Mia Wasikowska – Her name wouldn’t fit on a marquee but she prevailed in spite of it

June 2009 By Philip Berk

Mia Wasikowska’s in two of the year’s most acclaimed movies and in both she’s enchanting.

But it’s a hard to see her name on a marquee let along try to pronounce it. (“Vashikovska” is how she pronounces it.) 

Yet ironically her given name is Reid.

She and her siblings chose to use her mother’s maiden name because all three have short first names which they felt it needed that balance.

You go figure…

Not yet 21, she’s as wistful in person as she appears on screen, with a strange sadness.

Although to hear her tell it she’s the most contented person on earth.

How did it all start for her?

“I grew up in Canberra with my mum and dad who are both photographers and my sister and brother. I trained as a dancer and then first started acting when I was 14. Since then I have kind of loved it and started working in America when I was 16, and it’s slowly progressed.”

Her work in the TV series In Treatment, in which she played an emotionally disturbed young girl, brought her to the attention of Hollywood and no less than Tim Burton.

How difficult was it leaving that character on the set?

“I got very attached to Sophie. When you get a character that you feel very protective of, you feel very close to them, and so I think I was on this high. I was so excited to be playing her going through so many conflicting things. It took me a couple of days either side of filming to let go. It’s not often that you’re given a character who you can actually explore in such depth.”

Did she have anyone to turn to for emotional support?

“My mum was with me when I was doing In Treatment. It was a long time for her to be away from home. I’m very grateful to my family. I’ve been really lucky that they’ve constantly been there for me.”

How excited was she when she got the role of Alice?

“I never actually expected to get the role. I am not usually the person who gets those roles; so I was really excited even just to audition for it because it’s completely out of the world that I come from, to do a big film. It was very unexpected, really exciting, and a long process of audition, so, yeah.”

After the success of the film, did she get lots of fan mail? Did things start to happen?

“Yeah, it’s been such a great response. One way in which it’s changed my life is I’m a lot busier. On opening weekend of Alice, I flew straight to Ireland and a week later started shooting Jane Eyre, so I feel like I was completely removed from any hype. I was sort of protected. I wasn’t just hanging around L.A. If I was, I would have  experienced something different. Although in certain ways, it hasn’t really affected me that much. Like, I don’t really get recognized or anything like that, so I live a very normal life. My life hasn’t really changed. Not my personal life. I have a lot more opportunities for films and that is really cool.”

Her next movie Jane Eyre is with Michael Fassbender, a much younger Rochester than we remember from the novel. Robert DeNiro was originally cast in the role.

“Michael is amazing. He’s got an incredible intensity which is really important for Rochester. Rochester and Jane’s relationship is so unique. Jane is only 18 in the beginning of the books, and she’s usually played by much older actresses, so I guess that was cool about Cary (Fukunaga) the director. He’s had really great ideas for it and it’s very close to the book in that sense.”

After that she has a movie with Gus Van Sandt which she finished shooting last December called Restless.

“I love Gus’s work and have been a fan of his for many, many years. To be able to work with him was really special. I feel like Gus handles adolescence in a very intelligent way. He looks at young people as these complex people, so it was exciting to be part of a project I felt was very true. I think young people will enjoy seeing it.”

What part does she play?

“It’s a love story about two teenagers who are affected with death and mortality, and although it sounds very grim, it’s actually very playful. It’s a really beautiful story how love can happen when you find somebody who’s very much right for you. Two people can really complement each other; so it’s a really beautiful story. First time writer Jason Lew is someone I’ve learned so much from, it inspires me to look into doing that as well.”

The Kids Are All Right deals with a post modern family. How would her supportive family deal with this problem?

“They definitely exposed us to a lot of things. My parents are artists or photographers, so we grew up in galleries, and my mum is kind of like a film buff, so we watched a lot of European cinema, and independent films. I feel like me and my siblings have been exposed to a lot of those things. The characters also seem to be finding their feet, and what I liked about my character is that she’s comfortable in herself and yet she’s also a little bit awkward. That comes with the age.”

Is it easier for children to accept lesbian mothers as opposed to homosexual fathers because of the prejudices that surround them?

“I’d certainly hope not. Maybe it is that way, but I’d hope that it wouldn’t be.

In her circle of friends, was there never any homophobia? Did her brother have gay friends?

“I haven’t experienced that, not where I grew up. I am kind of lucky in that way.”

Talk about working with Annette (Bening) and Julianne (Moore) who play her lesbian parents?

“They’re incredible. Annette and Julie are amazing. They’ve had fantastic careers, and seeing the sorts or roles that they’ve taken on, always challenging themselves, and then to see them on a set, it’s like a powerhouse acting lesson in itself. They work really hard. They bring a lot to their roles. And they’re also mothers; they balance those two worlds really well, and that was very inspiring to see.”

Her scene with Annette. Was that rehearsed?

“Annette is incredible. She has tons of notes in her script and she knows everything so well. She’s been doing it for a long time, but she puts just as much work into it as she would have a few years ago. We didn’t do like a lot of rehearsals, but even just hanging out on set with them – they were very caring to me, and Josh (Hutcherson who plays her brother) we felt very, very safe.”

Her mom, she says, is a film buff. What kind of film buff is she?

“My mom is from Poland. We had a lot of European films constantly playing in our house. I specifically remember the three color movies, Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Red, White, and Blue. Those really struck a chord with me when I was young. She likes a lot of Australian films, and also some of Gus Van Sandt’s films. I mean, all sorts of things.”

And her dad?

“My dad is a photographer, and a collagist. He’s also into film. I have an older sister, Jess, who’s 25 and a younger brother, Kai, who’s 17.”

When she’s away from Australia, what does she miss most?

“I was home a week ago for two weeks. Whenever I am not working, I go home. I live at home with my family, and I always love that time. I travel a lot but I speak to my family every day when I’m away, so that always keeps me very grounded.”

About anything specific?

“My bedroom and my friends, my garden.”

She started out wanting to be a ballerina. Is there anything about dancing she misses?

“Mostly how good it makes you feel afterwards. It releases a natural high; it always made me feel really good. But it’s so much more relaxed to be a young actor than it is to be a young dancer. You’re very sheltered, you’re taken care of as an actor, and you’ve got a lot of people around you. As a dancer, you’re completely on your own, you don’t get the luxuries that you get in film.”

What are her interests outside of acting?

“I’m very much into photography. I really love it. I travel around with an old Rolleiflex film camera. I love taking pictures of places that I’m in, of hotels and different countries that I travel.”

Any reason why her hair is so short?

“I cut it for the Gus Van Sandt film which we finished shooting in December last year. I liked it and have kept it short ever since.”

But not to play Jane?

“I wore a wig for Jane Eyre.

For the record she prefers “old” music.

“I really like Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan, The Kinks. That’s kind of what I’m listening to at the moment.”