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
‘‘ 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.’’