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Jane Eyre – Director Cary Joji Fukunaga on why it should be made every 5 years

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Jane Eyre - Director Cary Fukunaga
Director Cary Fukunaga behind the camera filming © 2011 Focus Features

Cary Joji Fukunaga made his feature film writing and directing debut with Sin Nombre, a thriller filmed on locations throughout Mexico City.

Who would imagine his next movie would be the British classic, Jane Eyre? Based on the popular Charlotte Bronte novel published in 1847, the film tells the story of Jane, a governess who is hired to take care of a little French girl at Thornfield Hall, the home of the gruff and jaded Edward Rochester.

Fukunaga spoke of the challenges of bringing a fresh and new version of Jane Eyre to the screen at the movie’s press day.

How did this project come to you?

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

A few years ago, after writing Sin Nombre but prior to shooting it, I was looking for material to adapt that was in public domain. Jane Eyre was one of the first novels to pop into my head. I’ve always liked exploring the idea of ‘family’ or lack thereof, and particularly remembered the protagonist’s having to overcome so many challenges in her youth to find love and true family.

While I was in the UK for the opening of Sin Nombre, I leaned that a feature version of Jane Eyre was in development. I wanted a chance to read what was being done, so I arranged a meeting.

Were you willing to work with another writer as you wanted to write this project yourself

I was apprehensive at first. What made it viable to me was the Moira Buffini’s adaptation was founded on a structure that had an immediate, contemporary feel, while also remaining faithful to the story. I could see the movie I wanted to make out of it, so it was a compelling and convincing starting point.

At the end of my very first meeting with Alison (Owen, the movie’s producer) and Moira, I said, ‘I’d like to make this movie,’ and, surprisingly, they said, ‘We’d like you to make this movie.’ So it was off to the races.

There have been so many versions of Jane Eyre, did that concern you?

Jane Eyre - Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska
Director Cary Fukunaga on the set © 2011 Focus Features, Photo by Laurie Sparham

I feel like Jane Eyre should be made every five years, so I’m just basically keeping that tradition going. Someone has to do it again 2016. It is definitely a story that I had known about as a kid, I’d grown up with the Robert Stevenson version of the film and I loved the film growing up.

This movie is structured differently than other versions of Jane Eyre, was that something that attracted you to it?

I think that was initially Moira’s idea to start the film with the St John ‘Sinjin’ Rivers (Jamie Bell) part of the story. I thought it was a great way, in terms of contemporary storytelling, to begin with the lowest moment for Jane, and then through flashbacks figure out how she got there. Even in Charlotte Bronte’s novel there’s such a feeling of mystery around the Thornfield part of the story that it just provides an air of consistency to begin the film with a mystery.

What was the biggest challenge in doing the movie?

I knew I was taking on a story that is a period film and a romance with elements of horror. Walking the line among these tones would be difficult, because it’s easier to default to one or the other. I wanted to maintain consistency in the style of telling the story.

The original novel featured many spooky elements, from early Victorian gothic atmospheres to outright spiritual presences; I liked the imagery and was excited by the idea of pushing that side of the story further than in previous adaptations – not full-blown horror, but a definite vibe.

You shot at Haddon Hall in England, what was it about that location that made it right for the story?

Jane Eyre - Director Cary Fukunaga and Cinematographer Adriano Goldman
Director Cary Fukunaga and Cinematographer Adriano Goldman © 2011 Focus Features

There’s something about the craggy rocks, and the kind of bracken that grows there, that makes it darker and more oppressive than the more expansive Yorkshire moors.

We definitely wanted to shoot there, even though it’s more populated; it was challenging, because when we wanted to get an epic shot there would be a radio tower – or an entire village – in view. Although we made it seem like Thornfield is in the middle of nowhere, just beyond the edge of the frame was modern civilization.

What was it like working with Mia and Michael?

Mia didn’t just bring talent; she brought her ideas for the role. She was about doing what was right for it, ready to give her all.

Michael was the first name out of my mouth, I wanted him for Rochester. I thought his interpretation of Bobby Sands in Hunger was amazing and intense.

I’m not a highly emotional person, but there are powerful scenes between Mia and Michae, and I hope this extends to the audience, that nearly brought me to tears. You sense the desperation and the need in both characters.