Exclusive: RT Visits the Set of An Education

Nick Hornby, Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan chat coming of age.

by | May 2, 2008 | Comments

An EducationThere’s a general impression of the British film industry that if we’re not producing cockney gangster flicks or sweeping romantic period pieces then we’re working on a yet another quirky rom-com. In the affluent suburb of Acton in London, RT has come to the set of An Education, a film that dares to be different. While the script bursts with humour, this is a film that’s decidedly deeper than the usual Richard Curtis fare, daring to explore topics as controversial today as they’ve ever been and to challenge preconceptions about the journey out of adolescence.

It’s no surprise to learn that it comes from the pen of one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary novelists, Nick Hornby. Like High Fidelity, About a Boy and Fever Pitch, An Education sings with a certain tone unique to Hornby’s material and is populated with interesting, real and engaging characters. It’s no wonder Variety had it on their list of the best unproduced British screenplays in 2007.

Set in the early 60s, the film tells the tale of Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a sharp 16-year-old with sights set on entry to Oxford at the encouragement of her father Jack (Alfred Molina). She meets a handsome older man named David (Peter Sarsgaard), whose position on the social ladder and passion for high-class enjoyment enraptures both her and her parents and is the catalyst for a budding romance.

The story is based on a piece of memoir written by Observer journalist Lynn Barber about her experiences growing up. “I was fascinated to read the story initially just because Lynn Barber usually writes about other people, not autobiographically,” Hornby explains. “I finished it and said to Amanda, ‘I think there’s a film in this.'”

An Education
Jenny (Carey Mulligan) enjoys a post-coital cigarette with David (Peter Sarsgaard) in An Education.

Producer Amanda Posey, Hornby’s wife, brought the story to Finola Dwyer, and the pair started to seek writers for the project. Ultimately they came back to Hornby, who signed on to write his first screenplay not adapted from his own work. With Danish director Lone Scherfig at the helm, and with Rosamund Pike, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper and Emma Thompson rounding off the cast list, An Education began production in mid-March.

For the film’s Jenny, 22 year-old Carey Mulligan, whose previous experience includes roles as Kitty Bennet in Joe Wright‘s 2005 version of Pride & Prejudice, and Ada Clare in the BBC’s adaptation of Dickens’ Bleak House, An Education is an opportunity to showcase her talent and clear propensity for strong material. “The script is brilliant and so funny,” she tells RT, “I hadn’t realised how funny until the read-through, because there are bits that come out in the reading of it. Nick writes such wonderful female characters. Jenny is so well written and so specifically 16 in the 60s and it’s so much fun to play.”

Today, as the production films a variety of shots outside a period school building that’ll be slotted throughout the film, the crew are battling against the British weather, as film crews are wont to do in this country. But rather than waiting for gaps in the rain, they’re waiting for clouds to move over the sun and have watered down everything in shot. Just when you want rain, and dull, grey skies, Britain decides to let the sun shine.

An Education
Behind the scenes, screenwriter Nick Hornby and director Lone Scherfig watch the action on the set of An Education.

It’s a far cry from the Dogme ’95 roots of director Scherfig who’s used to strict rules against artificiality in filmmaking, but she’s clearly enjoying herself and seems to have set a standard on set for calm that’s making our visit a much more pleasurable one than we’re used to from the usual bustle of a film set. Faith in the material seems to have inspired everyone here to relax and enjoy their work.

“It’s much easier to shoot a good script than a not-so-good script,” says Scherfig when she takes a break to speak to RT. “It makes my work a lot easier, that Nick has been so thorough and detailed and psychologically sensitive. It has much depth and much detail and humour and it’s quite moving. I feel comfortable in this kind of genre, even if I’m not English and it’s a very English world the film takes place in.”

Sarsgaard, who’s tackling an impressive and specifically dated British accent for the film and sticks with it as he sits down with RT, was won over by the secrets David keeps. “It’s the oldest cheat in the world,” he laughs, “especially if the audience learns that I have a secret. It makes me seem rather deep even if I’m rather shallow! It at least gives me two dimensions! Being an American playing a British person who is pretending to be another person, I mean, I’m already doing it. I’m doing it the moment I start speaking. It’s such an easy role, in the greatest sense of that word. Sometimes I go home and I wonder if I’m doing a good job because it doesn’t feel difficult.”

