Australian actress Mia Wasikowska, 24, is at the Cannes Film Festival promoting Maps to the Stars, which also stars Robert Pattinson and John Cusack. It’s the day after the premiere which she attended in a traffic-stopping, plunging navy blue Louis Vuitton dress, but now on a warm afternoon on the French Riviera, she’s dressed more casually in a sleeveless black dress and flats. Down to earth and devoid of much make-up, the pretty blonde actress talks about her role in the controversial film she’s here to promote. Next up, she’s starring in The Double with Jesse Eisenberg.
Q: Can you talk about your [MTTS] costume?
WASIKOWSKA: The main part of her costume is that she always had the gloves on which were covering the scars and there were some interesting pieces that were kind of skeletal in a way. Like, there was one jumper which the back almost looked like a skeletal version of wings. I don’t know, I liked it; it was darker than I imagined. I thought she would be in pink, but the designer liked muted colours.
Q: Wearing that prosthetic [makeup], did that really help you get into the mind-set of the character?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, I liked it. I liked wearing it and I remember walking around the production office and people looking at you differently. It’s good because it gives you a kind of insight into what it would be to live with that thing on your face.
Q: You didn’t go out in the street and test it around?
WASIKOWSKA: I didn’t. I probably should have, but it was interesting to think how it would affect her hair, or maybe she would have her hair in ways in which she would cover it up. But yeah, I really liked having it.
Q: In your career, you seem to have protected yourself from the kinds of roles that bring you to this kind of crazy world at the Cannes Film Festival.
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, I did Alice in Wonderland which is probably the biggest film I have done so far and then after that it gave me a lot of opportunity to do the smaller films. I mainly just like to do what I like and I have been lucky enough to work with people that I really like.
Q: How have you stayed grounded and not gone off the rails? Do you think it comes down to personality or are certain people genetically predisposed to go crazy?
WASIKOWSKA: Well, I feel for them because I understand how you could lose your footing if you don’t have a strong base or a strong sense of self. It’s hard when you are young and people are very critical. I feel more empathetic towards them than disdain because I can see how it would be, and it’s hard; it really attacks your core, all that criticism so I feel sad for them, those people who have that kind of thing happen. And I don’t really know anyone personally who has been through that, but it seems understandable and even grown up actors seem like they had this stunted adolescence. Maybe they’ve been a teen heart throb and then had their hopes kind of lifted and then dashed and they haven’t quite recovered from that.
Then they are constantly trying to find some meaning so I can understand how it would really ruin your sense of self, but you have to work hard to protect yourself and stay out of it.
Q: Talk about those experiences of arriving in that world as an outsider, did the clichés come true or was it a very different world?
WASIKOWSKA: When I first went to LA I was staying in a hostel off Hollywood Boulevard and I was horrified because I expected it to be more like palm trees and the beach and people rollerblading down the boardwalk, because that’s the thing you see in movies of California and LA. And it was some rainy, overcast day off of Hollywood Boulevard and I thought it was the most depressing thing ever and I swore I would never come back. Obviously since then I have grown to really like LA but I don’t stay there very long, but you have to find the good parts of it. It’s funny that Hollywood Boulevard is such a tourist destination and sort of the saddest part of LA. It’s sort of the most desperate and the most kind of broken part of LA, that West Hollywood area.
Q: Do you cling to your compatriots to some degree?
WASIKOWSKA: I do end up spending more time with them in LA than Australia, because the Australian industry is very small so we do know each other a lot, but then when we end up in America, I do see them more in America, just through events and things like that, so yeah it always is good to see people.
Q: Was it good to pop that bubble, the fantasy of what Hollywood was like early on so you just kind of go over that?
WASIKOWSKA: I guess so, yeah. I mean, after that I had no desire to be a part of it. And then my next job was in LA, so you had to kind of get over that fear. But it just goes to show you, any city can be awful until you find a part that you like, and until you make friends and until you have a small group of people. In the beginning it was awful because I didn’t know anybody and I felt displaced so it was just kind of compounded by the fact that it was in the worst part of LA.
Q: I read that you take pictures on sets sometimes, so did you take any pictures during the shooting of Maps?
WASIKOWSKA: No, I didn’t actually. I hadn’t done it for a little while. But I want to do it again, I really like it.
Q: So you are not going to publish a book at some point?
WASIKOWSKA: I don’t know. We will see maybe, I have a lot of pictures, but it’s been a while.
