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Alice in Wonderland - Mia Wasikowska interview

Alice in Wonderland

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MIA Wasikowska talks about landing the prime role of Alice in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, working with the director and Johnny Depp and why she gave up ballet to become an actress.

She also tells us why she’s getting excited about her next movie, an adaptation of Jane Eyre with the director of Sin Nombre

Q. How did you feel when Tim Burton cast you as Alice?
Mia Wasikowska: I was so excited. I’ve been a huge fan of his work for so many years so to actually be able to be a part of one of his films was incredible. It’s a real honour.

Q. Did you have to go through many auditions?
Mia Wasikowska: I sent off a video audition at the beginning of 2008 and then in July I came over here, to the UK, and did four more auditions with him before I ended up getting the role. Each time I did two scenes.

Q. When did you learn that you got it?
Mia Wasikowska: I had just flown back to Australia from the UK after I’d done my last audition and I’d just arrived at my cousin’s house to wait for my connecting flight to Canberra and I got a call then. It was really wonderful, because I was jet lagged and crazy tired.

Q. Who is your Alice?
Mia Wasikowska: I don’t know. I kind of feel that Alice is so many different people to me. She’s experiencing a lot of things that I’ve seen people go through and that I’ve experienced myself. So, it’s interesting to see her and I really like her for that because she’s experiencing something that I’ve felt, or my friends have felt… this discomfort in your skin, this awkwardness in society, or the pressures and expectations that are upon you. Ultimately, it’s a really brave thing to do what makes you happy as opposed to what the norm, or the social norm is, and that’s a very important thing for people to remember, especially young women.

Q. How did you approach playing such an iconic character?
Mia Wasikowska: There was a certain amount of pressure in playing a character who is very well known and very beloved by so many people. But we sort of discussed that from the very beginning and one of the things that we wanted to do was sort of take away that baggage that comes with her being Alice in Wonderland and find the teenage girl behind the iconic image.

Q. You gave up ballet for acting… Why?
Mia Wasikowska: I used to love ballet and I did it really, really intensely. But it came so much about achieving physical perfection, which when I was 14 was a big deal. It was this unobtainable kind of thing. I mean, everything about you becomes imperfect and you start picking apart everything that’s wrong with you – your body and yourself. Your self-esteem can kind of plummet. And at the same time I was watching these great films that were really inspiring me and they were all about imperfections and they were all about the things that we do right or wrong and how it affects our lives. And that became really interesting to me.

Q. Were you ever tempted to starve yourself when you were doing ballet?
Mia Wasikowska: Definitely. But it never got too dramatic. But everybody was eating funny. I didn’t eat sugar for two years or something. But that was my own diet, and I was very strict about eating healthily. When you’re 13, you don’t really need to be doing that.

Q. Did that background play a bit part in helping you to get the role on In Treatment?
Mia Wasikowska: Well, ballet has really helped me in every acting role. You have to be very disciplined, you have to be able to control your nerves and perform under pressure, and all those things you have to use in acting when you’re on film or going for an audition. They’re very similar in that way to me. And as for the character of Sophie, I understood the pressure that comes with this physical [challenge]. It gave me an empathy for playing someone who was in a profession that’s very physically demanding. She was a gymnast.

Q. Do you remember your first meeting with Johnny Depp?
Mia Wasikowska: I met him when we were first doing camera tests and he’s just everything you’d expect him to be. He’s a really great guy, very friendly and very much a normal human being.

Q. Were you a fan?
Mia Wasikowska: Oh yeah, I’ve grown up watching him, so then to actually meet him was amazing. I admire his career a lot and I really admire the choices he’s made.

Q. How do you choose your projects?
Mia Wasikowska: Well, I come from a background of independent films. This is the first film that I’ve done on this scale, that’s had a lot of already invested interest in it from the beginning. But the independent films are really where I kind of come from and where I feel comfortable. It’s never been about the blockbusters and making a huge tonne of money. It’s always been about wanting to do projects about the things that I think are important to be out there, because there’s a lot of stuff that probably doesn’t need to be. So, I really like trying to find the roles that are actually really meaningful to me.

Q. Australia has a really strong tradition of delivering Hollywood actors (Cate Blanchett, Mel Gibson, Hugh Jackman, Sam Worthington). Does that inspire you?
Mia Wasikowska: I guess so. It’s really cool to see that it’s actually possible, especially because Australia seems to separate from the rest of the world sometimes. It feels a lot smaller now because I travel a lot and I see how easy it is and how do-able it is. I really like that and there’s a lot of Australian actors that inspire me.

Q. What are you interested in away from the film industry?
Mia Wasikowska: I really like photography and I also read a lot of books. So, usually when I go home I try to re-charge my batteries and absorb new stories to become inspired again.

Q. Do you take a lot of photos on set like Jeff Bridges does?
Mia Wasikowska: [Smiles] I do. I took a tonne on… I took a couple on Alice and then some on the new Gus Van Sant film I’ve just finished. I feel really lucky to have worked with Gus, who is very encouraging of that. Literally, you’re in such a privileged position as an actor and your point of view is so unusual that I would keep my camera in my pocket and when the camera’s right in front of your face I’d take a photo because that’s what I’m looking at!

Q. You’re just about to start work on Jane Eyre… What can we expect from that?
Mia Wasikowska: Yes, just about to… I’m so excited about that. Cary [Fukunaga, Sin Nombre] is such an unusual choice for this material but a really brave, brilliant choice. He’s bringing a really fresh and really exciting energy to it. I’m excited to work on the film with him.

Q. What kind of a director is Tim Burton like to work with?
Mia Wasikowska: He’s very trusting and very collaborative. He’s very open to suggestions and ideas and to you having an input. He’s not at all a dictating director… it’s very much about the collaboration.

Q. Do you have the dress still?
Mia Wasikowska: No… just the socks. That’s all I was able to kidnap!

Read our review of Alice in Wonderland

Read our interviews with Tim Burton and Johnny Depp