In the latest screen version of Charlotte Brontë’s 164-year-old novel “Jane Eyre,” 21-year-old Mia Wasikowska plays the title role. The filmmakers had sought a lead actress close in age to the young heroine, part of an effort to freshen a work that’s been fodder for countless film, TV and stage adaptations. Director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“Sin Nombre”) emphasized the story’s spooky elements, in some scenes flirting with the horror genre, and screenwriter Moira Buffini reordered the novel’s narrative structure, making use of flashbacks to ratchet up the drama.
Co-starring with Michael Fassbender as Edward Rochester, Ms. Wasikowska creates the governess who transcends a lowly station—”poor, obscure, plain and little”—and continues a rapid cinematic rise. After landing in a recurring role in HBO’s “In Treatment,” last year she appeared in the title role of Tim Burton’s box-office smash “Alice in Wonderland,” and in the Oscar-nominated “The Kids Are All Right” as a pensive teen who seeks out her sperm-donor father. In her native Australia (where she lives with her parents in Canberra when she’s not working), Ms. Wasikowska spent years studying ballet before abandoning dance for the less rigid discipline of acting. Future projects, she says, include films by Gus Van Sant and Park Chan-wook. For the Korean director’s “Stoker,” Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman are in talks to play her parents.
The Wall Street Journal: The first scene you filmed was Jane fleeing Rochester’s Thornfield estate, where you’re stumbling and crying and soaking wet. How did you ramp up to that intensity?
Ms. Wasikowska: Ah yes, stumbling through the moors. I think that was day two. That’s the thing about films—you can never choose when you do anything. You have to be ready at any moment to turn on a certain emotion. It would suck to do those scenes against a [special effects] green screen. Out there, it was windy and cold and I could at least imagine what it would be like.
Were there passages of the book that especially helped you unlock the character?
By the time I’d finished rereading it I’d underlined pretty much the whole book. From start to finish it’s Jane’s inner monologue, but the big key to understanding Jane is Rochester. Almost everything he says unlocks who she actually is.
Jane Eyre isn’t some stuffy old book you are assigned to read at school. It’s the story of a teenager, a rebellious young woman back in the day when girls were supposed to sit in the corner, look pretty and shut up!
Young Jane, a badly-treated orphan, isn’t about to conform to all that. She speaks out, does what she thinks is right and, ultimately, wins personal freedom and the guy of her dreams. What’s not to like? The tale also has a spooky mystery in addition to the hot love story.
Petite blonde Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska who played Alice in the recent Alice in Wonderland film, was so hooked on the story of Jane after reading the book that she went looking for a film version so she could star as the character.
We’re chatting with Mia about what makes Jane tick, how Jane is cool as a role model for young girls today, how she almost froze to death making the film, how she felt about the love story in the movie and how much she loves to take photos with her old-fashioned film camera.
Picture Mia in a classy silk beige and black dress topped with an oversized fuzzy sweater and wearing black tights. No tall shoes for this girl; comfy flats.
TeenHollywood: How do you think the film and Jane relate to teens and kids today? I guess the feelings are the same throughout the ages.
Mia: Yes. I think it’s a very modern story and also a very universal story. When you take away the costumes and the setting, at the core of it is a story of a young girl who is trying to find love and a family and connection in a very dislocated world. I feel like that has transcended. It continues to connect with people. It’s a very universal theme and something almost everybody experiences to a different degree in their life.