mia wasikowska is hitting the peak of her powers
She doesn’t tweet, party or do the Hollywood circuit, but Mia Wasikowska has quietly made her mark as one of the best actresses of her generation.
At one point in Crimson Peak, Mia Wasikowska wears the very definition of a fright wig: long, golden, out-of-control locks befitting her role of a woman trapped in a haunted house. In London, for the launch of the film from horror maestro Guillermo Del Toro, the actress is sporting a dramatically different look: a neat pixie crop, which Wasikowska says only takes 20 minutes.
As an indicator for how this shy 25-year-old Polish-Australian actress operates, the hair thing is a slight, but informative indicator that she's no-fuss. It's the sort of choice of someone who works in some of the biggest films going but has less time for the Hollywood machine. She lives in Sydney not Los Angeles, doesn't do social media and is rarely seen in the spotlight outside of a cinema screening room.
Her performances are nuanced and compelling and have marked her out as a star actress. Wasikowska broke out at 17, playing a suicidal gymnast who puts her therapist through the ringer in the HBO series In Treatment and has played it really "Hollyweird" in David Cronenberg's Map to the Stars, really cool as the child of a lesbian couple in The Kids Are All Right and helped Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland to a $1 billion pay day in the title role.
Crimson Peak is another high production values fantasy for Wasikowska who plays the at-risk heroine in Del Toro's visually masterful ghost story. She's Edith Cushing, a fledging author in early 20th Century Buffalo to whom the dead appear, warning her of future doom at a spot called Crimson Peak. When her dad mysteriously dies, Cushing is - in somewhat coincidental timing - swept off her feet by a dashing English suitor Thomas Sharpe [Tom Hiddleston] and whisked away to his creaky, leaky (potentially haunted) house Allerdale Hall, also known as…Crimson Peak.
Here the humans are the real horror story as Sharpe and his sister Lucille's [Jessica Chastain] true plans for Cushing become apparent. What they hadn't bargained for is a heroine like Cushing, who - like the actress who plays her - is no one-note character.
What did you like about Edith?
In the beginning she is very ambitious, spirited and curious. She has confidence and is also idealistic and naïve and gets swept up in this romance and finds herself very challenged. She has to climb her way out of that. A lot of people experience, whether it's someone at work or a relationship, some kind of relationship that really challenges your core sense of who you are.
The film is less horror story, more gothic romance in the style of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Did you know the genre?
I'd read the Bronte sisters. I'd read those kind of gothic romances but not Frankenstein. So I read Frankenstein on set. I didn't even know it was written by a woman. I learned a lot about Mary Shelley and that time and gained a whole new appreciation for the genre. Mary Shelley was one of the first bohemians and they lived in such an unusual way for their time. So it was really cool to learn about Edith through that world.
Edith becomes trapped in this haunted house. How did you stay on that level of being perpetually afraid throughout the shoot?
Fear is such a primitive emotion. It's not the sort of thing you can conjure up. Unlike when you're acting sadness or joy you can conjure up those feelings. But fear is so instinctive it was more physically trying to remember what that's like when you do feel it and then mimicking it.
Guillermo Del Toro is renowned for the richly imagined fantasy worlds he creates. What was your favourite detail in Crimson Peak?
I loved the corridor with the gothic teeth coming down [as arches] and just how it was shaped in a human form gave it a terrifying presence from the shape of it. They also had the word 'fear' etched into the wallpaper in the shape of moths. There was so much hidden meaning that I think people will pick up.
Del Toro has been said to be the kind of director to give the audience a geek-gasm. What would do that for you?
Oh my god [laughs] I'm really into this gardening show at the moment. I'm into like truly geeky things. Not even cutely geeky obsessions. I really like this show Gardening Australia. I don't even know if that's geeky. I like Grand Designs. I'm absolutely into Grand Designs.
Are you a keen gardener?
I am now. I have my own place now and I've started just to get into the garden and it's the best thing I've ever done, I love it. I grow my own vegetables. Lots of tomato vines. I always thought if I could grow tomatoes and cucumbers and a couple of other things I would hardly have to leave the house because I would be almost self sufficient.
On one of your first film sets you were given the nickname 'Rowdy' for being so quiet. Are you still like that?
I have a reputation for being quiet. I'm not like that in my real life at home but I don't have that extrovert personality maybe in a public way. So I don't think I'm too quiet but I probably am in comparison with the rest of that world. I don't do myself favours because most of the things I talk about are knitting or gardening. I don't do fun things.
Do you like to knit?
I do. I used to knit a lot on some sets because it's quite a nice way of zoning out but I am much cooler than all of that, you know [smiles] I like simple pleasures.
You don't have a social media presence either do you?
No, if someone's tweeting it's not me. It's fake me. I don't have a desire to tell people I am going into the bathroom but I get that kind of exposure in my job anyway so maybe that need is fulfilled. I'm sure if I didn't feel exposed already I would understand it more. I don't think I have anything interesting to say in a sentence on a regular basis.
After Crimson, I shot Alice through the Looking Glass, the sequel. That will come out May next year. I think that will be really sweet. It's a lovely new director who brought a sweet humour to it and the same cast. I think it will be really nice. Otherwise, back to my garden.
is in cinemas 16th October.
Text Colin Crummy