Exclusive: Mia Wasikowska and Cary Fukunaga discuss “Jane Eyre”

I had the opportunity to attend an advanced screening of the new “Jane Eyre” last weekend (and you can read my review here). This remake (for the umpteenth time) of the famous Charlotte Brontë novel comes from the mind of English writer Moira Buffini (“Tamara Drewe”) and director Cary Fukunaga, who made the film “Sin Nombre” about Central Americans riding the tops of trains to reunite over the border with family.

Fukunaga and star Mia Wasikowska (“Alice in Wonderland,” “The Kids are All Right”) were present to discuss various aspects of the film such as creating a unique vision for an oft-adapted novel, the way ghosts stories played a roll in the film and the challenges of working on authentic accents. “Jane Eyre” officially came out on Friday but will hit more theaters around the country on Mar. 18.

Fukunaga began by addressing what drew him to the project and he points mostly to Moira Buffini’s script:

Cary Fukunaga: I think in the last five years I’ve read two good scripts; the other one was “Never Let Me Go.” I hated Mark Romanek for a little while when he got that job …  but no, he’s amazing … part of it was already there, but part of it was it was my style of directing — I like to be as naturalistic as possible — I think some of it’s in the visuals but also in the casting: Mia and Michael Fassbender — I wanted to cast people who I felt like their acting style was definitely from the heart and there’s something very truthful in the performances, always giving part of themselves in the performance and that’s part of the realism and the immediacy of something. When you do a period film that takes place 160, 170 years ago the way to make it feel like it’s in front of you happening right now is if you experience it through the honesty of the performances.”

Wasikowska talked about her active interest in playing this role and what makes “Jane Eyre” so timeless:

Mia Wasikowska: Well, I was reading the book back in 2009 and I was immediately struck by it and I think I was only on about the fifth chapter when I called my agent and asked “is there a script around? Is anybody developing this project?” There wasn’t anything at the time but it was only about two months later when she emailed me back and sent me the script. Then I met Cary and it kinda went from there. But I think it’s a really timeless story and I think that if you take away the costumes and the period setting, at the core of it is a story that goes through every generation. It’s a young girl trying to find a family and a connection in a really isolated world. That happens today and that’s testament to the fact that the book has continued to grow in popularity. That spoke to me.

An audience member asked Fukunaga if he consciously took the subtext of the book to make this a darker movie:

CF: What makes “Jane Eyre” also timeless, I think, is the kind of love story it is. It’s not just a Jane Austen — not that Jane Austen is “just” — but it’s not simply a romance story; you also have several gothic elements in the storytelling and I think the Brontës, give where they grew up and the amazing imaginations they had in isolation in Northern England plays a part in the stories they tell. And I think that’s inherently part of the novel: the darker, gloomier and even the more suspenseful elements, mortality … the idea for me or at least what intrigued me about it was that there was this darker side of it, I definitely wanted to showcase that in the film.

I think in previous adaptations of the book they chose to make it a pure romance and then the themes, if you will, that take place, the iconic scenes, such as the Red Room when Jane’s young and locked away and thinks she sees a ghost or later on when Bertha is revealed in the attic in Thornfield Hall, those scenes seem to stick out in an awkward way when you just treat the story as pure period drama because they aren’t your typical period drama elements. So to keep that consistent, rather than going into pure horror — we weren’t trying to sex it up by making it a horror film playing off “Twilight” or something like that — it was more just a tone or an atmosphere, and that was a specific choice for consistency. That for me was essential in terms of telling a good story because you want to be consistent, especially within a two-hour time frame you can’t really switch tones that easily and feel like the film is somehow of one.

Another audience member asked they “felt the presence of ghosts tugging at your sleeves,” which was an English teacher’s way of asking whether previous versions of the film had an impact on how they went about this one. However, the two answered more literally:

MW: In terms of the location, the places we were shooting in were so important in terms of getting an understanding of the feel of what it would be like to live in that time. Just being in Northern England you get such a sense of the distance between one estate and another and the real sense of isolation and living in these places that have had so much history. In our Thornfield Hall — we were shooting in Haddon Hall — the floors are all curved in from where a thousand years of human traffic, people walking through there. You really do feel like those places have a life of their own even when you’re not there with a crew of hundreds.

