Interview: Mia Wasikowska Puts the Corset Back on for Madame Bovary

Mia Wasikowska has cast aside the likes of Helena Bonham Carter and Kiera Knightley to be unofficially crowned Hollywood’s reigning corset queen after star-making turns in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Jane Eyre and now a new adaptation of Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 literary classic Madame Bovary.

Directed by Sophie Barthes (Cold Souls), this new version casts Wasikowska as Emma Bovary, an unfulfilled doctor’s wife whose affairs and overspending are only compensation for the emptiness she feels within. The strong supporting cast includes Ezra Miller, Paul Giamatti, Rhys Ifans and Logan Marshall-Green, with gorgeous scenery shot on location in Normandy, France.

We got to have an exclusive chat with Wasikowska about making the material relevant for the modern era, how she’s feeling the corset fatigue, as well as two more blockbusters she has lined up (in which she also wears a corset: Guillermo del Toro’s period gothic horror film Crimson Peak and the Disney sequel Alice Through the Looking Glass). There’s a great deal of freedom with the camera in this movie, the way it’s untethered and handheld, it’s almost the antithesis to the stuffy literary adaptations of TV or old Hollywood. Do you prefer that to a more formal approach to this kind of material?

Mia Wasikowska: It doesn’t matter to me too much. I don’t really notice the camera unless it’s very stylized and you have to do things to assist the camera, but it wasn’t like that on this. It was good, it meant that it moves pretty quickly, we were able to shoot and quickly turn around. There weren’t big lighting resets, which was really great.

CS: When we think of the era this film takes place in there’s always an air of repression, with the female characters being sort of unbearably contained, especially in terms of adultery. What were some hooks you hung onto from how we live today that you used to make Emma seem relevant for the Tinder/Ashley Madison era?

madame-bovary-courtesy-of-cinema-blendWasikowska: At the end of the day it’s the same kind of emotions that are underneath the characters. I feel like everything Emma did was driven because she was sort of unfulfilled emotionally, and wasn’t able to really return any emotional stability because she wasn’t really given the opportunity to connect with somebody or love somebody and be loved in turn. It’s sort of the same thing whether you’re in Emma Bovary’s time and you’re spending all your money on a dress or writing letters to some dude who’s never gonna be your Prince Charming, or whether you’re swishing somebody away on Tinder. (laughs)

CS: What was your favorite memory of being in Normandy for the shoot?

Wasikowska: We stayed at this beautiful, tiny little hotel that was really more of a house where there were five rooms and five people in this house. It was so nice. On the weekends we would pick apples and stuff like that! (laughs) It was very European, very nice when we weren’t filming to get very into the small town European lifestyle.

CS: I understand you’re an avid photographer. Do you assemble books of your set photos the way someone like Jeff Bridges does?

Wasikowska: Not really. At the moment I just have a huge backlog of photos that I haven’t really been through and sorted yet. I’m not quite as organized as that. It’s fun, I like taking pictures, it’s a nice thing to do in between waiting around. (laughs) 

CS: Paul Giamatti starred, as himself, in Sophie’s last movie “Cold Souls.” Is it intimidating, almost in a high school kind of way, when you’re on a set and the director has a previous working relationship with another actor while you’re the new kid in town?

Wasikowska: Yeah, I think its mostly just really nice because there was such a familiarity with them, it makes it almost easier for you ’cause in a way the director just becomes your friend in common. So yeah, it was really nice and everyone she works with was so great and funny. It really lifted the spirit on set when Paul would come in or Rhys Ifans. 

CS: You’ve done so many of these period movies at this point, is it just something you feel personally suited for or are you having nightmares about corsets whenever you go to sleep? 

Wasikowska: Yeah I do hate corsets, I’m totally sick of them and I think after “Jane Eyre” I said, “Never again!” Somehow I keep going back. I must want to suffer or something. I’m trying to put an end to it, I’m over corsets. 

CS: Do you ever call your agent just like, “Get me in a bloody ‘Fast & Furious’ movie NOW!”

