5 things we learned about 'Carol' at NYFF

Patrick Ryan
Rooney Mara, left, Todd Haynes and Cate Blanchett attend the premiere of 'Carol' during the New York Film Festival on Oct. 9, 2015 in New York.

NEW YORK — Festival audiences can't stop swooning over Carol.

Based on Patricia Highsmith's 1952 novel, The Price of Salt, Carol stars Cate Blanchett as the married, poised title character and Rooney Mara as her young, diffident lesbian lover, Therese. Set in '50s New York and directed by Todd Haynes (Far From Heaven), the understated, lushly-shot drama debuted at the Cannes film festival in May, where Mara picked up a best actress award. Carol has since been rapturously received at the Telluride film fest last month and at the New York Film Festival on Friday night.

Here are five things USA TODAY learned talking with Blanchett, Mara and Haynes on the red carpet:

1. Mara didn't audition to play Therese. Although Blanchett — an executive producer on Carol — has long been attached to star, Mara signed on after Haynes came aboard. "I followed her work from the beginning and I was pretty floored by what I saw, particularly in someone so young, whose ability to underplay some of those performances and characters was so remarkable," Haynes says. "It spoke so much to an intelligence and a confidence in her, and yet, I still felt this role was something she hadn't played before and that was exciting."

2. Haynes is neutral about Mara's awards push. According to Variety's Kristopher Tapley, The Weinstein Co. will campaign Blanchett as leading actress and Mara as supporting in this year's Oscar race — a decision which has drawn ire from some on Twitter. Asked for his thoughts, Haynes says, "I kind of have no comment. It's all sort of part of a gamesmanship and there's just no fair way to attribute awards to creative work. It's a hard one."

Therese (Rooney Mara, left) falls under Carol's (Cate Blanchett) spell in a scene from '50s drama 'Carol.'

3. The actresses kept to themselves while shooting. "She's such a uniquely creative creature," Blanchett says of Mara. "She puts paid to the idea that actors are exhibitionists. I think it costs her a lot to work, which is why she's very picky about what she decides to do, so I'm very pleased she chose to do this. ... She's self-contained, but she's immensely available as an actress. We didn't talk a lot around the scenes, we just saved it for the moment, which is what it's all about. It has to happen in front of the camera between you."

4. Mara learned most from observing her co-star. Blanchett is a two-time Oscar winner, but she didn't dole out fortune-cookie slips of advice on set, Mara says. Instead, it was more "just being around her every day and to watch her and see the way that she works, the way she interacts with others," Mara says. "I've learned so much just being around her — not even anything specifically she said, just getting to work with her."

5. This isn't Blanchett's first Haynes project. The two first worked together on Haynes' unconventional Bob Dylan movie I'm Not There, in which Blanchett played an androgynous version of the folk icon and was nominated for an Oscar in 2008. This go-around, "she didn't have a penis. Huge difference," Haynes says. Jokes aside, Carol "was such a different experience. I really had to coax her into doing that role, but I knew she could play it." Whereas with this film, "she was on board before I was, so I pictured her when I read the script and read the book. Initially, she was already cemented in my mind as Carol."