Mia Wasikowska reprises the iconic role of Alice in Disney’s all-new fantasy adventure, Alice Through the Looking Glass, the exciting follow-up to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland directed by James Bobin. Her character returns to the magical world of Underland and travels back in time to rescue the Mad Hatter (Johnny Depp). Based on the beloved stories by Lewis Carroll, the sequel has a lighter touch and is less dark than the first film. Screenwriter Linda Woolverton has crafted a strong female character that’s on a very personal journey. The cast and unforgettable characters from the original film join exciting new characters played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Rhys Ifans.
At the early press day for the film, Wasikowska talked about playing a classic female heroine, why she was more comfortable working in the world of green screen this time around, how Bobin brought a different perspective on the world and pushed the characters to engage more emotionally, why it was fun to play a more proactive character and do more scenes with people than was possible in the first film, the cool dynamic between Alice and the character of Time (Cohen), how Colleen Atwood’s brilliant costumes helped inform her character, her memorable scene on the Chronosphere with Depp and Anne Hathaway, and why Alice’s story is so powerful.
MIA WASIKOWSKA: In the first one, she was quite uncomfortable, and a little bit awkward, and was very much finding her way. In this one, she’s just spent the past few years traveling and being the captain of a ship, and being very productive, and feeling really empowered. She’s much more sure of herself in this film.
What about yourself? Are you more empowered as well six years later?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes. Sure. I also feel like I really know the world of green screen and what it’s like to film on that. So, I felt probably a little bit more prepared or just had a deeper understanding of making a film like this.
How did you approach the role of Alice this time around? What was different?
WASIKOWSKA: James brought his own very different and unique perspective on the world, which was really great. He definitely pushed all the characters to engage in a much more emotional way, and I felt a little bit more proactive in this one. There was more stuff to do. So, that was really fun.
Do you see yourself as more of a heroine now in this movie?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah. Alice is always saving the day, but it was nice in this. Also, in the last one, I was changing sizes a lot, which meant that I didn’t get to act with the other people very often, and in this one, I was the same size. I know that seems like a very slight technical thing, but it actually meant I got to do a lot of scenes with people pretty much always. That was really nice.
After doing the first movie with Tim Burton and now this one under a new director, James Bobin, who’s coming off of two Muppet movies, what was it like working with him to continue telling the story?
WASIKOWSKA: It was great. He brought his own kind of humor to the film, which was nice. That was great, and then also, it was with a few new cast members. Sacha brought a really funny, completely different kind of character. Alice and Time have a very fun dynamic. It was really good.
How has directing your own film changed your approach to acting?
WASIKOWSKA: It hasn’t changed it too much. I just really enjoy it. A lot of actors maybe direct to work with actors, but I did it because I love the visual side of it. So, I got to explore that on my own, which was great. I really liked that.
In the world of visual effects, where six years is almost like six decades, what has changed since the first movie?
WASIKOWSKA: I’m sure there’ve been massive changes in visual effects, but to me, it was really similar, because I don’t have much to do with that. It felt physically the same – like me just being in harnesses and blue things representing the things I’m jumping on. So, it felt similar that way for me, but I’m sure there’ve been big changes.
How did Colleen Atwood’s costumes inform your work in this piece?
WASIKOWSKA: The costume on a green screen movie is one of the most important things, because it’s really all you have to give you a sense of the tone or the visual style. Colleen (Atwood) is super brilliant. I’ve worked with her before on the last one, and I absolutely love her costumes. Also, to see the other characters’ costumes is really important.
Can you talk a little bit about what Alice goes through in this second adventure?
WASIKOWSKA: Well, she’s just had her years of traveling, and feeling really fantastic, and in charge, and empowered. Then, she comes back to England and realizes the expectations of her at this point are really low. Then, when she ends up back in Underland, she has everything reaffirmed for her again and is able to come back into the real world and approach it in a very authentic way.
Because Alice is more involved in this one, does she have more of a feminist mindset, without knowing it’s feminist obviously because she’s young?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes, I believe so. I mean, she’s just such a great character, especially because of the time that it’s set. We were so much further behind to what we are right now. She just had very high expectations of her role in society, which is really ahead of her time and great, I think.
What do you think was her biggest obstacle in this society?
WASIKOWSKA: Exactly that, I guess. Just that the expectations of her were so low and she didn’t want to submit to getting married and being a wife.
In the first movie and the second movie as well, why were the Alice stories so beloved, not just for girls but also for boys, young and old?
WASIKOWSKA: I think it’s because the books are so unique. They’re very subjective. Everybody has a very different idea of them and interprets them in a really different way. I mean, they completely give themselves over to the idea of many, many different interpretations, because there are so many film interpretations and creative interpretations. It’s kind of cool to just add to that collection of really different interpretations.