Wasikowska: I know! I wanna wear Converse’s and, I dunno, track pants or something. 

crimson_peak_stillCS: It was so pleasing to learn that you’d been cast for “Crimson Peak,” just because between “Alice” and “Stoker” and “Only Lovers Left Alive” you’ve become, at least in my mind, the living embodiment of an Edward Gorey drawing.

Wasikowska: (laughs) That’s awesome.

CS: So marrying that image with Guillermo’s love of gothic horror and it must be something else. What was the del Toro experience like?

Wasikowska: It’s fantastic, he’s such a wonderful person. I’d never really done a genre film like “Crimson Peak” before. To be able to learn an appreciation for that genre was interesting. I remember reading this little quote he has in a book, at the beginning of “Frankenstein” he does a forward, and he said, “Our fears are how we learn who we are.” I thought that was very insightful, I’d never thought about it like that. Whether they’re ghosts or something that’s rooted in reality it’s something interesting to explore.

CS: He’s a big fan of Daphne du Murier and films like “The Innocents” and “The Haunting.” What did he throw at you from his encyclopedic knowledge as a point of reference? 

Wasikowska: I like reading books on set, so he gave me some books to read. I read “The Turn of the Screw” and “Frankenstein” and “The Age of Innocence,” even though that’s not horror-y, just to get into the era. It was really fun, actually, ’cause I’d never read “Frankenstein” before, and now I’m obsessed with Mary Shelley, I think she’s such an interesting person.

CS: With “Frankenstein” did he show you or did you find the one illustrated by Bernie Wrightson?

Wasikowska: I think he did show me that, it was amazing. The illustrations were fantastic.

CS: Guillermo said that “Crimson Peak” will be a much gorier, much more sexualized drama than we’re used to getting from him. Can you give us a taste of what horror lie within that house, psychological or otherwise?

Wasikowska: It’s a really messed up family dynamic, so that’s always gonna be pretty horrifying. I don’t know what I’m allowed to say, but she’s a very blushing young bride and the reality of her situation is different from what she expects it to be.

CS: How do all these experiences play into your burgeoning directorial career? 

Wasikowska: It’s like an amazing film school. I get to be up-close with these really wonderful directors. The main thing I’ve learned is everybody makes a film really differently, there’s no one way to be a good director. Something that works for one great director won’t work for another. It’s really great, I just like learning from them and talking to them and other people on the set as well are just as informative. 

CS: Will the subject matter you chase as a filmmaker be akin to your literary/gothic tastes as an actress? 

Wasikowska: I’m not sure, I don’t think so. Not at the moment, but maybe one day.

CS: Do you have anything that you’re chasing that is a dream project that you’re hoping to realize one day.

Wasikowska: No, not at the moment.

10988_026CS: Is “Alice Through the Looking Glass” finished or do you still have reshoots to do?

Wasikowska: No, we finished that last year in November. I guess they’ll be in post on that forever and it’ll resurface when I’m 39 and I’ll go do a press tour.

CS: How is James Bobin changing the equation from what Tim did on the first one?

Wasikowska: Oh he’s great, he has a very different… the emotion of the characters is very important to him, he sort of pushed us in a different way, which was great. Also we had a lot more sets on this one so that was really fun to have more interactive sets. The first “Alice” was 90% green screen so it was quite fun to be part of a world.

CS: Tom Hardy remarked while he made “The Dark Knight Rises” that it was like working at Starbucks. Big sets can feel very impersonal, so how do you engage yourself in something as big and corporate like “Alice 2” the same way you would on something like “Madame Bovary?”

Wasikowska: They are slightly different environments but I engage myself in other things! (laughs) As long as you’re prepared for when they start filming. I like to read books and talk to people. I guess the main difference is it’s just a little slower. On “Madame Bovary” you’re rushing to get all the shots in a day, and on “Alice” it’s the same, you’re rushing to get shots but if you don’t get them it doesn’t matter as much ’cause they can add another day.

Madame Bovary opens in select theaters on Friday.