This story about “Promising Young Woman” and Emerald Fennell first appeared in the Down to the Wire issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.
On March 15, Emerald Fennell was part of a historic moment. The “Promising Young Woman” writer and director, along with “Nomadland” filmmaker Chloé Zhao, was nominated in the Best Director category for the 93rd Academy Awards, marking the first time two women were nominated in that group. But that’s not all — her nomination means she’s the sixth or seventh woman to ever be nominated as Best Director, and her Best Original Screenplay nod comes in a category that’s only had 15 solo female nominees and three solo female winners in the award’s history.
“I feel like I’ve benefited from years and years and years of other people’s work, of other women working tirelessly for years and decades so that someone like me can get my film financed,” Fennell said. “It’s amazing, but I also wish it had happened sooner for all of those people. It seems like a shame that it’s taken this long, but it’s incredible — it’s still difficult for me to talk about it in any sort of articulate way because it just seems so bonkers!
“Promising Young Woman,” which stars Carey Mulligan, Bo Burnham and Laverne Cox, was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actress for Mulligan and Best Editing. If anything, Fennell said, the landmark nominations show how much more progress has to be made with representation. “I think we were probably all surprised, naively, that these things are so unusual because in my life, I’ve always worked with so many incredibly talented women — they’re showrunning, they’re writing, they’re directing. And I suppose you forget that actually, we still have a long way to go. I think it just takes a while to turn around a big ship, but it does feel like things are changing.”
In the film, Mulligan plays Cassie, a woman whose bright future as a medical student gets derailed by the same evil that has afflicted so many women in higher education: sexual abuse. Scarred by her best friend’s tragic experience, she now gets her vengeance by pretending to be drunk at clubs and baiting unscrupulous men into “helping” her … although her full plans are not what they initially seem.
“I just am such a fan of hers,” Fennell said of Mulligan. “What I love so much about her and the choices that she’s consistently made in her career is that she just disappears. You forget the breadth of her career, because she’s only interested in work. Lots of people think of her as a period drama actress because they’ve seen ‘Suffragette,’ but when I think of her, I think ‘Drive’ or ‘Shame’ or ‘Doctor Who,’ even — she’s so versatile.”
“Cassie needed to be (played by) someone who was just going to play the truth — not play to the audience, not play to the camera, not be conscious of being badass or iconic or things that people would expect from this kind of character. It needed this person to be real and often not nice and traumatized and sometimes wrong and sometimes right. Carey’s an incredibly kind and perceptive person, but when it comes to working, she’s only interested in what feels real. She’s not worried if she’s going to look hot or any of that stuff.”