Mia Wasikowska is an actor who disappears into her roles, so that most audiences have a hard time recognizing her from one film to another. She first made an impression in Lisa Cholodenko’s “The Kids Are All Right” in 2010 as the dour teenager determined to find her sperm donor father. It wasn’t a starring role but she more than held her own against the powerhouse stars, Julianne Moore and Annette Bening, who played her lesbian parents.
Then she starred in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” (also 2010), and in rapid succession she played the title character in “Jane Eyre” (2011), and supporting but stand-out roles in “Albert Nobbs” (2011) and “Lawless” (2012).
She even impressed Meryl Streep. When Streep received a Golden Globe last year for “Iron Lady,” she acknowledged some wonderful female performances and then also gave a special shout out to Wasikowska. “How about Mia Wasikowska in ‘Jane Eyre?’ Fantastic,” Streep said.
In “Stoker,” the stunningly perverse thriller by South Korean iconoclastic director Park Chan-wook that opened March 1 (read more about the film and star Matthew Goode), Wasikowska plays 18 year-old India Stoker, who lives in a large estate in Connecticut with her mother (Nicole Kidman), with whom she has a toxic relationship.
India is grieving the recent death of her father (Dermot Mulroney), who died mysteriously in a car accident, and is furious at her mother, who she feels is not grieving enough. Soon a charming but mysterious stranger enters their lives: Uncle Charlie, her father’s younger brother, who neither woman even knew existed.
Although at first it looks like Charlie (Matthew Goode) has designs on India’s mother, it’s really India he’s come for. India, who has the dour demeanor of Wednesday Adams and the survival skills of Katniss Everdeen, shares a common bloodline with Uncle Charlie and also possibly his sociopathic tendencies.
At the junket for the film recently in Manhattan, Director Park described Wasikowska’s challenge in portraying India.
“She is a closed off person, but what’s interesting about the character, is how she reveals her emotions through very subtle ways, through very small movements and expressions,” he said. At the same time, “she’s still only a young girl. You may find her to be a frightening person, but no matter how much she wants to shut everyone out, there are moments where she reveals the girlish side to her.”
When she entered the press room, Wasikowska looked nothing like her character India in “Stoker,” where she is drabbed down in shapeless clothes with her dark hair hanging limply. In person, she is a porcelain beauty who wears her blond hair in a short bob and has lively brown eyes, her mouth upturned in a ready smile.
Wasikowska dyed her hair brunette and wore blue contacts for the film, so she would have a strong physical link to Kidman and Goode, both of whom have blue eyes. She said the contacts were particularly uncomfortable and difficult to insert.
The graceful 23-year-old actress, who once dreamed of being a ballerina, was born and raised in Canberra, Australia. Her accent is a surprise since I’ve never heard it in any of her films although that will change soon with “Tracks,” a film slated to come out later in the year, in which she plays a woman who treks 1700 miles across the West Australian desert with camels and a dog.
The actress is intelligent and self possessed and like many of her characters, doesn’t reveal too much of herself.
Here are highlights from the press junket:
When you first saw the script how did you think you’d approach this role?
Mia Wasikowska: I was so excited. It was just a really strong portrayal of a family. It seemed to have so many different facets and different outlooks, and that was exciting for me. I could clearly visualize her in my head.
What was your take on the character of India?
MW: There is a part of me that understands the more universal side of her, which is your feelings of loneliness or desire that are more common to teenagers. And then there’s the part of her that’s still a mystery to me. You just go back to the basics of acting and imagining and pretending and thinking. But the thing that I like the most about reading the script was that you sort of feel like she’s walking on this thin line and you’re not quite sure which way she’s going to go really, if she’s going to be a hero or an anti-hero. And that was cool for me because you don’t quite know who she is until the end.
How did you read the dynamic between her and Uncle Charlie?
MW: It was the first time, as a very isolated person, she’s ever had any experience of somebody knowing her and in turn, her knowing someone, and there’s a real connection there that is very foreign for her and something that I think she’s excited by and so fearful of. And again, you don’t quite know who’s in control of that dynamic between them. Who’s the hunter and who’s the hunted?
How much do you think her father’s bloodline had to do with her behavior and destiny?
MW: I think Director Park put it really well when he said “rather than it be necessarily about bad blood, or predisposition in the blood line, that maybe it’s more that violence is contagious,” which I thought was really interesting. We don’t know what would have happened to India if Uncle Charlie hadn’t turned up.
India’s such a quiet character. How hard was it to rely so much on body language and facial expressions to convey everything?
MW: It’s possibly a little riskier or it’s harder to be sure of yourself when there isn’t a whole lot of dialogue or tools and you just have to know what she’s thinking at any given moment, how she’s feeling, because there’s not words to really express that for you.
How challenging was it to play a teenager? Your demeanor and appearance is different playing an 18-year-old.
MW: She has better posture than I do. (she laughed) Teen years still seem relatively close but, yes, I never really think about it in terms of age, just more in terms of character, and she always seemed like someone who was physically very held together, and there were all indications in all other aspects of the design of her character; her clothes were always symmetrical. If she had a pocket on one side she had a pocket on the other side.
You’ve worked with directors from the East and West, but what was it like working with a Korean filmmaker whose subjects and style are so cultural?
MW: I don’t know if the differences are just because he’s Korean or because he’s him, but I guess the most obvious differences are, I think it’s possibly more common in Korea that you storyboard the film. That’s the more obvious difference, and that was really cool. I really liked that. Every filmmaker is different, and different methods work for everyone differently, obviously, but it was pretty amazing to be this well prepared.
Had you seen Park Chan-wook’s movies before you took the role of India?
MW: No, I’d heard of him and I’d heard of “Oldboy,” but I hadn’t seen it or hadn’t seen his films. Then when I signed on, I did a marathon of his films … and I’ve never been the same since. (She laughed.)
Were you surprised how sexually charged some of the scenes were? We’ve never seen you this sexy before. Do you think it will give you some more opportunities in the future, maybe to play a vixen?
I’d love to do that, but I was happy with the piano scene because it was always written in a really intense way. Basically like a love scene, and I was really happy with that scene. We filmed it over a day, and it’s always cut up when you’re filming from so many different angles and you’re not sure if the intensity has translated.
Talk about working with Nicole Kidman, particularly in such a “Mommie Dearest” relationship?
MW: Luckily, our relationship was the polar opposite in real life. She was so warm and kind and nice to me, which was just wonderful because coming from Australia, I’ve always really looked up to her and she was one of the first Australian actors to transcend working in Australia and American and doing a whole international career. So it was pretty wonderful working with her.
Do you get any acting tips from her?
MW: I think the best sort of advice she gave me was just to really go for it and not be self-conscious or it’s very easy to feel intimidated when you’re on a set with a crew full of people watching you. She would say to me that the moment passes but what’s on film will be around for a while, so that was nice.