Chances are you don't yet know the name Carey Mulligan ... well, not unless you a) religiously follow celebrity gossip (she's reportedly dating her 'Wall Street 2' co-star Shia LaBeouf; b) religiously follow film festival news or awards buzz (her new film 'An Education' is a Sundance darling and Oscar contender); or c) are Keira Knightley, who Mulligan made her screen debut alongside in 2005's 'Pride & Prejudice' and will reunite with in next year's 'Never Let Me Go.'

You will soon, though -- for any of the reasons above -- but first and foremost, for the raves the 24-year-old Brit is drawing for her performance in the indie drama 'An Education.' Mulligan plays a wise-beyond-her-years teen in early-60s London who falls into a precarious relationship with an older man (Peter Sarsgaard). Chances are you don't yet know the name Carey Mulligan ... well, not unless you a) religiously follow celebrity gossip (she's reportedly dating her 'Wall Street 2' co-star Shia LaBeouf; b) religiously follow film festival news or awards buzz (her new film 'An Education' is a Sundance darling and Oscar contender); or c) are Keira Knightley, who Mulligan made her screen debut alongside in 2005's 'Pride & Prejudice' and will reunite with in next year's 'Never Let Me Go.'

You will soon, though -- for any of the reasons above -- but first and foremost, for the raves the 24-year-old Brit is drawing for her performance in the indie drama 'An Education.' Mulligan plays a wise-beyond-her-years teen in early-60s London who falls into a precarious relationship with an older man (Peter Sarsgaard).

Suddenly Mulligan is finding herself alongside Oscar heavyweights like Meryl Streep and Hilary Swank on early awards season prediction lists. We asked her about dealing with all the hype and more in an exclusive interview.

You've gotten fantastic reviews for your role in 'An Education.' How do you feel when you hear the word "Oscar" being tossed around next to your name?
I don't know. I make strange noises [laughs]. To be honest, I'd never been to a film festival before and I'd never played a lead in a film before, so when it sold at Sundance that was pretty much as good as it gets for me. But if that's what people are saying and that means that more people will go see the film that's obviously brilliant. It is too wild to really register.

Did you feel the pressure of playing the lead and carrying a film?
It's strange, actually, because I never really thought about it as a lead role when I was making it, or when I was offered it. It felt like an ensemble film. And I think Lone Scherfig, our director, really took that weight off my shoulders and I didn't feel like the responsibility of the story was on me. She made me just focus on playing stuff scene by scene and trying to be truthful and then she was in charge of molding the whole thing. The first time I really felt pressure was just before we went to Sundance, because I had that film and I had 'The Greatest' there and I suddenly thought, if everybody hates it it's all my fault, because I'm in it. But until then, I never really thought of it like a lead part. That's probably a good thing.

Nick Hornby adapted this screenplay from a Lynn Barber memoir. Were you a fan of his work?
Yeah, I'd read pretty much everything Nick has written. That was part of the reason I was so excited when I got the script in the first place, because he'd written it. I knew a lot of Nick's books. And he'd written another book called 'A Long Way Down,' which I was desperate for them to turn into a film, because there's a character in that that I really wanted to play [laughs].

Are you surprised he's able to capture the female perspective so well?
I'm not surprised, because a lot of the characters he writes in his books, he writes really well. But it is a massive achievement for a male writer to get into the head of a girl of that age and write such a three dimensional lead character. Not a girl who's just an accessory to the story, but actually is the story. It's not surprising because I know how talented he is. I think he did a brilliant job at creating her, being a man and creating this really believable, truthful kind of girl.



Did you attempt to help Peter Sarsgaard fine-tune his British accent at all?
[Laughs] I would never! I would never presume to help anybody out with their accents because I could so easily get screwed over with my accent, so, no. He came on with it, he really came on the first day of rehearsals and had it. He'd come on set in the accent and he'd stay in the accent all day. He kind of nailed it.

Did the two of you grow close?
Oh, I loved him. We ended up spending the whole year together because we went off and did the play on Broadway [in 'The Seagull'] after we did the film. So, yeah, we spent the whole year playing this older man-younger girl thing. He's brilliant and, more than anyone I've worked with, I've learned a huge amount from him, from both of the things we did together.

Your father in the film is played by Alfred Molina -- was there ever a single moment when the thought crossed your mind, "Oh my god, Doc Ock is my dad."
[Laughs] I think that's actually exactly what I said when my agent rung and said he signed on. I was like, "Crikey!" But, yeah, of course I have those moments, but I had the same moment with Emma Thompson when we did our day together [in 'An Education']. It was such an unbelievable cast and every time I got a phone call saying that someone else had signed on I was like that. And when Sally Hawkins came on to do her one scene ... I was blown away ... I was so lucky because so many people on the film never met and I got to meet all of them and work with all of them.

How did you land your first film role, as Kitty in 'Pride & Prejudice'?
I wrote to Julian Fellowes, who is a writer who wrote 'Gosford Park,' because he had given a talk at my school when I was about 17 and he was the only actor I'd ever met. So I contacted him and said that I was headed to the university but, actually, I wanted to act and I had no way in because I didn't know any actors or anything. And he introduced me to someone who was looking for people who'd never acted before to play the younger sister in 'Pride and Prejudice.' So I went to an open casting for 'Pride & Prejudice' and put down a tape, so that was how that happened.

What do you remember about that filming experience?
I walked on and had never acted professionally, let alone in a film, so I got coached through it by Joe Wright and I copied everything that Jena Malone did, because she played almost a twin, so I basically did everything she did. And that was how I got through it ... It was an incredibly tight gang of people. Joe Wright does that brilliantly, he builds families while he builds his casts and he makes you spend a lot of time together, so you do kind of form those relationships. And that comes off in his films really well.

You're reteaming with your 'Pride & Prejudice' sister Keira Knightley in 'Never Let Me Go.' Is that just a happy coincidence that you're working together again?
Yeah, I mean, I was offered the part, Kathy, and they hadn't found Ruth yet. They asked Keira and she signed on, so we got to do another film together. It was wonderful. It's not just easy because you're working with a friend, but also someone you've acted with before and you understand how you both like to work.

What can you tell us about 'Wall Street 2'? Does it take a more critical look at the banking world?
Not much, we just started shooting and I haven't done a huge amount yet. I play Winnie Gekko, Gordon Gekko's daughter, and I'm not in the finance world ... It takes a look at the business and banking world, but it's still a movie, so it's got movie movements and a soundtrack and brilliant actors. But I'm yet to discover really what we're all making here because I've been so wrapped up in 'An Education' that I haven't really got into my 'Wall Street' stuff yet.

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