“What really fascinated me was the sheer isolation – no internet, no TV, I mean, just imagine!”
Mia Wasikowska, star of the latest big-screen version of Jane Eyre, grins as she reflects on the struggle of the 19th century literary superstar to find connection, spiritual and physical, without the aid of a BlackBerry.
“The things we take for granted – emails, tweets, getting in the car to go and see someone – Jane and girls of her circumstance had nothing. So, of course, we think we’re so much more connected, but are we really?”
This leads us straight into Wasikowska’s passionate defence of yet another adaptation of the classic novel:
“There must be a reason why a story like this endures. I’m fascinated by the idea of a woman with nothing but the strength of her spirit, her resistance, her refusal to let go of her strongest passion. That’s got to have resonance in any time.”
Hmm, something tells me this is not your average young star on the rise. Sure enough, at the ripe age of 21, the name ‘Wasikowska’ may not invoke instant recognition in every cinema-goer, but, where it matters in Hollywood, she’s already made her mark. With box office receipts of just over $1billion, she was named last year’s highest-grossing actress by Forbes magazine, with only Leonardo DiCaprio above her.
Since making her big screen breakthrough in the title role of Tim Burton’s fantasy offering Alice in Wonderland, not to mention playing opposite Johnny Depp – both things by which she remains “suitably awed” – Wasikowska has not stopped working with appearances in wartime resistance epic Defiance, Hilary Swank vehicle Amelia and quirky comedy The Kids Are Alright all adding to her respectable portfolio.
Currently, she’s got no less than nine films on the go. Variety Magazine didn’t exaggerate in 2008 when they called her “One of Ten Top Actors to Watch”, based on a convincing TV performance as a suicidal gymnast in In Treatment (Wasikowska originally trained as a ballet dancer, before opting for acting as a teenager in her native Australia).
So, used to dealing with the blockbusting special effects employed by Burton and the increasing lavish attention of Hollywood powerbrokers and lackeys, how did the intellectual Aussie cope with the bleak film set of Jane Eyre?
“It was interesting, not at all glamorous, and definitely helped us discover the mood and ambience of the period. I can’t claim to have experienced the deprivations of Jane, but we definitely had a little taste.”
This lack of colour and bling extended to Wasikowska’s own treatment. In the film, it looks like the title character is not wearing a speck of makeup, but this can’t be right for the self-respecting female lead of a Hollywood period romp. And what of all those references to “plain Jane” – that can’t be good for a young actress’s ego, surely?
“Not a makeup brush in sight,” Wasikowska confirms. “Maybe a bit of powder under the lights occasionally, but that was it, I swear. Cross fingers, I’ll get do something a bit more glamorous soon.”
Her down-to-earthness can no doubt be traced to strong roots in her country’s capital of Canberra. The family house there with her parents, both photographers, is where she still calls home between what she describes as “this bizarre business of flying around the world to work, so going home for a while in between makes it all a little less strange”.
We’ll see her next in Gus Van Sant’s Restless, and she’s already back at work filming Stoker with Nicole Kidman and Jonathan Goode.
These are both lead roles, evidence of Hollywood’s welcome of a bright new talent with the right attitude - an intriguing mix of absolute professional confidence and bemusement at her position on the star firmament and the duties it increasingly entails: “All this shuttling back and forth – not exactly Jane Eyre’s world, I know.”
Jane Eyre goes on nationwide release on 9th September.