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Mia Wasikowska

Walking on Jane Eyre

by Jay S. Jacobs

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

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

However, Australia-born Mia Wasikowska isnít just any young actress.  In just the past year, she starred as the title character in Tim Burtonís 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 Bronteís classic novel Jane Eyre

Itís 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 characterís 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 JANE EYRE press day at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, February 10, 2011.Do money matters like that concern you in choosing a project?

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

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

I donít know.  Itís not like I would ignore it.  But it depends what it is.  It always depends what the project is.  Mostly, primarily, Iíd 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?

Iíd just finished Alice.  Iíd just gone home to Australia.  It was the first time Iíd gone home after a film where I had no school.  So, I made a list of books I was going to read and Jane 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, ĎNo, not yet, but Iíll keep it in mind.í  Then, within a month or two later, she emailed me back.  It was like, ĎHereís the script and the director would like to meet you.í  So it was really kind of a case of great timing.  Iíd just read the book and I was very excited about it. 

Did you have any childhood experiences with the Bronte sisters?

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

Over the last year, youíve 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, itís 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 bullís-eye.  (chuckles)  But itís 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 Ė went through underlining and marking spots and really preparing for it as I read it. 

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

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?  Whatís going on?  For people who donít know the story, youíre instantly drawn into it and want to know whatís going on.  So, that was really smart.  The challenge Ė when you are doing a book that is Janeís internal monologue from start to finish Ė is to bring that richness across to the screenplay.  But, of course, you canít have her talking all the time.  Itís sort of like how do you keep her inner curiosity?  Itís a challenge to convey everything, because itís 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 itís true.  Itís totally true how hideously repressive it is.  That affects your breath and your voice and the way you stand.  So thatís the beginning of repression, those moments when youíre going ďDo I have the muffin, or the water?Ē  You have to sacrifice one or the other, because there is just a small amount of space.  Itís 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 canít 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? 

Iím not sure.  Iím not sure how itís perceived.  I would like to think it would.  I donít know about marketable.  Iím 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 youíre dealing with language thatís period language, itís important to make sureÖ itís a language we donít use anymore, so itís important that it feels natural, itís 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 itÖ there was just a hint of a northern accent in there.  I liked the idea that she wasnít 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. 

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 thatís one of the cool things about in.  A story thatís been done so many times often reflects the society and the culture at the time that itís being made.  Even in ways you donít 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 Ė 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.  Sheís 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 donít see Jane Eyre so much of a period piece as it is a really great story Ė 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 Ė was it through the accent or the walk or a more internal thing? 

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

Do you think thatís an internal thing or more of an external thing? 

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

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

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

I was reading youíre 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 thereís a lot of waiting around.  Thatís fine, but I like doing stuff in that period. 

What was the best shot you got? 

Iím 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.  Youíve got a camera in your face and a boom above your head.  Often thatís the perspective that isnít seen, which is what Iíve tried to do with my photographs. 

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

(laughs)  No.  I didnít get a pillow.  I didnít see any pillows on the set.  Now Iím 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? 

Sheís wonderful.  I mean, sheís a legend and for any young actor to be able to work with her is [a treat] Ö I mean just to see how she is on set.  Sheís incredibly professional.  Sheís really modern and young.  Her spirit is really fun.  Sheís 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.  Iíve learned so much from everyone that Iíve worked with.  Itís an accelerated education.  People ask me what is the best advice Iíve gotten.  Itís not like people go around giving me advice, but even watching how they carry themselves in situations Ė thatís 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 itís a big movie or a small movie? 

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

Whatís next? 

A film called Restless thatís coming out.  [Directed by] Gus Van Sant.  Itís 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 Ė he has such a unique way of working.  Heís really an incredible person.  The script, the story is beautiful.  Iím very excited for that to come out. 

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.  Itís amazing.  Itís 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 youíre wearing to the Oscars? 

Iím not sure.  I donít know yet.  Weíll 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 Iím 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? 

Itís great.  Itís very flattering.  I feel very lucky to have those opportunities. 

Have you had any experience with Chan-wook Park yet?  Iíve been told heís a very intimidating man. 

No, I havenít met him yet.  But Iím so excited. 

Do you have any Broadway plans while youíre here? 

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

Have you ever thought of doing theater? 

Iíd love to do stage, when and if I can.  Yeah, Iím definitely interested.

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

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