CF: I think everyone loves a ghost story too. Any place you go to the lore or the past of the place plays heavy in contemporary interpretation. I think that goes back to the idea of wanting immortality to some degree. Even Haddon Hall has all kinds of ghost stories. The woman who’s the manager of the place won’t go in some parts of the house by herself. Touring, I toured 40 or 50 houses looking for the right location for the film, and every location you go to has ghost stories. I myself have stayed in hotels and been haunted by poltergeists … those are longer stories for another time.

Wasikowska is asked about working with Michael Fassbender and the importance of chemistry in this situation:

MW: Me and Michael hadn’t read together before we turned up for the first day of rehearsals and I feel like there was possibly a sigh of relief on everyone’s part because we got along so well from the beginning. I think when you have to have such an intense relationship as characters in the film, half your job is done when you get along really well. We were able to take the intensity of the material and counter that with a lot of fun in between scenes and I think that’s so vital to be able to have fun and channel that into the intensity of the work. I had so much fun with him.

Wasikowska was then asked about her newfound love of photography, especially while on set:

MW: I’ve been taking pictures the last three or four films I’ve done and I love it. Our perspective as actors is so interesting. I keep a little camera in my pocket. It’s the moments just before we roll that are so interesting where they’re lining up a shot on you and there’s the camera in your face and a boom (mic), and everyone’s kind of staring at you but not really. Not published at the moment but maybe one day eventually.

Fukunaga on the connection between this film and “Sin Nombre” and his thoughts on future projects:

CF: There are definite thematic links. I love family and bonding and the different kinds of love and how that manifests itself in terms of family atmosphere and re-creations of family. But really, because it takes so long to make a movie, I’m already at almost two years on this one, you want to have as much of a diverse experience as possible because you have only a finite period in life to make films and you want to make them all different, at least I want to make them all different, so I want to try something else out next, a new location. I was getting offered a lot of drug cartel scripts and stuff after “Sin Nombre.” As much as I was involved in drug cartels as a youth, I feel like I really wanted to reach into this other part of myself.

A British gentleman “from Wisconsin” highlighted the use of regional accents in the film, which was a very conscious decision:

CF: In this particular case, I knew for most audiences beyond the UK that accents wouldn’t necessarily read but it was important for me in terms of the authenticity that you did get a sense of Jane’s accent. We definitely talked a lot about what region it would be and how broad it would be, broad being a more pronounced accent and therefore lower class or how refined it would be in terms of RP which is received pronunciation, which is the Queen’s English. For Rochester, being an Irishman, Fassbender came in very late with the accent part so he worked very hard for two weeks to get a very complicated mix of RP and regional at the same time which is not an easy thing to pull off actually when you’re in the midst of doing scenes. It’s a very difficult balance to pull off for any actor and it’s a very subtle thing that obviously only UK people will appreciate.

MW: We really liked the idea of Jane not being quite as refined and not being quite as polished. Her accent giving some echo to her past being not as polished and proper as others. We also justified that by saying she’d mainly be raised probably by Bessie, her nurse, who had a very strong Northern accent and then it would’ve been weened out of her during her time at Lowood and refined and polished a little bit more but still having a hint of an edge.

Finally, the addressed “the best part” of having their jobs:

MW: I feel really privileged to be able to do what I do. We get to travel a lot and see lots of places and I love learning history through stories so basically when I find a story I get to delve into the history of that time and those characters and those people and really immerse myself in that, so I get to do something I really love.

CF: You could answer the politically correct “it’s so great to be a director, a lot of people want to do this job,” but also, I had a conversation with someone earlier today about immortality and that goes on two levels on making films: one, make a film and it lasts forever. To me, Mia will always be a 19-20 year-old girl in this film even when she’s old and with a walker and that’s an amazing thing, all these people come together to make this thing. Successful or not, there’s a lot of human resources: energy and time and thought that go into it and to give themselves and they’ve sacrificed relationships and all kinds of things that happen making a movie. So that’s one part that’s sort of magical you get to be the helmer on that moment in time for those people and it is a moment in time because you’re together for three months and most of those people will never come together again.

There’s that side of it and there’s also a side of the thing with immortality about never going old, sort of a Peter Pan thing. The question is is the moment when you become an adult the moment you stop believing in fantasy? The moment you start believing that life has a certain amount of reality and you have to do these things and there’s an end at some point, or do you always believe in the impossible? And that’s sort of the child’s view of the world: there are no limits. I think when you work on a film the most exciting thing about it is there aren’t any limits really.

Once again, “Jane Eyre” will be released on a wider scale from Focus Features beginning Mar. 18.


You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment