable milestones in their careers.

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This film has been gestating for a long time, hasn’t it?

Blanchett: Phyllis Nagy was commissioned to write the screenplay 18 years ago. It’s a long time for a lesbian story. Once [producer] Elizabeth Karlsen came on board it gained momentum and focus. It wasn’t really till [director] Todd [Haynes] came on board that it became a film and took off. I think that if this film had been made 18 years ago it would have been seen through a much more political prism. I think things have shifted enough that it can be seen as a love story.

Mara: The great gift of the film is that it’s not shoving an agenda on anyone. It’s not that it’s a love story between two women; it’s just a love story, period.

Blanchett: My fear was it would be seen as a film that would only interest women, and what I’ve been most pleased about, I’ve found the response from men really heartwarming. It has a universal quality and appeal we all can deeply identify with.

It’s also about mentorship and one learning from the other.

Mara: Hopefully, any relationship or love connection is a mentorship. It’s why you want to be in a relationship, so that you can grow and learn from the other person. I feel that way in every film that I do. I feel like a different person every time I leave a film–that I’ve learned so much.

Blanchett: Love between people of the same gender was not only illicit, it was illegal. The other impediment [to the relationship] is innocence vs. experience. Carol is really shut down because she has an adult sense of consequence that Therese doesn’t have. The age gap and the difference in their social sets are very enormous impediments. It was delicious to play. Rooney has this inherent sense of containment and mystery and allure that she really did channel as Therese. Some actors want to talk out every little detail and neither of us wanted to do that. We were quite simpatico in wanting to see what happened and just do it, not demystify the scene to an extent where there’s nothing left to play. We wanted to know we were in the same visual world and the same atmosphere but we left what was going on in each other’s minds until we were in front of the camera

How much–or little–direction did you get from Todd Haynes?

Mara: It never felt like direction. He’s so collaborative. Todd does so much work before he gets to set. We didn’t have that much time or that much money, so we had to figure it all out before we got there.

Blanchett: Rather than saying ‘I think it should be like this,’ he’ll ask you a question, which means every time you go into a take you’re seeking to answer something. Not that you’ll pin it down and answer it, but you’re trying to discover something, and I found that such a great way to work on the material. He’s deeply collaborative, so it was a really active relationship. The wonderful thing about Todd is that every film is a departure. He’s always stepping into new visual territory.

The love scene is beautifully done.

Blanchett:  It was really essential to the film. It was a relief and hopefully a relief for the audience because hopefully by then you’re rooting for them, so it’s really important.

Mara: I knew the film would be beautiful but I was shocked by how beautiful the film is. It’s really hard for me to watch anything I’ve been in and lose myself in it after I’ve seen how it’s been put together but I was able to lose myself in this more than my other films.

Sandy Powell’s costumes are so effective and beautiful.

Blanchett: It’s a testament to her that she put together such a sumptuous, luxurious look for Carol and evolved the look for Therese so beautifully with very little. For the coat I wore as Carol, there were two choices, one that was not going to fall apart but was not as beautiful and a beautiful one that was constantly going to fall apart. So from take to take Sandy was taking the coat off me and sewing it back together.


What do you think about the ending?

Blanchett: It’s such an enigmatic ending in the novel and we kept true to that, and I was really grateful for that because it contained everything, all of the problems and all of the challenges.

As you said, it took a long time for Carol to get made because it was about a love story about two women. Are things getting better?

Blanchett: It’s like any industry where women are doing extraordinary work, but are they being paid equally? It’s not the lack of female stories, it’s how they’re distributed and how much budget they get to work with. I don’t know that that’s changed. We have the same conversation every year.

What was the project you learned and grew up on the most?

Blanchett: I was in a production of Oleanna when I came out of drama school and that was a really big learning curve for me. And when I played Queen Elizabeth that was absolutely terrifying. It was the most astonishing piece of acting to walk out of the dressing room and not throw up!

Mara: I’m constantly growing up; I hope I never stop growing. I guess I’d have to say The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. We shot that film for a whole year so I had a whole year to grow up. On a personal level I came into myself during that year and that journey. I feel so lucky to get to do what I do.

(Photos: The Weinstein Company)