Like the rest of the script, the period setting strives to set itself apart from most depictions of life in 60s Britain. This is not the primary-coloured pop-art age of partying as parodied in the likes of Austin Powers. “It’s a clash of two eras,” explains Scherfig, “It’s more the very early elements that we sneak in here and there of a period that is going to explode the way Jenny’s adult life will develop.”

An Education
Peter Sarsgaard and Carey Mulligan on the set of An Education.

David, and his two friends Danny (Cooper) and Helen (Pike), represent what’s to come. “They represent the fun and freedom Jenny will experience. It’s pre-Beatles first album and pre-psychedelia, but there’s a little touch of those things here and there. In the music as well – as you know Nick Hornby is very music-conscious and there are a lot of musical cues in the script.”

“Come 1964, 1965,” adds Sarsgaard, “I think they’ll find they’ll fit right in! You can picture them on the Isle of Wight listening to Jimi Hendrix a few years after the film is set.”

From schoolgirl to woman, the time Jenny spends with David, Danny and Helen shapes her path into adulthood and towards that environment. Of course, on set they’ve been shooting out of order. “In the last two weeks we’ve been shooting everything with Rosamund Pike and Dominic Cooper, all the stuff in which Jenny goes through her transformation,” says Mulligan. “And now we’re back shooting the school days stuff. I’m back in school uniform and weirdly the crew have started talking to me differently! I’m 22, but I feel 16!”

An Education
Alfred Molina plays Jack, Jenny’s father, in An Education.

As passionate as everyone is about the material – even if they are treating Mulligan like a teenager in the process – for Hornby, simply getting as far as assembling of a crew of people to make the film is a pleasure. “Everything’s a long shot when you’re writing a screenplay,” he says. “At this stage of my career, if I write a novel to the best of my ability I would say there’s a 100% chance of it being published. But if I write a screenplay to the best of my ability I would say there’s a 10% chance of the film being made. That’s an enormous difference in terms of your own psychology and your ability to get yourself up for each draft!”

Still, Hornby’s novels usually arrive mostly fully-formed after the first draft, he says, and the extra time to refine the screenplay has proved invaluable. Mulligan has followed the changes. “I read the first draft in November 2006 and it has changed so much since then,” she says. “And I got the part in September last year and it’s changed even from then. It’s been such a long time coming that it feels surreal we’re doing it!”

An Education is released next year and we’ll have more on the film, including full interviews with Peter Sarsgaard, Carey Mulligan, Alfred Molina, Nick Hornby and more closer to the time. You can find more exclusive images from the set of An Education right here.

