The classic tale of Jane Eyre has been given a bold new re-telling that is infused with a contemporary awareness that makes it easily relatable to a modern audience. With Cary Joji Fukunaga at the helm, and starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender in the lead roles of the romantic drama, the 19 Century-set story follows an orphaned girl who is mistreated and then cast out of her childhood home, and subjected to further harsh treatment at a charity school. A teenaged Jane (Wasikowska) is then sent to the vast Thornfield Hall, under the guidance of the housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench), where she works as a governess for a child under the brooding master of the estate, Edward Rochester (Fassbender). As the two engage in games of wit and storytelling, they develop a deep connection which both frightens and intrigues her.
At the film’s press day, Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, best known for her roles in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right, talked about how much she wanted to play this role, why a story set in this era is still so universal, playing the subtleties of a woman in this time period, and how much she enjoyed working with co-stars Michael Fassbender and Jamie Bell. She also talked about her roles in the upcoming features Restless, directed by Gus Van Sant, and The Wettest County, directed by John Hillcoat. Check out what she had to say after the jump:
MIA WASIKOWSKA: I had just read the book in 2009, and I was half-way through it when I called my agent and said, “This is amazing. Is there a script around or is anyone developing the project?” There wasn’t at the time, but two months later, she emailed me a script, and then I met (director) Cary [Joji Fukunaga]. It was a case of really good timing.
How do you think the film and Jane relate to older teen girls today? Do you feel like these feelings transcend the ages?
WASIKOWSKA: Yes. I think it’s a very modern story and also a very universal story. When you take away the costumes and the setting, at the core of it is a story of a young girl who is trying to find love and a family and connection, in a very dislocated world. I feel like that has transcended. It continues to connect with people. It’s a very universal theme and something almost everybody experiences to a different degree in their life.
How cold and miserable was it to shoot some of these scenes where you had to be out in the weather? Did you get sick?
WASIKOWSKA: I did. I remember precisely that, on day two, I got hypothermia, but it was okay. It was very, very cold. It was hard enough in regular clothes, let alone with fake rain and soggy period costumes.
There was not only the weather, but a grayness to the world Jane is in. How did that translate to how you create the character?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, it was very bleak. When you’re in that environment, you really get a sense of the isolation and the distance between one estate and another. Also, as an 18-year-old living in a world where your main source of company is an 8-year-old girl or Mrs. Fairfax, I thought that was really interesting. In our world, we have so many ways we can escape with technology, like TV, Facebook, computers, text messaging and all that. For her, it was reality, every day.
WASIKOWSKA: They echo each other. There is a fear of the unknown, unseen and unspoken, and that’s everywhere. The whole dynamic with Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is like, “Does he love me? Doesn’t he love me? Is he joking? Is he not?” It’s not obvious for her, so there is a fear, emotionally and physically. Those castles are so desolate, bare and cold. So, they both play off of each other.
It was nice to see such subtle performances. Is that very challenging?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, I think so. Something that I really noticed about that period was there is such a mask that people put up. There was a public persona and a private persona, and those were the things that really interested me, particularly because there was such a system in which things happened and such a definite way of how you performed. Jane goes with and against those things. She’s a real independent thinker, and has such a strong sense of who she is and what’s right and wrong, despite what society tells her. Then, at the same time, she’s very reserved. The book, start to finish, is her internal monologue. Everything we know is because of what we’re told directly from her. So the challenge, when you adapt that to the screen, is how do you keep all the intensity of thought and feeling, and everything she’s thinking? Then, there is only limited space for dialogue.
WASIKOWSKA: Jamie [Bell] and Michael [Fassbender] are just fantastic. To counter the intensity of the material, we had a lot of fun in between set-ups and scenes, and that was vital. You really have to get your energy from somewhere, so if you’re able to have fun and then use that energy, and channel that into the mood and feel of the film, that’s always really helpful. To have two co-stars like Michael and Jamie was fantastic. There were just a lot of funny things that happened.
Is it true that there was a horse who also lightened things up a bit?
WASIKOWSKA: It did, yes. Michael had a very huge effect on any horse he got on. On the third day of filming, we were shooting the scene where Jane and Rochester meet, and every time Michael hopped on the horse, it got a huge erection. He’d get off and they’d run the poor thing around the block to get it to go away, and then he’d hop on and it would happen all over again. That was great.
Do you think that today’s readers and viewers realize how unusual it was for Jane to be as headstrong as she was and say, “I want to marry for love”?