Is Alice like the original superhero? Now, we have comic books for that, but do you think when Lewis Carroll wrote it that she was kind of the first super heroine?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes, for sure. That’s a good way to put it into our culture now. She’s a very classic kind of female heroine.
What do you think about how other films like Matrix embrace Alice archetype stories. Why do you think her story is so powerful?
WASIKOWSKA: I think even though the characters are so authentic, they are archetypal in a way, and the relationships between them maybe represent things that people can put into different contexts.
This time around, Sacha Baron Cohen joins the cast. Can you tell us a little bit about the dynamic and how it all fits in?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes, he’s great. He’s super funny and super smart and has his own [ideas] and just completely changed the character and imbued it with a lot of humor. The relationship between Time and Alice is really fun. He talks ridiculously, and Alice is the only character to pull him off on that. It’s sweet.
Is this a time travel story? And what is your relationship to time?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes. In the end, the message is not to mess around with time, or try and obsess or fix things that have happened, but more to appreciate what’s happening now. I have a similar relationship in terms of just trying to appreciate now and not try and dwell on what’s happened.
What is the story behind the Looking Glass?
WASIKOWSKA: That’s her way into the world. Last time, she fell down the Rabbit Hole, and this time, she’s led to the Looking Glass, and that’s how she gets back into the world.
Did you have some input on the screenplay and did you manage to change things?
WASIKOWSKA: Oh, in just the tiniest way, because that happens with any collaborative person. You ask if you can say something else, and if they like that, then yeah, that’s what happens, but not in a huge way.
What’s the relationship between Alice and the Mad Hatter? Can you talk a bit about how she’s trying to help him?
WASIKOWSKA: At the beginning, it becomes evident that the Hatter has become less mad. It’s like he’s getting much more sane and unmad. So, she has to go back and help him get mad again and more like himself. It’s really sweet, a super sweet relationship.
What was Johnny like?
WASIKOWSKA: He’s great. He’s wonderful and has such a great energy. He’s always brilliant in his roles and especially with this character. It’s like a really sweet friendship between the two of them. He was a great scene partner.
WASIKOWSKA: There was one scene. It was always a nightmare being on the Chronosphere, because you had to be strapped into this machine, and it was usually two whole days of being pushed round on this machine, which is really nauseating. But, it was a really funny day when Johnny, Anne (Hathaway), and I were all trapped on it together. It was like a forced day of total hilarity. It was fun. It’s the worst thing to be in, but if you’re there with nice people, it’s really fun.
There are a lot of fantasy and CG characters in this story. If there was one that you could transform into reality, which one would you like to have in your life?
WASIKOWSKA: Probably Time, because he seems so ridiculous. He takes himself very seriously, so that would be really fun.
Which character is more ridiculous – Time or the Mad Hatter?
WASIKOWSKA: I think Time because he has such an inflated ego. So, he’s more fun, because he’s more extreme.
Was there a little bit of competition going on between Johnny and Sacha about who’s the more extreme character?
WASIKOWSKA: I never had scenes with both of them. They got along great and probably just had a ridiculous few days when they were shooting their Tea Party. They’re both great.
Did you have a free day where you could watch them shoot some of their scenes?
WASIKOWSKA: No. I didn’t. Sometimes there was a little bit of crossover, but no I didn’t.
Will you wait until the film is finished to see the whole thing?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes, I’ll wait until it’s all finished. James prefers everyone to see it when it’s done.
WASIKOWSKA: She’s great. She was really fun and just so good for that character. I mean, they’re all such ridiculous characters, so everybody, I think, really enjoys playing them.
Do you enjoy doing fantasy films?
WASIKOWSKA: They’re great. For sure, I like to see how everybody does it slightly differently, and anything can happen in them, which is really fun.
What was one of the challenges for you of filming this movie?
WASIKOWSKA: Just the same thing that was last time, which was that they do their best to describe to you what’s around you and what’s happening, but it’s still kind of an abstract experience. That, and also just the level of it being extremely physical for five months.
Kids love to see these films over and over again. Are you ever recognized on the streets by kids?
WASIKOWSKA: Not very often, but occasionally, a little kid will stare at me. But it’s not very much, and they never think much of it or anything. Adults are more pushy and will come up and say something, but kids just maybe stare. No, it’s rarely happened. But, when it did, it was maybe like a week after the film came out.
This seems like it’s becoming a franchise, but it took almost six years to do the sequel. Are there any talks about an Alice 3?
WASIKOWSKA: No, not at the moment. I’m not sure whether there will be or not. But there are no talks of it at the moment.
What are you working on next?
WASIKOWSKA: Nothing at the moment. I’m just having a break.
Presented in Digital 3D, Real D 3D and IMAX 3D, Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass opens in U.S. theaters on May 27, 2016.