Mia Wasikowska remains unfazed by what life has thrown at her. In fact, she invites even more adversity –– as long as the parts are as juicy as the ones she’s experienced in “The Kids Are All Right,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “In Treatment” and her latest bit of self-flagellation, “Jane Eyre.”
She’s only 21, but she already knows what it’s like to be the daughter of lesbian parents, orphaned at a young age and sent into battle to lop the head off an angry, salivating jabberwocky. No wonder she sought help from one of TV’s most famous shrinks.
Yet, Mia Wasikowska remains unfazed by what life has thrown at her. In fact, she invites even more adversity –– as long as the parts are as juicy as the ones she’s experienced in “The Kids Are All Right,” “Alice in Wonderland,” “In Treatment” and her latest bit of self-flagellation, “Jane Eyre.”
It’s the latter that’s brought the gaminesque actress and her chic pixie-blond hairdo to Boston, the latest stop on a nationwide press tour promoting what she hopes will become the preeminent film version of the 1847 Charlotte Bronte classic about a young governess who falls for her mysterious, guilt-ridden employer.
That’s a pretty tall task considering there are 27 (18 features and nine TV movies) already in existence, including the most famous one starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. But given Wasikowska’s meteoric rise to fame, it’s hard to bet against her.
It’s also hard not to be charmed by the Aussie beauty, who exemplifies elegance and grace in both her appearance and her royal demeanor. Dressed all in gray over black tights, Wasikowska looks every bit the young fashion plate she’s become on the red carpet. Her alabaster skin is flawless and her understated Aussie accent is as beguiling as her wise-beyond-her-years intellect.
All qualities that serve her well as Jane Eyre, a woman who, like Wasikowska, is feisty and fearless, even in the presence of a man like Edward Fairfax Rochester, the master of Thornfield Manor, where Jane has come to escape her miserable childhood. Wasikowska said she has long been a fan of the novel and jumped at the chance to portray a heroine as principled and strong-willed as Jane.
“If you take away the period settings and the costumes, at the core, it’s a story about a young woman who is trying to find a connection and find love in a very isolated world. And I think that is very relatable,” said Wasikowska, adding that finding the heart of Jane Eyre wasn’t nearly as difficult as finding room to breathe –– literally.
“The things that they wore (in the Victorian era) were so uncomfortable. You can’t bend down very far; you can’t lift your arm very high. I know everybody says (the costumes) are painful, but I didn’t really understand how painful until I did the movie.”
Far less injurious was the opportunity to work with Judi Dench, playing Thornfield’s kindly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax, and Michael Fassbender (“Inglourious Basterds”), as Mr. Rochester, the secretive and chronically depressed lord of the manor. But the real treat for her, she says, was getting to work again with her “Defiance” co-star, Jamie Bell.
“It was good fun,” she said of the shoot. “There were moments on the set when –– because it was quite a young group of people –– where it definitely felt like we were a bunch of kids who managed to somehow get a hold of a famous piece of literature, and we were doing our version of it.”
Director Cary Joji Fukunaga sheepishly concurred.
“They were always talking about their last film,” he said of Bell and Wasikowska. “It was like band camp from ‘American Pie.’”
“Do you remember that time at …?” Wasikowska adds with a mischievous laugh.
That camaraderie is indicative of Wasikowska, who said she values family and friends far more than fame. She reckons that’s why it’s been so hard for her to warm to L.A., a city she has regularly spent time in ever since she was cast as the troubled teen gymnast in the first season of HBO’s acclaimed series, “In Treatment.”
“It’s taken me a while to like L.A.,” she said. “It’s a very different world to be a part of from where I come from. So, when I started working in films, it wasn’t my world, and it’s been a process of making it my world … and feeling like a part of it. But now I feel much more comfortable and at home.”
She’s also feeling more relaxed in front of the camera as an actor, a vocation she took up only a few years ago after spending most of her young life training to be a ballerina. The reason for the switch, she said, was, among other things, longevity.
“With ballet, everything is sped up. You have such a limited career already,” she said. “The maximum age that you can still be dancing at is like 35 –– if you’re lucky –– because it’s more like 25 or 30. So I feel the pace that ballet dancers grow at is so intensified.” She also doesn’t care for the infantilization of dancers, like that depicted in “Black Swan.”
“It gave me shivers watching that,” she said of the Oscar-winning film. “I thought it was a very realistic portrayal of that world and the kind of prepubescent state those girls are kept in with the fluffy toys and the pink. And it is a repression similar to the way that Jane (Eyre) is repressed by society. But I still love it. Dancing is so liberating and dancing is such a wonderful expression. But all the surrounding stuff is a real downer.”
While she would have loved to play the part that won Natalie Portman an Oscar, Wasikowska said she puts her trust in timing and fate when it comes to pursuing roles. She also expressed a desire to avoid being typecast by being eclectic in her choices.
“I think in order to remain interested in acting and in film, it’s important for me to challenge myself in terms of the variety of the material that I do,” she said. “There’s zero interest for me in doing something that feels familiar or doing something that I feel like I’ve done before.”
It was timing, she said, that provoked her to turn down David Fincher’s invitation to try out for the role of Lisbeth Salander in his American remake of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.”
“I think that’s kind of been dramatized a little,” she said. “I was never really up for the role, so I didn’t pass it up. But it was more the commitment. It was such a long shoot. And like I said before, I like doing diverse projects, so you really don’t want to make a big commitment. But I think that’s an awesome character. I read all the books and I loved them.”
As for the future, Wasikowska said she wants to try her hand at performing on stage, an art form she’s “very interested in pursuing.” She also indicated a desire to move behind the camera to one day direct, or even work as a cinematographer. “I’m interested in all areas of film,” she said.
She did, however, deny faint rumors about a secret Aussie society of actresses consisting of herself, Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Naomi Watts, Toni Collette, Judy Davis and Isla Fisher.
“No, no truth to that,” she said. “There is no Aussie clubhouse –– I wish, where we all sit around eating vegemite sandwiches. But I’m hoping to do a film with Nicole at the end of the year. So I’m excited about that. It’s called ‘Stoker’ and she’s supposed to play my mother. So maybe then I’ll get to go to her house for a vegemite.”
Al Alexander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.