Mia Wasikowska Interview

NFSA Presents: Inspired is a collection of conversations that dive into the creativity, the inspiration and the success of Australian cinematic talent. Hosted by film journalist Jenny Cooney, the video series complements the NFSA’s exhibition, Australians & Hollywood: a tale of craft, talent, and ambition. Book tickets here now. 

In this episode, Jenny Cooney interviews actress Mia Wasikowska, known for her roles in Alice in WonderlandMadame BovaryJane Eyre, Tracks, Bergman Island and more. Watch here:

'You've really got to be passionate'

Jenny: Let's talk about cinema, maybe we could start with your favourite or most influential cinema memory.

Mia: Okay. I was sort of trying to think about this last night, obviously, with a bit of an emphasis on the Australian films that I grew up watching, and I realised that probably my first sort of Australian film that was really influential was Babe. I was the Babe generation. 

So, that's probably my earliest Australian film and how like, I found that quite heartbreaking. I loved the film, but it was quite hard to watch. And then there's been so many over the years, at different stages in my life. I remember Somersault being quite an influential film for me when I saw it at the time, especially because Cate Shortland had gone through the art school in Canberra, and it opened my eyes to what was possible. And yeah, there are heaps, I could go on.

Jenny: It doesn't have to all be Australian if there are other films that have influenced you.

Mia: Okay, great. In terms of other films that have been influential, my mum, I mean, my mum's Polish and she was really into European cinema and independent films. And I remember Krzysztof Kieslowski always playing in our house and that being a first introduction to, I don't know, not just your sort of mainstream cinema, and I think that that's been fairly influential to me over the years, his work. I particularly love The Double Life of Veronique.

Jenny: So what films, music and stories do you find yourself going back to over and over?

Mia: Probably. I mean, I feel like I'm going to re-use this answer … but Kieslowski, I go back to just because each time I watch it, it feels different and it has a – it means something different to me at each time in my life. And also probably because it has such a connection to my mum and my grandma in a way that it feels sort of important to me in that way. I recently was watching Ten Canoes. It was playing on the TV here, and I also remember seeing that in the cinema when it first came out. My mum took me to that and, at the time, that feeling really different and new for me. So yeah, that was really cool to revisit that recently.

Jenny: A lot of interesting cultural references because you're sort of in two worlds often, right?

Mia: Yeah. Well, I mean, that's what film does the best, I guess, gives you this taste of life kind of anywhere.

Jenny: So do you have a theory as to what the secret sauce is to Australian cinematic success around the world?

Mia: Well, I've been talking about this a lot recently because I want to move into filmmaking as well. And I just think the films that we are kind of known for and celebrated for are so unique and so distinctly Australian. I don't even know what that means. It incorporates obviously lots of different cultures, which I think is a part of us here. But I think it's just the sort of authentic, unique voice that you find here, and anywhere I guess. 

Jenny: There's a lot of Aussies who've made it overseas, behind the cameras as well as in front of, so it seems there's something about us that, you know, the Aussies sort of take over Hollywood.

Mia: Yeah. And I think it's like, if you want to do it, you really have to want to do it because it's quite far and it's not particularly easy to necessarily, you know, make that trek. So maybe that's in some way, you know, a really great thing – it means you've really got to be passionate about it.

Jenny: So when you reflect on your career, what does ambition mean to you?

Mia: Well, I feel like my relationship to ambition has changed quite a lot. I don't think that I actually feel that ambitious anymore, which is probably just a part of kind of growing up. And, you know, I started so young. I guess I did feel quite driven or ambitious, but I have felt my ambition change towards different things now like having, you know, quite simple things, I guess, like having a community and friends and all those things. So it's, you know, you definitely have to have, I guess, a different kind of ambition to do film and television stuff.

'There's no one way to make a good film'

Jenny: Well, I think I know the answer to this question already, but what element of filmmaking fascinates you besides the one that you're obviously known for?

Mia: I do love directing and cinematography. I kind of admire all areas of film for the amount of endless creativity that it requires. But yeah, I do love directing, and I've always loved watching how the directors that I've worked with, how differently they work and how important that is to sort of find your own voice and your own way of making a film. They're all, you know, very different.

Jenny: So you mentioned Cate Shortland. Do you have a lot of inspirations, the directors that you've worked with or directors that you've watched?