Q: Do you feel that you are missing out on something being famous or being in the public eye that maybe there could have been another life?
WASIKOWSKA: I don’t really feel that way, I don’t really feel famous. I still feel pretty anonymous, so I don’t feel like I am missing out on anything and the only thing I am missing out on is my sister having a baby, and then seven days later I had to go to the shoot, so it’s the small things of having a more consistent life that I miss. You couldn’t walk the street here without all the people... Probably not now. I probably could at another time, but it’s okay, I know what I can do when I can do it. But yeah, so it’s only the festivals or when there’s a premiere where it feels like I am more observed than normal. But otherwise, it seems pretty normal.
Q: Have you seen, without naming any names, any brutish behaviour on set, not just from actors, but people in the business?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, I have. It’s not often though. Like it was a long time before I worked with anybody that I thought was difficult, and even then it’s not so bad, but again, it’s a weird world. If you are treated in a strange way for a long time without stepping back and getting any perspective I can understand why people can blow things out of proportion. I don’t think it’s an excuse for bad behaviour because nothing makes me more furious than people feeling entitled when they have a choice. So it’s annoying when people then complain about it or take it for granted.
Q: So you have never been tempted to pick the one colour of M&M’s out of the bowl?
WASIKOWSKA: (laughs) Not yet. There’s still time. (laughter)
Q: The Double is coming out soon. How was it to act with two Jesse Eisenbergs?
WASIKOWSKA: It was good. I mean, I did all my scenes with only really one character, so I never was there when there was Jesse and then the stand in who did his other role. But I think it’s turned it out so well, I love it. It’s so funny and sad and I think these two films, Maps and The Double, have combined humour and drama really well. And I almost think that makes for even a sadder film, because the comedy undermines the drama. It doesn’t even let you experience the drama or grieve for the characters, in the way that you would be able to just if it was a drama, because it’s laughing at you. So I think it even makes for a more tragic kind of film.
Q: What was your first reaction to the Maps of the Stars screenplay?
WASIKOWSKA: I think I was like horrified and super excited. I thought it was so horrible, that I couldn’t possibly pass it up.
Q: The humour is grotesque.
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, super dark, but kind of thrilling because it’s very dark.
Q: You have never been tempted to follow a spiritual guru like your character?
WASIKOWSKA: No, I wouldn’t do that. (laughs)
Q: Do you usually read what they write about you?
WASIKOWSKA: Sometimes but I try not to. The other night we were at dinner just before the screening and the first reactions were starting to come in and everybody was getting excited. There were some which were really great, there were a couple of good things that were read out and it was really nice and I thought, ‘Oh we should stop, (laughter) we should stop before the bad ones come in.’ But it was nice, everyone has been really happy, even though maybe there’s some polarising or some negative reviews, it’s always going to be the case with something like this.
Q: You have done a lot of English roles in one way or another. I suppose Jane Eyre is very iconic for England but do you feel an affinity with it?
WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, this one is American and she moves to England, but yeah, I have done a lot of them. But I have also done quite a few American ones, so I don’t know which one is more, but I have done least the Australian characters. (laughter)
Q: Why are Australians so good at pivoting between those two?
WASIKOWSKA: I think it’s probably easier with Australians because we grow up with so much British television and American television, so we hear it our whole lives. We watch Sesame Street and I remember even playing dolls in an American accent, because an American accent was our make-believe, like all the Disney movies are in American accents. I mean, no one in America is going to be watching Australian television or in England maybe they have Home and Away and Neighbours, but it’s not quite enough saturation to make it something that’s a commonly heard thing.
Q: At the time, did you think, I would love to be in one of those?
WASIKOWSKA: No, we weren’t allowed to watch it. Then I remember I had a belated obsession with Home and Away and I think I was so attracted to it because it was the polar opposite to any of my experiences. It was that thing of like you are so attracted to something because it’s completely not your experience. And I think it’s that thing with the obsession with Twilight is like, no one has that experience of having this amazing romance when you are fifteen or sixteen. Like, no one has that experience. Maybe people do but it’s very rare to be like the pretty popular girl in school and that’s why I think there is such an obsession with Twilight and Home and Away, is that they are all the ideal situations and the ideal dramas that are so unlike anything we experience in reality. It’s like teenage fantasies.
The interviewer is really awkward ("that prosthetic thing"), but it's Mia, so no complaints here.