This past weekend in theaters the fresh faced, young woman who took everyone by charm last year with her beautiful performance in The Kids Are Alright and then became an overnight success with one of the top grossing films Alice in Wonderland, hits the big screen again, showing us yet another side of her abilities in her subtle yet extraordinarily powerful role as Jane Eyre in Cary Joji Fukunaga’s (read interview) modern version of Jane Eyre (read review).

Taking on the Classical Figure of Jane Eyre:

So were you a fan of the book in the first place?

Mia Wasikowska: I had just read the book in 2009, and I was half-way through it when I called my agent and said, “This is amazing. Is there a script around or is anyone developing the project?” There wasn’t at the time, but two months later, she emailed me a script, and then I met (director) Cary [Joji Fukunaga]. It was a case of really good timing.

Do you think this is a universal enough story to relate to young audiences now?

MW: 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.

The entire film was very dark and gray, not only in terms of color but also in tone and feeling. How did that translate to how you create the character?

MW: Yeah, it was very bleak. When you’re in that environment, you really get a sense of the isolation and the distance between one estate and another. Also, as an 18-year-old living in a world where your main source of company is an 8-year-old girl or Mrs. Fairfax, I thought that was really interesting. In our world, we have so many ways we can escape with technology, like TV, Facebook, computers, text messaging and all that. For her, it was reality, every day.

The film has a number of almost horror like scared in it and even though Jane is bold, there’s always a sense of fear lurking over her. How did that external fear balance with her internal fear?

MW: They echo each other. There is a fear of the unknown, unseen and unspoken, and that’s everywhere. The whole dynamic with Rochester (Michael Fassbender) is like, “Does he love me? Doesn’t he love me? Is he joking? Is he not?” It’s not obvious for her, so there is a fear, emotionally and physically. Those castles are so desolate, bare and cold. So, they both play off of each other.

It was nice to see such subtle performances, what are some of the challenges in having to express so much but have the movement be so small?

MW: It’s something that I really noticed about that period was there is such a mask that people put up. There was a public persona and a private persona, and those were the things that really interested me, particularly because there was such a system in which things happened and such a definite way of how you performed. Jane goes with and against those things. She’s a real independent thinker, and has such a strong sense of who she is and what’s right and wrong, despite what society tells her. Then, at the same time, she’s very reserved. The book, start to finish, is her internal monologue. Everything we know is because of what we’re told directly from her. So the challenge, when you adapt that to the screen, is how do you keep all the intensity of thought and feeling, and everything she’s thinking? Then, there is only limited space for dialogue.

This is a very serious movie, what did you do between scenes, during filming, to lighten the mood?

MW: Jamie[Bell and Michael Fassbender are just fantastic. To counter the intensity of the material, we had a lot of fun in between set-ups and scenes, and that was vital. You really have to get your energy from somewhere, so if you’re able to have fun and then use that energy, and channel that into the mood and feel of the film, that’s always really helpful. To have two co-stars like Michael and Jamie was fantastic. There were just a lot of funny things that happened.

There is an odd rumor, about the horse also having a good time while Michael was one set?

MW: It did, yes. Michael had a very huge effect on any horse he got on. On the third day of filming, we were shooting the scene where Jane and Rochester meet, and every time Michael hopped on the horse, it got a huge erection. He’d get off and they’d run the poor thing around the block to get it to go away, and then he’d hop on and it would happen all over again. That was great.

What do you think gave Jane Eyre her courage? Do you think it was something that she had to learn to survive or do you think she was born with it?

MW: I think she has an innate sense of self-respect. It’s not like she’s had a loving family, or a guardian, or someone who has been constantly looking out for her, which is why she’s such an incredible character. Everything that she is, is because of what she’s made herself. What she’s become is because of something inside of her that says, “I’m worthy of a good life, being treated well, and being respected and loved.” She’s not going to compromise herself for anybody. She’s going to make sure she’s a fulfilled individual before she attaches herself to anyone, and she’s rewarded for that, in the end.

Upcoming Projects:

You’ve worked with amazing directors. Is there someone you would like to work with again?

MW: I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had a great experience with pretty much everybody I’ve worked with. I did a Gus Van Sant film last year, and I love his films. When I was younger and watching his films, they gave me a different perspectiveon filmmaking. I think everything he does is brilliant. I’d love to work with him again, and Cary [Joji Fukunaga] and Tim [Burton]. There’s a bunch of directors that I really admire, and Australian ones as well. It would be nice to do a film at home.

What was it like working with Gus Van Sant on Restless and what is your character like in the film?

MW: I’ve been a fan of Gus’ for ages, and to be able to work with him was great. He is the kind of director who is so trusting. I felt so comfortable on his film set. To play a teenager like Anabelle, it’s really rare to get a teenage role that resembles something of what it’s like to be a young person, that isn’t a cliché or a stereotype. I think that’s what Gus does really well. He always presents adolescence in a way that gives us a lot of credit for our emotional complexity and ability to handle complex situations.

Is he as quiet on set as he is in person?

MW: Yes.

You also have a project coming up with Guy Pearce and Gary Oldman. What is that film about and who do you play in it?

MW: It’s called The Wettest County, and John Hillcoat is directing it. It’s about the Prohibition Era in America. It’s about three brothers and I play the girlfriend of Shia LeBeouf’s character. I start that in a few weeks.

See Mia as Jane Eyre in theaters now!