Mia: Probably a bit of both. I think I've learnt so much from the directors that I have worked with and sort of exactly in that way of like, there's no one way to make a film. There's no one way to make a good film. It's, you know, it's really about finding what works for you and also being a good collaborator. And I think all the great directors that I've worked with have been really good at making the whole team feel really included and kind of bringing up everybody's creativity. So that's been really inspiring to me, I think.

Jenny: And as a Canberra girl, you obviously were familiar with the National Film and Sound Archive. What does it mean to you?

Mia: Well, It’s so important to have somewhere that is dedicated to, I don't know, kind of keeping track of our history and it's so important to have somewhere that you can look back in order to kind of understand what's going on now. And then also look to the future. It's a very Canberra thing I guess, you always grow up with it. And as a kid, you think it doesn't have anything to do with you and then you grow up and, you know, sort of surprised to be like, 'Oh, that's my industry and in my town'.

Jenny: And I believe you've loaned some items to the collection. Can you tell us what's going to be included in the upcoming Australians and Hollywood exhibition from you?

Mia: Yeah, I actually I  think I loaned them the script for Alice Through the Looking Glass and some books from the costume department on Madame Bovary, which were really beautifully given to me by the designers with samples of the fabrics that they used. And I actually can't remember what the other two items are that I loaned them because I had a few and then they picked them. But yeah, those are the two I remember.

Jenny: So then it must be a bit of a thrill to know that a lot of your work is going to be there forever archived and you have these items that are part of you, that are now part of the NFSA?

Mia: Yeah, no. It's really special. It's really nice.

'That was quite surreal and wonderful'

Jenny: So were there any Aussies that helped you in the early days of your career?

Mia: Well, really, the way that I met a lot of Aussies was through Australians In Film, through basically you inviting me to events because otherwise I didn't really have any in to that community. I mean, other than being Australian, but I wouldn't have known where to sort of find them. So that was really wonderful. And I was on a show with Melissa George at that time, who was very sweet to me. Nicole Kidman was so wonderful when I worked with her on Stoker. So kind and warm. And yeah, that meant a lot, you know, as someone who grew up watching her in films. And so that was quite surreal and wonderful.

Jenny: So you mentioned her. Were there other Aussies that really inspired you when you were growing up watching them and dreaming about being an actress yourself?

Mia: Yeah, I mean for sure, Nicole Kidman. She's someone who is sort of so authentic and very open and honest about her journey, which I think is really wonderful. Her and Cate Blanchett were sort of like the first Australians to kind of bridge that gap between Australia and America and just have these astounding careers.

Jenny: Well, then you came along and you did pretty well! So now there's another generation that are looking to you for inspiration. Who are some of the Aussies you want to give a shout out to that are coming up on the radar that you think the NFSA and all of us should be on the lookout for?

Mia: Well, I really love Eliza Scanlen. I think she's just a brilliant actress and a wonderful person, so I think she's, you know, one to keep an eye on. She's so talented. And the director Alena Lodkina, who directed a film called Strange Colours, which I thought was really brilliant. I think she's going to be a really brilliant filmmaker.

Jenny: And there's all these people thinking, 'How did you get where you got, Mia?' What's your advice? What would you say?

Mia: I don’t know now. I mean, now's kind of a strange time to ask me because I sort of have much more of an eye on our industry here and wanting to build that up and be a part of something that's sort of, I guess, closer to home. But just keep doing what you're doing. If you love it and if you really enjoy it, then go for it and just don't, it's a bummer, but the clichés are true. I mean, if you love it, don't give up, just keep trying and keep growing and learning and everything – not just acting, just be part of everything creative and that'll feed into a good place.

Jenny: There's been a lot of films that the NFSA has restored, years later, and that we're able to watch. When you look into the future, are there any of your movies that you are really excited about the idea that your kids and their kids will be able to go and see them?

Mia: I don't know, actually. I mean, to be honest, one film that I did, a film with Gus Van Sant called Restless and after every take he made us do a silent take so we would take the dialogue away and just do a take that was silent. And I know that he made a film, which was a silent version of that film. And I've never seen it, and so I really want to track it down because it's like a second version of the film that we did.

Interview transcript edited for length and clarity. Book your tickets now for Australians & Hollywood at the NFSA.

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