An ac­tion- packed life? Corset is!

Af­ter her psychedelic ad­ven­tures down a rab­bit hole, Aussie ac­tress Mia Wasikowska has her work cut out es­cap­ing the evil clutches of . . . a corset. Steven Rea re­ports

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Movies -

‘‘ YOU can only breathe so much in corsets,’’ says Mia Wasikowska, who was re­quired to wear such an ap­pa­ra­tus, along with var­i­ous bell-shaped skirts, flounced pet­ti­coats and tight lit­tle bon­nets as she as­sayed the ti­tle role in the new and beau­ti­fully mis­er­able Jane Eyre.

‘‘ It re­stricts your voice and your breath, and it’s re­ally sym­bolic of the re­pres­sion of the day,’’ she ob­serves.

‘‘ That’s very much what that time rep­re­sented for women – phys­i­cal re­pres­sion that be­comes men­tal. Oh, it’s crazy.’’

In this new ver­sion of the oft-filmed Jane Eyre, di­rec­tor Cary Fuku­naga ( Sin Nom­bre) and his cos­tume de­signer drew their wardrobe inspiration from the fash­ions of the early 1840s. There’s one emo­tion­ally dev­as­tat­ing scene in which Wasikowska’s Jane fran­ti­cally tries to get out of her corset, with a close-up of her fin­gers on the laces as she des­per­ately un­knots row af­ter row. She’s like a scuba diver in trou­ble, madly try­ing to un­tan­gle in the deep, strug­gling to shed the mal­func­tion­ing oxy­gen tank and mak­ing for the sur­face.

‘‘ It’s the same thing with me when I get home at the end of the day,’’ Wasikowska ( pic­tured) says with a laugh.

‘‘ The first thing I do is I take ev­ery­thing off and jump into my py­ja­mas. Free­dom.’’

For Wasikowska ( pro­nounced vashi-kov-ska), play­ing Char­lotte Bronte’s star-crossed hero­ine was a dream come true. When the Aus­tralian ac­tress, all of 21 now, had fin­ished Tim Bur­ton’s Alice in Won­der­land in 2009, she headed back to her par­ents’ home in Can­berra, wait­ing for news of po­ten­tial projects.

‘‘ It was the first time I had been home and didn’t have any school­work to do, so I was like, ‘ Whoa, what am I go­ing to do?’,’’ she says on the phone from New York re­cently.

‘‘ So I made a list of ‘ the clas­sics’ – books that I thought I should get to – and Jane Eyre was there on the book­shelf, so I started read­ing. I was at Chap­ter 5 and I called my agent up and asked if there was a script around, and there wasn’t at the time. The book was in­cred­i­ble, and so dense, just Jane’s in­ter­nal mono­logue from start to fin­ish.

‘‘ But two months later she called me and she said, ‘ Here’s the script, and the di­rec­tor would like to meet with you’.’’

The rest is his­tory. Or, more ac­cu­rately, Vic­to­rian Gothic fem­i­nist fic­tion. Shot on the moors and dales of Der­byshire, where the skies are for­ever sheathed in clouds, and in his­toric coun­try houses that Fuku­naga and his crew lit solely by can­dle­light, Jane Eyre stars Michael Fess­ben­der as the mer­cu­rial and brood­ing Rochester. The ac­tor, who played Ir­ish Repub­li­can Bobby Sands in the riv­et­ing Hunger, is only slightly less daunt­ing and charis­matic than Or­son Welles was in the 1943 adap­ta­tion. Joan Fon­taine, then 26, was the es­tranged, woe­be­gone Jane in Robert Steven­son’s ver­sion. ‘‘ I def­i­nitely wanted to cast young, and I wanted to cast some­one who wasn’t your stan­dard Hol­ly­wood face,’’ Fuku­naga says.

‘‘ I wanted some­one who had an in­tel­li­gent and emo­tion­ally sub­tle ap­proach to acting. And I was in­tro­duced to Mia through friends who told me to see what she did in In Treat­ment. And I was just floored by how much of a raw and nat­u­ral tal­ent she has.’’ In the first sea­son of HBO’s In Treat­ment, Wasikowska played So­phie, a teen gym­nast with sui­ci­dal im­pulses who sought coun­sel from the ther­a­pist played by Gabriel Byrne. It was a per­for­mance that put the then un­known on the map.

‘‘ I feel re­ally lucky to have played a char­ac­ter like So­phie,’’ Wasikowska says. ‘‘ It’s re­ally rare to find a char­ac­ter that con­veys so truth­fully what it’s like to be an ado­les­cent in this time, and to be deal­ing with so many is­sues. And as a young ac­tress — I was 16, I think, or 17, then — to get the chance to ex­plore a char­ac­ter in that much depth, I just feel re­ally lucky to have played her.’’

Lucky, too, is how Wasikowska feels about be­ing able to bring Bronte’s Jane to life.

‘‘ Her thoughts and her ideas are so much part of her essence, and she has a re­ally strong sense of self – of who she is and what she be­lieves,’’ she says.

Along with her star­ring role as the girl who goes down the rab­bit hole, Wasikowska ap­peared last year op­po­site An­nette Ben­ing, Ju­lianne Moore and Mark Ruf­falo in Lisa Cholo­denko’s Os­car-nom­i­nated The Kids Are All Right, play­ing the daugh­ter of the les­bian cou­ple. She and her brother ( Josh Hutch­er­son) go out and find the anony­mous sperm donor – their fa­ther. Con­flict and con­fu­sion en­sue.

‘‘ The Kids Are All Right was just such an im­por­tant ex­pe­ri­ence for me,’’ she says, ‘‘ es­pe­cially be­ing able to col­lab­o­rate with An­nette and ‘ Julie’ and see­ing the two of them to­gether. They’re le­gends, and they’re per­fect in their roles, and to see how they work is such a great ex­am­ple.’’

Wasikowska has two other films ready for re­lease this year. Rest­less, from di­rec­tor Gus Van Sant, is a story of a ter­mi­nally ill teenager who falls for a boy who spends his time go­ing to fu­ner­als. Some­how, the ghost of a Ja­panese kamikaze pilot fac­tors into the equa­tion.

And then there’s Al­bert Nobbs, from a script by Glenn Close, who also stars, di­rected by In Treat­ment’s Ro­drigo Gar­cia.

‘‘ We just fin­ished film­ing that in Ire­land,’’ Wasikowska says. ‘‘ It’s about a woman in the 18th cen­tury who lives her life as a man in or­der to get a bet­ter job, make more money, have a bet­ter qual­ity of life. And it’s about her, and the em­ploy­ees of the ho­tel that she works in. It’s the strangest love tri­an­gle ever – it’s me and Aaron John­son and Glenn Close.’’

Clearly, Wasikowska has been liv­ing out of her suit­case, shut­tling be­tween Dublin, Lon­don, New York and Los An­ge­les.

‘‘ Most ac­tors go through a phase of gypsy-hood. I guess I’m ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mine right now,’’ she says.

And it looks to con­tinue, with two new projects lined up.

The Wettest County in the World is a De­pres­sion-era crime drama from di­rec­tor John Hill­coat, who helmed The Road. Nick Cave wrote the script, and Guy Pearce and Gary Old­man also star. Then comes Stoker, in which Wasikowska plays a teen who has lost her fa­ther. Old Boy’s Chan­wook Park is the di­rec­tor and Os­car win­ners Colin Firth and Ni­cole Kid­man are set to star. ‘‘ Right now I’m ex­cited,’’ Wasikowska says. ‘‘ Maybe later I’ll be ex­hausted.’’

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