Mia Wasikowska rules her wonderland
By Susan Wloszczyna
Much like her heroine in Tim Burton's fantastical "Alice in Wonderland," Mia Wasikowska knows her own mind.
In the mega-budget adaptation of Lewis Carroll's classic tale, which just crushed box-office records with its $116.3 million opening, her now-older Alice refuses to be pushed around. Not by the Victorian upper-class twit who wants to wed her, nor by the oddball inhabitants of Wonderland who insist that she rescue them from the evil Red Queen.
Similarly, this 20-year-old Australian newcomer from Canberra is not about to change her mouthful of a last name — which is pronounced VAH-shee-kov-ska, and comes courtesy of her Polish-born photographer mother — for the convenience of others.
"Very character-building," she says.
Nor will she flinch from doing a foreign accent. Besides her British-lite intonations for "Alice," the natural mimic has done Polish (2008's "Defiance," opposite Daniel Craig) and Southern (last year's "That Evening Sun" with Hal Holbrook, which earned her a supporting actress Spirit Award nomination), as well as other American varieties for "Amelia" and the recent Sundance hit "The Kids Are All Right."
'I CAN DO THAT'
Wasikowska happily chopped off her wavy golden locks ("When they cut it, I was jumping out of my skin with excitement!") to appear in "Milk," director Gus Van Sant's upcoming semi-comic romance, about a teenage couple who crash funerals and are obsessed with death.
But her most life-altering decision came at age 14, when she decided to move away from ballet to pursue acting instead.
"I started taking dance when I was 8 years old," she says. "The last four years were very intense. I was training about 35 hours a week." But the downside proved too much. "Sort of suddenly, it was about perfection and your body being perfect. As a small girl, I had low self-esteem and felt very imperfect."
She was drawn to acting simply by watching movies. "I thought, 'I can do that.' And then I thought, 'I would regret it if I didn't try it.' It is funny I'm an actor now, since I didn't like making a spectacle of myself. I wasn't really a drama kid. I was shy at school."
After Googling the names of acting agencies, the resourceful teen visited a few. "I hounded them and was sent to auditions."
A small part on an Aussie soap opera and a couple of features, including a crocodile horror thriller titled "Rogue," followed. But it was her impressive turn as a suicidal gymnast on HBO's "In Treatment" that caught Hollywood's attention and led to her casting as Alice. A middle child, she now splits her time between Los Angeles and her Canberra home with her mother, artist dad, brother and sister.
Burton had no doubt that Wasikowska was his Alice. "She had that quality, both young and an old soul," the director says. "Looking at her, you can tell she has intelligence, creativity and an active internal life. She has Alice's quiet strength."
COPING WITH HOOPLA
Wasikowska's next job starts shooting this month and involves another British literary heroine, Jane Eyre, directed by super-hot director Cary Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre"). But lately she has spent more time on red carpets than on movie sets.
"It's so out of my world," she says of such hoopla as the London premiere of Alice, where she met Prince Charles. "I try to make it something normal. It's not something I am comfortable with, but you have to pretend you are."