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Carey Mulligan: How 'Gatsby' era women inspired me

By Catriona Davies, CNN
May 22, 2013 -- Updated 1209 GMT (2009 HKT)
Actresses (L-R) Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki as they arrive for the screening of
Actresses (L-R) Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki as they arrive for the screening of "The Great Gatsby" at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The Great Gatsby portrays glamorous, decadent women of 1920s American society
  • Who were the real women of "The Great Gatsby" era?
  • Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher & Elizabeth Debicki tell CNN who inspired their characters

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(CNN) -- The Great Gatsby, the film based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's 1925 novel, shows the glamorous and decadent lifestyles of fashionable, high society Americans of the Roaring Twenties.

Set in the prosperous Long Island in the summer of 1922, the novel portrays the so-called "flapper" culture, fun-loving young women who wore their hair and their skirts short, listened to jazz music, drank and smoked in public, and were far more sexually liberated than previous generations.

Watch: 'The Great Gatsby' hits Cannes

CNN heads to the Cannes Film Festival

But who were the real women of the Great Gatsby era? CNN asked actresses Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher and Elizabeth Debicki, the female stars of Baz Luhrmann's film, to tell us who gave them inspiration for their characters.

Ginevra King

Ginevra King was F.Scott Fitzgerald's first love and said to be the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan in "The Great Gatsby".
Courtesy Princeton University Library

A wealthy debutante and Fitzgerald's first love, Ginevra King is widely believed to be the inspiration for Daisy Buchanan, James Gatsby's love interest.

Her way with language is so reminiscent of the way that Daisy speaks.
Carey Mulligan on Ginevra King

Fitzgerald met King in 1915 in his hometown of St Paul, Minnesota, when he was a 19-year-old Princeton student home for Christmas vacation and she was a 16-year-old boarding school pupil.

Though they dated for two years before both going on to marry other people, Fitzgerald never forgot his first love, who is often described as his muse.

In 2003, Princeton University acquired the letters to Fitzgerald from King's family, allowing biographers to learn details of their relationship for the first time.

Carey Mulligan, who played Daisy Buchanan in "The Great Gatsby" film, went to Princeton to study the letters while researching her character.

"The way that she writes is absolutely incredible," Mulligan told CNN. "Her way with language is so reminiscent of the way that Daisy speaks. She came from a very wealthy family and shared so many biographical [details]."

Read: A century of blooming color at Chelsea Flower Show

Portrait of F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda in 1921.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald

Letters between Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda Sayre Fitzgerald also provided rich material for Mulligan's research.

'The Great Gatsby' hits Cannes

"One of my favorite parts of the whole experience was the time just before we started shooting when I got to look at the people who inspired Fitzgerald," said Mulligan. "It was amazing to go to Princeton and to get to read letters between Zelda and Scott, and between Ginerva King and Scott, and see where he'd directly drawn parts of Daisy to put her together."

Zelda, a Southern belle, met Fitzgerald at a country club dance, but was unimpressed with his wealth and status and refused to marry him until his first novel, "The Side of Paradise", was published in 1920.

The newly-wed Fitzgeralds became a celebrity couple, known for their partying lifestyle.

When I woke up in the morning I would look at Louise Brooks.
Elizabeth Debicki

However, the party was short-lived and in 1930 -- with their marriage crumbling and Fitzgerald suffering from alcoholism -- Zelda was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and admitted to hospital, where she wrote a semi-biographical novel, "Save Me the Waltz".

Actress Clara Bow (1905 - 1965) pictured around 1928
General Photographic Agency/Getty Images/

Clara Bow

Silent film actress Clara Bow was known as the "it" girl of the Roaring Twenties, after her most famous movie "It" of 1927. Despite a poor and unhappy childhood, Bow starred in 38 silent movies.

Is 'Gatsby' not so great?

Bow provided inspiration for Gatsby actress Isla Fisher, for her character Myrtle, who has an extramarital affair with Daisy Buchanan's husband, Tom.

"I was inspired by Clara Bow for Myrtle because I think that's who she would have wanted to be," Fisher told CNN. "Myrtle would (have) loved to have been an actress and she would never have [had] the opportunity because of her status.

"I feel like Myrtle is living in her own theatrical world where she's the star when she is with Tom Buchanan, even though her life is so sad without him."

Read: Five reasons we love Angelina Jolie

Louise Brooks (1900 - 1985), pictured around 1925, showing off her new house.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Louise Brooks

Louise Brooks was another great actress of the silent movie era, best known for her films "Pandora's Box" and "Diary of a Lost Girl", both filmed in Germany in 1929.

Among the first to sport a bobbed haircut, it was Brooks who inspired the Australian actress Elizabeth Debicki, playing "The Great Gatsby" character Jordan Baker in the film.

"She is just fierce, wonderful, intelligent, and I read a lot about her," said Debicki. "She really typified that woman who appeared in the 1920s, completely independent and, like Gatsby, she built herself up, created the image she wanted.

"I had photos of her in my kitchen, everywhere. When I woke up in the morning I would look at Louise Brooks."

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