Mia Wasikowska on Jane Eyre | Interview
The 21-year-old Australian actor stars in the new adaptation of Jane Eyre.
Past several publicists and waiting reporters, inside a room at the Peninsula Hotel, sits the demure, pale, polite 21-year-old whom Forbes named the actor with the second highest-grossing films of 2010. With one leg tucked under the other, the Australian star of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and, now, Cary Fukunaga’s Jane Eyre looks out the window at a gray Streeterville and says that, during her first visit to Chicago, she’s only seen “I’ve forgotten what it’s called, that big ball, reflects the city. That was so cool…. But Home Alone was my favorite movie of all time when I was a kid. Isn’t this where Kevin’s from?”
Before you’d heard of this production, you were reading Jane Eyre and you asked your agent if there was a film in the works. Why did the novel speak to you so much?
Because of the strength of Jane’s character, really. She doesn’t compromise herself for anyone, and that took incredible strength. It takes strength now, but then, particularly, to have that sense of self.
So that spoke to you: not wanting to compromise?
Yeah, when you fall in love, you’re at your most vulnerable, and even if you’re a strong-willed person, it’s easy to feel the need to compromise yourself, and it was so cool she didn’t do that.
Sounds like you’re speaking from personal experience.
Well, it’s not really, because I haven’t, like—I feel like her experiences are accelerated. In that time people were married and courting a lot younger, and so she’s way beyond me.
The film’s creators said they wanted an actor who was young like Jane, as opposed to the older women who’ve played her. You were 19 during shooting.
When I started reading the book, I was shocked by the fact that she was 18. She’s a year younger than me and her responsibilities are so elevated, and it was something that has been missed in previous interpretations—the sense that she was actually a teenager.
You were a ballet dancer, training 35 hours a week, till age 15. What’s been the most demanding aspect of being an actor?
The lifestyle is quite difficult—it’s fun, it’s wonderful to travel, but that gets tiring…. When I’m not working, I go home [in Canberra, Australia], but I’m only there for about two weeks.
You’ve already worked with several women who’ve had success beyond the dreaded 40: Julianne Moore and Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right—and, soon, Glenn Close, Nicole Kidman. What have you learned about having a long-term career as a woman in Hollywood?
The thing I’ve learned from these women—Julianne, Annette—they all have families, it’s not just work.
How’s your life beyond work?
Um, at the moment, I’m trying to find the balance.
What do you do when not working?
I take a lot of pictures, I take pictures on sets. The costumes for Jane Eyre—I asked about a pocket to have a camera nearby, and there’s so much fabric that they were able to make a hidden pocket.
So you’re snapping shots while talking with Mr. Rochester?
No, I don’t shoot when I’m in a scene [Laughs], but the best images are always right before the takes—the crew when they’re setting up the shot.
Your parents are photographers—have they critiqued your work?
Yeah, for sure. They’ve given me really honest feedback, which is good because it’s so easy for people to just praise you when you’re an actor.
It must be difficult to get honest feedback in Hollywood.
Yeah, no one’s going to tell me I’m bad—I mean, I hope they will.
In Australia, you must’ve grown up with American film. What surprised you about the reality of the U.S.?
In Australia, I didn’t even know what Hollywood was. I thought maybe that was a studio. And then we were walking down Hollywood Boulevard the first time we came to L.A., and I remember being shocked—it’s been glamorized in my mind.
Do you feel disillusionment generally about Hollywood?
Yeah, which is why I like getting out of it as well. It’s nice to be able to leave L.A. and not care what the biggest box office is. I’ve worked with great people and everybody’s been very protective, and I can imagine it’s not always like that.
Speaking of the box office: You were the second biggest box-office grosser last year.
Yeah, I don’t know how that happened!
What does that mean for you now?
People at home think I’m a millionaire, which is not correct! [Laughs] It’s obviously important to be a bankable star in Hollywood, and also you don’t know how long that’ll last.
Jane Eyre opens Friday 18.