Dec. 13 2010 12:00 AM

Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield are stars on the 'Go'


 In “Never Let Me Go,” based on Kazuo Ishiguro’s popular novel, Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield play young adults facing a gloomy future.

That is hardly the case for the two British actors in real life, however. Mulligan won a best actress Oscar nomination last year for “An Education” and she’s been singled out as one of the bright spots in director Oliver Stone’s “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.” Garfield is getting strong notices of his own in “The Social Network,” and he’ll soon be donning the scarlet threads of Spider-Man in Sony Pictures’ reboot of the phenomenally successful series.

Mulligan and Garfield sat down for interviews last month at the Toronto International Film Festival.

With her elegantly shortened blonde hair and eye-catching bronze eyeshadow, Mulligan looked nothing whatsoever like Cathy, the slightly frumpy heroine of “Never,” who quietly slips into the shadows while her best friend, Ruth (Keira Knightley), captures the boy they both love, Tommy (Garfield).

Mulligan, who said she “loved the book and re-read it about six times since I got the film,” adores her character, although she sees Cathy’s flaws as well.

“She’s unreliable as a narrator,” Mulligan warned. “She’ll say something like ‘I felt a tiny stab of pain,’ when it was enormous, actually.”

Even Cathy’s final speech, in which she claims to have made peace with what is about to happen to her is, in Mulligan’s words, “bollocks: She’s really just talking herself into acceptance.”

The suppressed pain within Cathy’s soul comes through silently and stunningly in Mulligan’s performance. Yet Mulligan shrugs off compliments about her ability to handle heavyweight acting of this sort.

“The emotional stuff is easier, actually,” she said. “I think it’s easier to get yourself in a state where you’re crying than a state where you’re laughing for half an hour.”

Nor does she buy into her own celebrity. “I was in a gondola at Telluride (Film Festival) with people who’d just seen the film and they were talking about me — and they didn’t recognize me,” she said, with a sly smile. “So if I can still have that kind of anonymity, I don’t think of myself as a star.”

Even so, both Mulligan and Garfield talked about how lucky they feel to be doing what they love. “I know so many actors who are much more brilliant than me,” Mulligan said. “But they don’t work because they haven’t had that one magical meeting.”

“Actors are at the mercy of other people,” Garfield said, while trying to make his way through a chicken and spinach salad in between questions. “Sometimes foolish people — because their eyebrows are too big — I’m talking about myself — or they’re too skinny, or they’re too lean, or they’re too in perfect shape, or their jawline is too attractive, or they’re too flabby. God, it’s death out there, man: It’s tough!”

He apologized for having to eat during the chat, but the impromptu lunch was an indication of how overloaded his Toronto schedule was. (In another surprising bit of candor, Garfield admitted he hadn't had time to see either "Social" or "Never" before starting his press tour.)

“People are who they are and they want what they want," he continued. " I want to be an actor, to be a vessel for somebody else’s words, somebody else’s story.”

Fame, he said, “is not something that interests me. I just cross bridges if and when they come. No point in worrying about the future.”

Even when your future involves gearing up to play Spider-Man? Garfield smiled and glanced at his salad. “It’s very difficult,” he said of the preparation. “Because I like cookies a lot. But I have to move a lot, so I’m trying to be healthy.”

On Garfield’s wrist was a glittering gold watch. Upon closer inspection, you could see the face bore the logo of director Robert Zemeckis’ “Back to the Future.”

“Zemeckis had 20 of them made for his crew, because they worked so hard on the film,” Garfield explained, “and my girlfriend found one on eBay and gave it to me as a birthday present. It’s the best film ever.”