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Mia Wasikowska: female directors and returning home

Actor Mia Wasikowska on returning to work in Australia on Mirrah Foulkes’ feature directing debut Judy and Punch and the camaraderie of the Aussie industry.

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Over the past decade Mia Wasikowska has been one of the biggest international Australian success stories, rising to fame in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland and again playing the titular character in Cary Fukunaja’s Jane Eyre. As well as appearing alongside Nicole Kidman in Stoker and in Australian-Canadian director John Hillcoat’s Nick Cave-penned Lawless, Wasikowska has also been in a number of Aussie features, including SeptemberRogue and most recently in  John Curran’s Tracks. In the 2013 film she effortlessly embodied Robyn Davidson’s feistiness as she crossed the Australian desert with four camels.

The Canberra-born actor is able to transform in front of the camera, as seen most recently in two vastly different films that both had their world premieres in Sundance: Nicolas Pesce’s Piercing, which she describes as “a horror thriller”, and the Zellner Brothers’ Damsel, “a quirky and funny Western”.

One now has the feeling that the 28 year old is entering a new phase after a well-deserved break. Currently living in Sydney, she has started shooting her second film in Australia, Judy and Punch.

“I’ve just had a year at home not really doing very much,” Wasikowska explains. “I shot Piercing and Damsel in 2016 so the backlog of films is catching up with me. I don't feel like I need or want to work all the time and my life outside of films is really important. So I take time to foster that and then dip into films I care about when and if they come about.”

Mia Wasikowska and Robert Pattinson in Damsel / Sundance Institute

She cares very much about Judy and Punch, the directorial debut of actor turned writer-director Mirrah Foulkes. It marks the first time Wasikowska has worked with a woman director on a feature film since Amelia (2009) with Mira Nair, and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids are All Right (2010). Interestingly like the revisionist feminist western Damsel, where Wasikowska has it all over Robert Pattinson, Judy and Punch, a re-imagining of the classic puppet show (where a pair of puppeteers strive to leave their sleepy seaside town) gives the female lead the upper hand.

Months before cameras began rolling in Melbourne in April, Wasikowska says she was looking forward to it.

“I’ve really loved Mirrah’s shorts (Trespass, Florence Has Left the Building, Dumpy Goes to the Big Smoke), so I’m excited about Mirrah as a writer and a director.”

Foulkes was also a recipient of Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories funding for another feature Runaway, which is still in development.

“It’s awesome,” Wasikowska enthuses. “Mirrah really benefitted from that.”

“[And] actually both of the films I’m doing this year have female directors,” she continues, noting that the second will be the French film, Bergman Island, written and directed by another former actor, Mia Hansen-Løve (Things to Come). “So it’s really exciting and it’s hopefully going to be less of a novelty.”

Mia Wasikowska in Tracks

Rather than going out of her way to work with women, she says she was simply responding to the scripts she read and the bodies or work of both directors.

“I don't know whether it's a coincidence, but actually both of those films came together pre the #MeToo movement, which is already really great. Hopefully it will get easier and easier for women to tell stories and feel confident.

“With the whole strong woman debate, we all like a strong woman character, but I think it’s important that we keep in mind that it’s not about creating a strong woman ideal. It’s about creating complex characters with human flaws and imperfections and stuff that makes you human. That's what I want to play.

A co-production between the US company Vice Media and Australia’s Blue-Tongue Films, Judy and Punch also received Screen Australia production funding and is lucky to have the Australian producing team of Michele Bennett and Nash Edgerton in its court. I suggest that Nash and his brother Joel are to be commended for their allegiance to Australia through Blue-Tongue.

“Yes I know; they’re great,” Wasikowska agrees. “It’s a small industry but everybody really helps each other out. I guess small industries do create that camaraderie and support for each other. So it's pretty cool. It’s also cool that not everybody has jumped ship and is only doing stuff in America. Even though all those guys do stuff in America, everybody’s coming back for Judy and Punch and many of their other projects.”

Why is she so keen to work in Australia apart from her desire to work with Foulkes, who of course appeared in Porchlight FilmsAnimal Kingdom?

“I live in Sydney and I’ll be in Melbourne for Judy and Punch, so it’s only an hour’s flight from home. I’m thrilled on a personal level and I wish that could be a more regular thing. It’s a level of comfort that I don't have in America in terms of it being close to my home and family. It’s just that thing of being able to go home on the weekends,” she pauses, giggling affectionately, “to see my dog.”

What is it, I ask? “A German Shepherd,” she responds. “I love them. They’re so gorgeous.”

A good watchdog?

“Yes!”


Click here more information on Judy and Punch, which is filming now. See Piercing at Sydney Film Festival this June.