The star of ''An Education'' on her first leading role

By Dave Karger
Updated October 09, 2009 at 04:00 AM EDT

While shooting her first lead role opposite pros like Emma Thompson and Peter Sarsgaard, An Education‘s Carey Mulligan kept her wits about her — almost. ”The whole way through, I was fine. I didn’t have any moments where I freaked out,” says the London-born actress, 24, best known for supporting roles in movies (Pride & Prejudice) and British TV (Doctor Who). ”But for some reason, six weeks in, I suddenly lost it. Every decision I’d made in the whole film, I was questioning.” She needn’t have worried. Thanks to her feisty turn as a precocious, French-spouting schoolgirl, Mulligan is emerging as a top Best Actress contender. Now she’s playing Michael Douglas’ daughter in Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps (and hitting the gossip pages thanks to her off-screen relationship with costar Shia LaBeouf). In the meantime, she insists she’s different from her Education alter ego. ”Everyone seems to think that I can speak French,” she says. ”That would make me sound much more clever than I actually am.” Impossible.