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Emerald Fennell Explains Why She's "Sort of Frightening" as a Director at the 2021 Golden Globes

A three-time Golden Globe nominee for her debut feature, Promising Young Woman, Emerald Fennell talked to E! News about how acting informed her approach to directing.

By Natalie Finn Mar 01, 2021 12:54 AMTags

For Emerald Fennell, the first time was the charm.

Tonight's Golden Globes triple threat, a nominee for Best Picture as a producer, Best Director and Best Screenplay for her debut feature, Promising Young Woman (for which star Carey Mulligan is also nominated for Best Actress in a Motion Picture, Drama), learned more than she realized spending so much time in front of the camera before she set out to make her own movie.

The 35-year-old racked up acting credits including Albert NobbsAnna KareninaCall the Midwife and, most recently, The Crown (a six-time nominee, so basically everything's coming up Emerald) playing Camilla Parker-Bowles, and she told E! Live From the Red Carpet host Karamo that, yes, being an actress did help her prepare for directing other actors.

"I think it's just empathy, really. I know what it feels like to have to pull something out of the bag with the picture, and all of that stuff, and I think I've got a lot of empathy for it," Fennell explained from her award night perch at Claridge's in London. "It's just so plush," she observed happily, marveling over her "unbelievably swanky" surroundings.

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But being able to identify with what her cast is going through isn't the only secret ingredient in her winning cinematic sauce.

"I'm also quite strict," she added with a smile. "Because I know that it's not magic. It's a good combination of sort of chivvying along and being sort of frightening."

Talking to E! Live From the Red Carpet co-host Giuliana Rancic, Mulligan said she was thrilled when she found out Fennell had also been nominated. "I almost cried, I was so happy," the British actress said. "So richly deserved, amazing to see the recognition."

Merie Weismiller Wallace / Focus Features

In the film, Mulligan plays a medical school dropout who's taken it upon herself to punish as many would-be assaulters she can ensnare after her friend, a victim of sexual assault, takes her own life. 

And Fennell is so pleased, and pleasantly surprised, that the film has resonated in the way it has.

"We made really such a small, independent movie that was really personal and just, it's been so incredible, the response to it," she told Karamo. "Just not only things like this [the Globe nominations] but just the people watching it. It's been really mind-blowing, and you hope that people will watch your film and respond to it, but I don't think anyone could have imagined this."

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For the first time in Globes history, there are more women nominated for Best Director than men, and Fennell's formidable competition includes Regina King for One Night in Miami ("She is so incredible," Fennell said), Chloé Zhao for Nomadland, David Fincher for Mank and Aaron Sorkin for The Trial of the Chicago 7.

Relive all the winners and biggest show moments from the 2021 Golden Globes here!