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Mia Wasikowska – Walking on Jane Eyre

Mia Wasikowska stars in "Jane Eyre."

Mia Wasikowska stars in “Jane Eyre.”

Mia Wasikowska

Walking on Jane Eyre

by Jay S. Jacobs

It’s really saying something when a young actress plays two iconic literary roles before she hits her 22nd birthday.

However, Australia-born Mia Wasikowska isn’t just any young actress.  In just the past year, she starred as the title character in Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland, played the daughter in the acclaimed drama The Kids Are All Right.  Now she is taking on the lead role in a new film version of Charlotte Bronte’s classic novel Jane Eyre.

It’s a pretty good way to top off a year in which Wasikowska tied with her Alice co-star Johnny Depp as the highest grossing film actor of 2010.

This is the twentieth version of the classic novel and Wasikowska is one of the few actresses hired to play Jane who was close to the character’s age.  The new production also looks at the darker, more gothic parts of the book to give a well-known story a new vibe.

A month before Jane Eyre was set to open, Wasikowska sat down with us and a select group of other outlets at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York to discuss her career and the new film.

I read you were the highest grossing actor of the year.

I know!

Mia Wasikowska at the New York press day for "Jane Eyre."

Mia Wasikowska at the New York press day for “Jane Eyre.”

Do money matters like that concern you in choosing a project?

When it comes to choosing the projects I do, no.  I’d rather choose a project that I think is creatively fulfilling or exciting or challenging.  That’s what I look for first.

When you see numbers attached to the movies that you’re in, is it something you pay attention to?

I don’t know.  It’s not like I would ignore it.  But it depends what it is.  It always depends what the project is.  Mostly, primarily, I’d rather do something I think is fulfilling.

How did you get involved in this one?  And what was it like as compared to doing Kids and Alice?

I’d just finished Alice.  I’d just gone home to Australia.  It was the first time I’d gone home after a film where I had no school.  So, I made a list of books I was going to read andJane Eyre was on it.  I started reading it and I think I was on the fifth chapter and I emailed my agent.  I was like: this is great, is there a script around?  Is there anything happening with the story?  She was like, ‘No, not yet, but I’ll keep it in mind.’  Then, within a month or two later, she emailed me back.  It was like, ‘Here’s the script and the director would like to meet you.’  So it was really kind of a case of great timing.  I’d just read the book and I was very excited about it.

Did you have any childhood experiences with the Bronte sisters?

No, not really.  I’d really just read it then.  I mean, I knew who they were and I’d heard of the stories, but that was my introduction to it.

Over the last year, you’ve played two of the most iconic characters in British literature.  As a young actress, how gratifying is it to you that you get those kind of roles?

Yeah, I feel really, really lucky.  They are roles that have been through generations and who people have connected to over a number of years.  So, yeah, it’s a huge deal to take them on and I feel lucky to have been trusted with them.  And it also sort of makes you the target of the bull’s-eye.  (chuckles)  But it’s good fun, though.

What was your process like for you to understand the character?  Did you take it from the book?

I read the book and then when I was on the production I read it again – went through underlining and marking spots and really preparing for it as I read it.

Mia Wasikowska stars in "Jane Eyre."

Mia Wasikowska stars in “Jane Eyre.”

What did you think of the adaptation?  There have been so many…

I thought it was great.  And I thought the way that it was structured was very interesting.  Immediately you start asking questions.  Who is she?  What’s going on?  For people who don’t know the story, you’re instantly drawn into it and want to know what’s going on.  So, that was really smart.  The challenge – when you are doing a book that is Jane’s internal monologue from start to finish – is to bring that richness across to the screenplay.  But, of course, you can’t have her talking all the time.  It’s sort of like how do you keep her inner curiosity?  It’s a challenge to convey everything, because it’s not there in words.

Life was so formal and repressed back then.  Was it difficult as a modern actress to get into that mindset?

Well, a lot of things help with that, like the minute you put on the costumes and the corset.  Everybody talks about corsets, but it’s true.  It’s totally true how hideously repressive it is.  That affects your breath and your voice and the way you stand.  So that’s the beginning of repression, those moments when you’re going “Do I have the muffin, or the water?”  You have to sacrifice one or the other, because there is just a small amount of space.  It’s not too hard.  The other thing about Jane is that in her mind, she is a very modern character.  I feel like if you put her in our society now, she would thrive, which is why she has lived for such a long time.  People keep connecting to her.

How difficult is it for you as a young Australian actor to do all these different accents?

I love doing accents.  I really enjoy it and it definitely becomes the character.  To me, once I establish an accent with a character, I can’t imagine them without it, so I read it in my head in the accent.  It provides a different challenge and dimension.  I really like doing that.

Does it make you more marketable?

I’m not sure.  I’m not sure how it’s perceived.  I would like to think it would.  I don’t know about marketable.  I’m not sure.

In terms of the rehearsal process, when you read the script, how do you work the character out?

I like to just read it a lot of times.  Especially when you’re dealing with language that’s period language, it’s important to make sure… it’s a language we don’t use anymore, so it’s important that it feels natural, it’s inside you somewhere.  I like to read it a lot and also know it very well, because with the research you build a framework of the character and then you further it with yourself and your own experiences and your emotions.

Were there particular ideas you brought to the project yourself?

Yeah.  Even with the accent, I wanted to make it… there was just a hint of a northern accent in there.  I liked the idea that she wasn’t completely finely tuned or completely polished.  We justified that because she was more or less raised by Bessie, her nurse.  Her accent would have been refined a little through Lowood, but I liked the idea that she had a little bit of her village.