Tag Cloud

TBS E3 Sony Pictures stand-up comedy Musicals FXX Discovery Channel SDCC criterion Baby Yoda Binge Guide BET breaking bad thriller Song of Ice and Fire Mary poppins American Society of Cinematographers technology renewed TV shows 2017 documentaries travel all-time movie Arrowverse TIFF zombie elevated horror Amazon Studios Bravo CW Seed a nightmare on elm street hollywood Pop Rocky Netflix Christmas movies miniseries finale First Look NBC TCA Awards Musical Cannes Character Guide Mystery Classic Film TCA Lucasfilm GIFs period drama biography Watching Series Pet Sematary animated APB TruTV Epix Avengers Election Sundance Now Animation vampires Paramount Network natural history video Comedy indiana jones Spring TV The Witch cults Elton John Universal Rock foreign news FOX cooking Adult Swim Cosplay Holidays emmy awards child's play directors 2019 BBC social media Pop TV Comedy Central USA Network Red Carpet Crunchyroll Black Mirror Disney streaming service mockumentary Mary Poppins Returns Lifetime Christmas movies Lionsgate dark Winners DirecTV adventure 21st Century Fox Awards Tour werewolf canceled discovery satire DC streaming service Music Year in Review Apple TV+ Britbox dramedy Marvel Television teaser free movies boxoffice spinoff MCU Marathons Certified Fresh Travel Channel RT21 BAFTA Emmys romance independent Shudder crime thriller unscripted A&E television mission: impossible Syfy TCA Winter 2020 south america Trivia Sundance TV Captain marvel 20th Century Fox Spike Kids & Family Walt Disney Pictures First Reviews dogs singing competition TV renewals Lifetime films Anna Paquin Oscars FX Tarantino cars Tomatazos psychological thriller Valentine's Day Opinion New York Comic Con Comic Book crime IFC spy thriller Amazon Prime Film Festival 2020 Ovation batman DC Comics Ellie Kemper nature latino GLAAD space canceled TV shows ratings Christmas Sundance sequel Food Network Summer cancelled television BBC One spider-man President Quiz 2015 The Arrangement WarnerMedia Esquire Warner Bros. 4/20 anime 2016 strong female leads RT History Calendar true crime CBS All Access screenings Crackle dceu VOD YouTube Red video on demand cinemax AMC BET Awards ITV Marvel christmas movies dragons Disney Podcast CBS political drama Peacock cancelled Heroines toy story YouTube Chernobyl Superheroes Premiere Dates Schedule medical drama TCA 2017 science fiction Reality YouTube Premium 007 Apple TV Plus spain IFC Films blockbuster sitcom Amazon Prime Video The CW Nickelodeon casting theme song quibi cancelled TV shows Masterpiece transformers Trailer critics disaster fast and furious zero dark thirty San Diego Comic-Con Hear Us Out richard e. Grant Rom-Com Creative Arts Emmys 24 frames Infographic Amazon stop motion crossover witnail DC Universe Disney Channel serial killer hist cops aliens ABC Family Disney Plus justice league Horror tv talk CMT Polls and Games Comics on TV scary movies Country Hulu WGN slashers game of thrones die hard MSNBC franchise what to watch 71st Emmy Awards cats Nominations OneApp docudrama dc Extras Endgame spanish language MTV anthology harry potter rotten TCM mutant movies adaptation Dark Horse Comics Starz Photos BBC America composers diversity superhero History reviews Film Disney+ Disney Plus PBS politics Mary Tyler Moore parents Marvel Studios Shondaland Fox News Countdown cartoon Columbia Pictures GoT Fantasy Rocketman revenge Apple Ghostbusters reboot The Walking Dead Brie Larson doctor who children's TV documentary Best and Worst worst El Rey Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Toys Pirates best CNN OWN police drama Hallmark concert Thanksgiving Cartoon Network Video Games FX on Hulu Mudbound halloween The Purge X-Men 45 romantic comedy TV PaleyFest HBO TNT Freeform book rotten movies we love war Set visit TLC Television Academy cancelled TV series Awards universal monsters comiccon ABC ghosts facebook Star Wars sag awards SundanceTV Drama festivals Sneak Peek 72 Emmy Awards Tubi Showtime series Reality Competition Women's History Month Martial Arts Logo Biopics nbcuniversal Pixar name the review comic kids Grammys LGBT Holiday Interview Family asian-american Turner Classic Movies Acorn TV DGA Turner Star Trek Sci-Fi award winner comics Academy Awards obituary Vudu historical drama sports National Geographic Box Office HBO Go Fall TV screen actors guild TV Land blaxploitation NYCC Black History Month hispanic Western green book Nat Geo game show versus crime drama Pride Month streaming Netflix Tumblr PlayStation 2018 classics Mindy Kaling jamie lee curtis VICE Superheroe Stephen King golden globes zombies Chilling Adventures of Sabrina robots Teen Spectrum Originals VH1 USA stoner SXSW Paramount talk show ESPN Funimation laika supernatural YA based on movie Winter TV Emmy Nominations binge comedies Super Bowl Action Television Critics Association psycho twilight indie See It Skip It Writers Guild of America joker Trophy Talk chucky Hallmark Christmas movies HBO Max LGBTQ E! A24