WASIKOWSKA: It’s hard to tell what people realize. Everybody’s different and has a different understanding of the difference in times. I think it’s probably clear enough to see how radical she is, for her time, even though we don’t have a lot of the problems she would have faced then.
WASIKOWSKA: I learned a little bit of French, just for the specific scenes but it was very informal. I had Eglantine, who played Sophie, and Romy, who was Adele, giving me lessons between takes, which was good.
Your dance background probably gives you the discipline, but did it also help you with the body carriage of women of that age, who were strapped into corsets?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah. I think that dancing has helped or prepared me, in a number of different ways, for the film industry, especially with controlling your nerves when you walk into an audition because you’re on stage from a young age. That really helps. Also, just being physically aware. When you dance so intensely, you are really aware of your physicality, and that’s always great to have as a tool, when you’re an actress. There are many tools you can use.
Is there a different relationship with cast and crew when you are the lead in the film, playing the title role?
WASIKOWSKA: Even if it’s not spoken, you definitely feel a certain amount of pressure or weight, in some ways, but I have a lot of people to lean on, with Cary, Michael, Jamie and the whole cast. There was a lot of help there.
You have an interest in photography and took pictures on the set. Why do you enjoy that so much?
WASIKOWSKA: It’s great. I think it’s really important for actors to have another creative outlet, or for anyone, really. To have a creative outlet that you can control is really important because you do a lot of waiting to be cast, then waiting to go into production, and then waiting on set. You are relying on a waiting on other people in acting and films, so to be able to have something that I have full creative control over is really very therapeutic.
WASIKOWSKA: The thing about all of those actors is that they are so professional and they work really hard and they seem to really like what they do. Judi has such a young energy, and she’s so much fun and kind and friendly. They’re all really professional, lovely people, but there’s no direct advice that they’ve given me. It’s more like observing the things that they’ve chosen to do. That’s where I learn the most.
What do you think gave Jane Eyre her courage, or do you think she was born with it?
WASIKOWSKA: I think she has an innate sense of self-respect. It’s not like she’s had a loving family, or a guardian, or someone who has been constantly looking out for her, which is why she’s such an incredible character. Everything that she is, is because of what she’s made herself. What she’s become is because of something inside of her that says, “I’m worthy of a good life, being treated well, and being respected and loved.” She’s not going to compromise herself for anybody. She’s going to make sure she’s a fulfilled individual before she attaches herself to anyone, and she’s rewarded for that, in the end.
You’ve played a wide variety of roles. Do you find yourself in every one of them, or do you try to lose yourself in a character?
WASIKOWSKA: There’s a bit of both. It’s a contradiction, but you definitely put a bit of yourself in every character, and you always have to have an understanding and empathy for the person that you play. It’s a give and take. You can always lose yourself in them. I love doing accents because it takes you one step away from yourself and allows you to embody someone else’s character. I like both sides of it.
WASIKOWSKA: I usually learn a specific accent and it stays that way. We have so many American and English films in Australia that we hear those accents often, so they’re not too hard to pick up, but it’s always a challenge.
You’ve worked with amazing directors. Is there someone you would like to work with again?
WASIKOWSKA: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had a great experience with pretty much everybody I’ve worked with. I did a Gus Van Sant film last year, and I love his films. When I was younger and watching his films, they gave me a different perspective on filmmaking. I think everything he does is so brilliant. I’d love to work with him again, and Cary [Joji Fukunaga] and Tim [Burton]. There’s a bunch of directors that I really admire, and Australian ones as well. It would be nice to do a film at home.
What is your role in Restless, the Gus Van Sant film?
WASIKOWSKA: I’ve been a fan of Gus’ for ages, and to be able to work with him was great. He is the kind of director who is so trusting. I felt so comfortable on his film set. To play a teenager like Anabelle, it’s really rare to get a teenage role that resembles something of what it’s like to be a young person, that isn’t a cliché or a stereotype. I think that’s what Gus does really well. He always presents adolescence in a way that gives us a lot of credit for our emotional complexity and ability to handle complex situations.
You also have a project coming up with Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman. What is that film about and who do you play in it?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, it’s called The Wettest County, and John Hillcoat is directing it. It’s Prohibition Era America. It’s about three brothers and I play the girlfriend of Shia LeBeouf’s character. I start that in a few weeks.
What helps you get into different eras?
WASIKOWSKA: The wardrobe is always the last piece of the puzzle. When you step into the clothing, that’s the final step to figuring out that character. I also like looking at a lot of pictures from the era, or if there is any footage. I always collect a bunch of images for every film that I do, that reminds me of an essence of the character, or the time that they live in, or what they’re experiencing.