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska star in "Jane Eyre."

Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska star in “Jane Eyre.”

In Alice in Wonderland, Tim Burton changed some of the elements of the classic story to make it more modern.  How important is it to make the book relevant to the times?

I feel like that’s one of the cool things about in.  A story that’s been done so many times often reflects the society and the culture at the time that it’s being made.  Even in ways you don’t realize until time has passed.  We all had similar ideas of who Jane was and what was important to bring out in the story.  I liked the idea of bringing out a darker side – and also a younger side.  Jane was 18.  I think I was 20 when I did the role.  So I was already two years older.  She’s really a teenager.  She is a teenager like any other teenager now.

The movie is very slow and stately.  Do you think young people will go to see it?

I hope so.  I don’t see Jane Eyre so much of a period piece as it is a really great story – particularly for young women.  I hope it has an angle that will bring young people to it.

How did you approach finding the character of Jane – was it through the accent or the walk or a more internal thing?

I think all of those things help.  Maybe that’s why I like doing accents, because it’s another aspect that takes it away from yourself and brings you into someone else’s realm.

Do you think that’s an internal thing or more of an external thing?

I guess it’s both.  If by externally you use a different language or accent, then internally that affects something.  The same with the costumes – [they] are a physical thing, but it becomes mental as well, the pain of being in that all day.

When you’re on the set, do you know what shot is coming and judge the performance based on that? 

Usually I sometimes know, but no, it’s not something that I’m conscious of in terms of if it’s a wide shot you make it bigger.  It’s always the same and then I guess they change it when they cut it together to get better impact.

I was reading you’re very into photography.  Did you take photos on the set?

Yeah, I took a lot of pictures.  I love having another creative outlet that I have full control over and photography has been a really therapeutic way of [getting that].  Also, we get a lot of down time, even in between set-ups there’s a lot of waiting around.  That’s fine, but I like doing stuff in that period.

What was the best shot you got?

I’m not sure.  I liked taking pictures in between in close up.  Sometimes the most interesting composition is when you are in the center of everything and there is all this attention that is focused on you.  You’ve got a camera in your face and a boom above your head.  Often that’s the perspective that isn’t seen, which is what I’ve tried to do with my photographs.

Dame Judi Dench and Mia Wasikowska star in "Jane Eyre."

Dame Judi Dench and Mia Wasikowska star in “Jane Eyre.”

Speaking of downtime, Dame Judi is notorious for the naughty pillows that she makes.  Did you get one?

(laughs)  No.  I didn’t get a pillow.  I didn’t see any pillows on the set.  Now I’m missing out.  Thanks!

Was she there the whole time or was she just in and out?

She came in and out.

What was she like to work with?

She’s wonderful.  I mean, she’s a legend and for any young actor to be able to work with her is [a treat] … I mean just to see how she is on set.  She’s incredibly professional.  She’s really modern and young.  Her spirit is really fun.  She’s just a consummate professional.

Is that a better investment than acting school, actually working with somebody who is a master like that?

Yes.  Sometimes.  For sure.  I’ve learned so much from everyone that I’ve worked with.  It’s an accelerated education.  People ask me what is the best advice I’ve gotten.  It’s not like people go around giving me advice, but even watching how they carry themselves in situations – that’s really cool.

You had a great year last year and now you are starting off the new one with a great role.  What are you looking for next year?  Does it matter if it’s a big movie or a small movie?

It’s probably whatever the material is.  I feel like there is a lot of really interesting stuff that’s happening in the smaller productions.  Sometimes it’s harder to find more interesting or complex roles.  But it’s totally up to what it is.  But short of that, I’ve really enjoyed being part of this whole production.

What’s next?

A film called Restless that’s coming out.  [Directed by] Gus Van Sant.  It’s coming out later on this year.  And I just finished filming Albert Nobbs, which we shot in Ireland.  Rodrigo Garcia is directing it and Glenn Close wrote it.

Could you talk about working with Gus?

Yeah, Gus is a hero of mine.  I watched his films when I was a teenager.  They opened up a whole new way of filmmaking for me.  Then to be able to be on his set – he has such a unique way of working.  He’s really an incredible person.  The script, the story is beautiful.  I’m very excited for that to come out.

Mia Wasikowska stars in "Jane Eyre."

Mia Wasikowska stars in “Jane Eyre.”

Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo from The Kids Are All Right just both got Oscar nominations.  Are you looking forward to watching them possibly winning?

Yeah.  It’s amazing.  It’s so deserving, both of them.  They are both wonderful people and did such brilliant work on the film, so I was really, really excited for them both.

Do you know what you’re wearing to the Oscars?

I’m not sure.  I don’t know yet.  We’ll see.

Maybe Mark can bring you as his date. 

(laughs)  You could ask him.

What film are you doing next year?  Is anything shooting yet?

There are two films I’m going to do this year.  One is called The Wettest County, which John Hillcoat is directing.  Then one called Stoker, which is Chan-wook Park.

It seems like every week you get announced for a new film.  How does that make you feel as an actress?

It’s great.  It’s very flattering.  I feel very lucky to have those opportunities.

Have you had any experience with Chan-wook Park yet?  I’ve been told he’s a very intimidating man.

No, I haven’t met him yet.  But I’m so excited.

Do you have any Broadway plans while you’re here? 

I’d love to try and see some.  It depends if I have time.

Have you ever thought of doing theater?

I’d love to do stage, when and if I can.  Yeah, I’m definitely interested.

Photo Credits:
#1 © 2011. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2011 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2011. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2011. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2011. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2011. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2011  All rights reserved.  Posted: March 9, 2011.  


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