Carey Mulligan highlighted the need to support children in war zones across the world at Variety’s Power of Women Presented by Lifteime event on Thursday.
Mulligan was honored for her work as a global ambassador for War Child UK, an organization focused on protecting children in conflict zones. The “Promising Young Woman” actor first became involved after receiving an invitation from CEO Rob Williams to join them on a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2014, telling Variety in her Power of Women cover story that she was inspired to join the group after witnessing the transformative work the organization was doing with children who’d experienced disastrous trauma. Since joining, she’s also visited Iraq, Ukraine and Jordan.
At the event, Mulligan illustrated the work of War Child UK and its American counterpart Children in Conflict by drawing a contrast between her worries as a parent and the worries of parents in the conflict zones she’s visited.
“As a parent of three children, two of whom are in school, I think a lot about their mental health,” Mulligan said. “And I think about how I can protect them from anything that might tarnish their sunny childhood” — like her son seeing a violent video game, or her daughter catching an inappropriate TikTok clip.
“Imagine then the worries of a mother in a conflict zone,” the actor continued. “Her worries might be something more like this: What if my child sees a family member shot? What if my child’s best friend is killed in an airstrike? What if my home is destroyed and we need to flee to a refugee camp? What if my child is kidnapped? These aren’t hypothetical. I know this because I’ve met countless parents in Ukraine, in Iraq and Jordan and on the Syrian border and in the Democratic Republic of Congo who have to consider these questions. They’re questions that parents are asking themselves tonight, right now, as we sit here.”
Mulligan and her husband, musician Marcus Mumford (who also became an ambassador for the organization following her precedent), try to join War Child UK on an annual trip and also throw a yearly fundraiser — this December’s event will mark their tenth.
To drive home how meaningful fundraising can be, Mulligan shared another story about her children, who, inspired by their parents and War Child UK CEO Rob Williams, put together a sidewalk stall selling homemade perfume (“grass, dishwasher tablets, and some sort of salad dressing,” Mulligan explained) and rocks from the garden. They made £90 and 40 pence, then sent Williams a video to report their earnings in which Mulligan’s daughter said the 40 pence “doesn’t count, because, you know, it’s 40 pence.”
“Rob sent a video back,” Mulligan continued. “He said, ‘Congratulations! That’s amazing! You must be very good fundraisers. And the 40 pence actually does really count because in Afghanistan, 40 pence is enough to buy a kilo of rice, which will feed a family for three days.’ She was completely floored and she ran outside and she redoubled her efforts. It made me want to redouble my efforts. And it reminded me that everyone, all of us here tonight have the ability to impact the life of a child who needs our support.”
In her Variety cover story, Mulligan opened up about her journey to Ukraine last year where she worked with Roma refugees, as well as her previous trip to Jordan, where she worked with a group of girls between the ages of 10 to 13. As she got to know the girls, they told her what they hoped to be when they grew up, sharing occupations like judge and policewoman.
The actress commended the organization for its educational program’s efforts to build the confidence in the young girls: “They really had this sense of ‘I can have a future for myself, and I can build it myself.’”
The actor was introduced by filmmaker Emerald Fennell, who directed Mulligan to an Oscar nomination in 2020’s “Promising Young Woman” and cast the actor in a small but memorable supporting role in her new feature “Saltburn.”
“It’s tempting to start a speech about Carey Mulligan with the important stuff — her inspirational haircut, for example, or her ability to really pull off a pair of unflattering jeans,” Fennell joked. “Or perhaps we lead with her unbelievable work as an actor, which as been variously described as ‘transcendent,’ ‘haunting,’ ‘masterful,’ ‘ferocious’ and perhaps most regularly, ‘some dumb fucking feminist shit.’”
After praising Mulligan as “a truly gifted artist,” Fennell spent the bulk of her speech quoting Williams, the War Child UK head, who said that Mulligan’s first fundraising dinner for the organization “increased our general funds by 25%, overnight.”
Fennell continued quoting Williams: “In the 10 years since we met Carey, she has helped us to bring life-saving help to over 1.6 million children, at least a million more than we could have reached without her help.”
On the red carpet prior to the event, fellow honoree Emily Blunt singled out Mulligan’s lead performance in Bradley Cooper’s upcoming Leonard Bernstein biopic, “Maestro.”
“Guys, I scream wept watching her,” Blunt said. “I actually have a really hard time talking about it. We were on the same flight out here. And I said, ‘I’m going to jibber incoherently trying to tell you how riveting you are.’ I just thought it was one of the best things I’ve ever seen and I can’t stop thinking about it.”