Jane Eyre - Mia Wasikowska
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) © 2011 Focus Features, Photo by Laurie Sparham

Australian actress Mia Wasikowska has become internationally known through such movies as Defiance, The Kids are All Right and in the title role of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland.

She is now starring in the title role of Jane Eyre, directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga.

Based on the classic novel by Charotte Bronte published in 1847, it tells the story of a young woman who becomes the governess to a French girl who is the ward of Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender), the moody Master of Thornfield Hall.

Mia Wasikowska spoke of her role of a lifetime at the press day for the movie.

I heard you were already reading the novel when you heard about the film?

Jane Eyre - Jamie Bell and Mia Wasikowska
St John (Jamie Bell) and Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) © 2011 Focus Features

[I asked my agent if] there was a script around or anything happening with it, because I thought it would be an incredible role to play. She e-mailed me back saying, no; there was one a while ago but it had gone away. A few weeks later, she said the movie was happening, sent me the script, and told me that the director wanted to meet me.

What was your meeting with Cary like?

I first met Cary in November 2009. We hung out for a day and talked about the character. We found that we shared similar ideas of what she was going through, we spoke about strength and about the kind of agony you feel when you are in love with somebody.

What do you admire most about the character?

It’s an honor to portray Jane. What I love about her character is, despite all the hardship that she faces throughout her life, she has this innate sense of self-respect and an incredible ability to do what’s right by herself as an individual. I believe that is key for people, especially women, to remember. It’s important to do what’s fulfilling for you as an individual, even when it can be easier to do what’s comfortable.

How did you go about embodying the persona of Jane?

Jane Eyre - Mia Wasikowska
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) © 2011 Focus Features

I looked at a lot of photographs and images, pictures, and drawings of the time – for example, the way people physically held themselves. I also went through the novel again, trying to find moments that were particularly pivotal to her character which would help me figure out who she was and how she was feeling at particular times.

There were a lot of scenes to play that were emotionally challenging and intense – and with language that we don’t really use any more. The trick is making that feel right so you can comfortably speak the words. A phrase such as ‘I am not speaking to you through mortal flesh,’ is so poetic and visual, but I had to make it sound real as well.

Was it hard to get your mouth around the words in this sometimes can be tricky, to figure out the meaning behind the words?

Yeah, that was part of the challenge of taking it on. It’s a language that we don’t really use anymore and it was a thing of reading it enough and knowing the material enough to feel comfortable with it. It’s very descriptive in a way that our language now isn’t.

How did you as a female relate to this character? Did you see her as a feminist?

Jane Eyre - Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) and Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender) © 2011 Focus Features

Yeah, she’s such an important role for women, and particularly young women. What I loved about her is that she has this inherent sense of self-respect, and there’s nowhere that that should have come from, it’s not like she had a loving upbringing. And everything that she’s achieved or that she has become is because of what she’s made herself.

Also there is something inside of her that believes that she’s worthy of being treated right and being loved and respected and she puts herself first in that respect. And I think that’s really great and an important thing for women, and people to remember. And for that time as well, she’s such a modern person. You’d put her in this society and she’d thrive, which is cool.

What was it like working with Michael Fassbender?

Michael constantly surprised me on the set. I would arrive excited to see what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He has this incredible strength that comes through; his eyes are so piercing! Acting opposite him, I could completely believe he was his character.

How has your life changed since getting Alice in Wonderland?

Jane Eyre - Mia Wasikowska
Jane Eyre (Mia Wasikowska) © 2011 Focus Features

I guess at the beginning when I was starting out acting this wasn’t my world, and it’s been a process of making it my world and slowly it has become my world. Going home is a different experience. That’s the biggest way [my life] has changed

Alice in Wonderland was exposure in a way that I hadn’t experienced before, so I have a lot of great opportunities which is good. A lot of it is luck and timing, I’ve had a lot of good luck and been given a lot of great experiences. There are a lot of great scripts that are coming my way, which is really cool.


Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.