There’s something a little strange about Mirana, the White Queen, in Tim Burton’s unique version of Alice in Wonderland. The younger sister of the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter), who rules the kingdom with an iron fist and emotional tirades, Mirana appears to be all sweetness and light, but put a dagger in her hand and who knows what she will do, as she explained at the press day for the movie.
Can you talk about playing the White Queen?
One of the most fun parts about my character was this freedom that Tim gave me from the first conversation we had. He said, ‘You know, in Wonderland, I don’t want anything to be all good or all bad. So I don’t want it to be that the Red Queen is the bad one and you’re the nice, benevolent one who’s all good’. He said, ‘Have fun exploring the relationship between the two of them. They come from the same place’.
So I thought, ‘How fun if my character has a sort of hidden psychosis,’ and is interested in knives and things like that, and is kind of adorable on the outside and has tried very hard to become this good, almost over-the-top, positive creature but, underneath, she has a murderous streak that comes out when she’s around weaponry. So, it wasn’t necessarily that they were opposites. They were just sisters who were different.
Were you disappointed to be playing an actual character and not CGI’d in it?
I would do anything if Tim wanted me to. I would have played a mushroom in this if that’s the way he saw me in it. I would have happily donned my green onesie and been up on stilts. I would have done anything to be in Wonderland but it’s kind of nice to be a real person as well. I have no preference, sorry I don’t.
When did you read the Alice in Wonderland books or Jabberwocky?
When I was in fifth grade I had a teacher who made the entire class memorize Jabberwocky and perform it. So, I made Tim, during the battle sequence, let me recite the poem. He looked at me (and said), ‘You know it’s not going to be in the film’. And I said ‘I know but just for my own sense of completion in my life, please let me do this’.
I didn’t read Alice until I was in college. I was reading a lot of Nabokoff and one of his big inspirations was Lewis Carroll so I thought, ‘Before I get too deep into him, I’ll read Lewis Carroll,’ and I never got back to Nabokoff. That’s when I read it. I was really moved by it.
She’s (Alice) a very emotional character and I think a lot of people feel confused at 19, as to who they are, who they think they are, who they want to be. They struggle with a sense of identity then and other times in their life. I really read the book from that perspective of a girl who is trying to find her identity, which is great because that’s what the movie focuses on; which Alice are you? So, that was my experience.
I read you said you thought of the White Queen as a punk rock Vegan pacifist.
Let’s start with the punk rock, Vegan pacifist thing. The pacifist thing was in the script. My character had taken a vow of non-violence but it was also in the script that, when she talks about that she hits a bug, so that gave me the idea that’s she’s taken this vow against her will, that she recognizes that her sister is sick and believes that a means to an end is cutting people’s heads off. That’s kind of her default setting and I’m just like, ‘I don’t want her to be in charge so I have to be in charge’.
I like the idea that my character probably, left to her own devices, might not have wanted to be queen. So, then I started to think about who she was when she was in her off-queen time, and I realized she spends a lot of time in the kitchen and I made her a Vegan. And then I thought, ‘I like Blondie’ so she’s blonde so that was obvious but I still wanted her to have a regal thing so I watched a Greta Garbo movie.
I watched a lot of her silent films. Nobody has ever moved on film the way she did. Her whole body looks like it’s breathing. It was a time when acting was very stylized to be very over-the-top and she’s very real in it.
Have you ever dreamed impossible dreams in your life as an actress?
I was going to say that I think my life is an impossible dream and acting made me curious about what actually is impossible, and once you go after it you find that a lot of things are very achievable. I think some things may seem impossible but you have to try.