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Wednesday 15 August 2018

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It can't be easy, going one from icon of literature to another, but Australian beauty Mia Wasikowska is a brave young woman. Just as Tim Burton's bloated, bombastic and bogged-down-in-bad-CGI take on Alice In Wonderland was being unleashed last year, its leading lady was already moving on to perhaps Charlotte Bronte's most famous creation, the "poor, obscure, plain and little" Jane Eyre.

"Your main concern is serving the story," offers Wasikowska. "The book is amazing, but we also had a brilliant script, by Moira Buffini, a great director in Cary Fukunaga, and we had an incredible Mr Rochester in Michael Fassbender. It's not so difficult if you give yourself over to people like that. You just have to be true to the emotions of the character, and the emotions here are incredibly deep and moving."

Indeed they are. And the cast isn't too shallow either. As well as the new great Irish hope, Michael Fassbender, there's Sally Hawkins as Mrs Reed, Jamie Bell as St John Rivers and the formidable Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax.

"Ah, Judi Dench is remarkable to watch," smiles Wasikowska, "especially up close. You know your film's in a certain league when you have someone like Judi Dench there. The effortless way she delivers remarkable performances -- it's truly inspirational. There's no sweat, no screaming in the trailer, no shouting on set.

"My dream is to be as relaxed, and funny, and talented as Judi Dench sometime, way, way into the future. When I've truly got the hang of this acting lark."

Wasikowska has always shown determination when it comes to this acting lark. At the age of 15, growing up in Canberra, she did a Google search for an acting agency. She found 12 that she liked the look of, but only one, in Sydney, replied to her contact. And so she proceeded, as she puts it herself, to hound them until they took her on.

"I just wasn't going to take no for an answer," she laughs now. "I knew this was something that I would love to do with my life, and I really didn't see any point in waiting around. There's never any better time to start living your dream than right now."

That dream saw Wasikowska acting in a series of Australian TV shows and films, her steely determination to succeed bred into her from an earlier career as a budding ballerina. Having begun dance training at the age of nine, by the time she was 13, she would spend 35 hours a week training. Before her 15th birthday though, she had become disillusioned with the pressure to achieve physical perfection.

"When I watch something like Black Swan, it all comes flooding back," she says. "It's a ridiculously difficult and cruel world, and whatever about the physical demands, the psychological pressures are the ones that will truly take you down. I'm glad I got out when I did, but I'm also glad that I put myself through that kind of discipline. It has served me well when it comes to acting."

With her career in Australia going from strength to strength she began seducing America when she was cast as a suicidal gymnast, Sophie, in the Gabriel Byrne-led HBO drama In Treatment. The critics raved about her performance, and she was suddenly on Hollywood's map. Quickly, the films started getting bigger. Defiance (2008) opposite Daniel Craig; Amelia (2009) opposite Hilary Swank; The Kids Are All Right (2010), opposite Julianne Moore and Annette Bening. Pretty soon, Wasikowska was ready for her close-up, and it arrived with Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, the sixth biggest grossing movie of all time. Despite the fact that it kind of sucks.

"All I know is that it was a great experience for me. And I got to work with Johnny Depp, let's not forget . . ."

She gets to work with some pretty interesting people in her upcoming movies too, starring alongside Glenn Close in the festival favourite Albert Nobbs; director Gus Van Sant for Restless; Gary Oldman and Jessica Chastain for John Hillcoat's The Wettest County In The World (no, bizarrely, it's not Cork; the story's set in the American South), and due to start shooting at the end of the year, the great South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park's US debut, Stoker. Also lined up for Wasikowska is an untitled Jim Jarmusch project. Busy?

"Yeah, busy," smiles Wasikowska. "I've got to keep on working, keep making movies, if I'm going to be as good as Judi Dench one day. It might be 50 years from now, but, I'm looking forward to the climb"

Read George Byrne's verdict, page 39

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