In Alice Through the Looking Glass Mia Wasikowska reprises her curious character as a changed woman. Here, the low-key Aussie opens up about fashion, filmmaking and her fantastical adventures in Hollywoodland.
“I have a reoccurring nightmare about the Met Ball,” says Mia Wasikowska. The vaunted fashion event is six days away, and the 26-year-old has just landed in Los Angeles from her native Australia. In 48 hours she’ll fly to New York for fittings with longtime stylist Ryan Hastings, and zero in on an ensemble fit for fashion’s most closely watched affair (in the end, she opted for a plunging red Prada gown). “I’m a fish out of water in that kind of world. The six hours before is probably the most stressful, because you’re anticipating walking up the steps, and people yelling at you, and not knowing where to look.”
Today, however, is a much different story. It’s noon and Wasikowska has just sat down for lunch at L’Ermitage in Beverly Hills. Sporting a cropped blond bob (she’s growing out her signature pixie cut), Wasikowska is wearing a sleeveless dress by Australian label Tome, paired with a Valentino sweater, which she was gifted after a press event, and flats. “This is much fancier than what I normally wear,” she says almost apologetically in her soft Aussie accent. “Because I’m lucky enough to do films and wear nice clothing, I have a couple of pieces I really love.”
The last time she walked the Met Ball carpet was in 2011, on the heels of her leading role in Jane Eyre, opposite Michael Fassbender. It was the latest in a string of star-turning films for the actress, including the Oscar-nominated The Kids Are All Right (2010) and Tim Burton’s 3-D blockbuster hit, Alice in Wonderland (2010). Her calculated re-emergence onto the fashion-world radar coincides with her reprisal of the character Alice Kingsleigh in summer’s Disney fantasy film sequel, Alice Through the Looking Glass, based on the Lewis Carroll novel.
“[The film] was super unexpected because usually, I would’ve thought we would have done a sequel a year later. So I just thought it wasn’t ever going to happen,” says Wasikowska, who first heard sequel chatter three years after Alice in Wonderland had wrapped production. “I was so surprised. I never took it seriously until I was having a costume fitting for it.” It was a welcome return to Wonderland for Wasikowska, alongside a cast of familiar names, including Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter, who plays the Red Queen, and Anne Hathaway in the role of the White Queen. “It was really cool. I felt like I knew that world and what to expect,” says Wasikowska while sipping on a warm cup of tea to stave off jet lag.
There were plenty of fresh faces on set, too, including Sacha Baron Cohen (as the newly created human-clock character, Time) and Rhys Ifans, cast as the Mad Hatter’s father. But the most notable newcomer was under-the-radar director James Bobin, who stepped away from the dark, shadowy nuances of Burton’s adaptation to create a more child-friendly take on the Carroll tale. “James was super passionate in a way that was really lovely,” says Wasikowska. “He seemed to really genuinely care about the characters in the film, and he has young kids, so I feel like that was always at the back of his mind. He knew what they’d enjoy.”
“I inherited an amazing cast, and she is such a fantastic Alice,” says Bobin, who watched all of Wasikowska’s performances prior to the start of filming in 2014. “I was like a fan meeting her to begin with. She really thought about the character very well and how she wanted to approach it,” he adds. “It was really a question of trying to take the character forward in interesting ways while staying true to what Lewis Carroll’s idea of Alice was.” For Bobin, that meant capturing Alice as a strong, independent young woman, while tapping into Carroll’s absurdist dreamscape (the film takes a feminist tone throughout). The role was a demanding one, he points out, with Alice appearing in almost every scene.
With no projects on her slate in the immediate future (“I really wanted a break and it was a good time because there wasn’t anything that I was really dying to do”), Wasikowska is looking forward to downtime at home in Sydney. Lunch arrives, and over a plate of Mediterranean meze, Wasikowska reflects on her easy and somewhat sheltered childhood in Canberra, where she grew up with her brother and two sisters. “I don’t think I saw a billboard until I was like 12. Well, not really—but it feels a bit like that, in comparison to the awareness that’s here [in Los Angeles]. It’s nice to grow up without that, I think.”
A passionate ballerina (both parents were involved in the arts), Wasikowska gave up dancing at age 14 when she realized she didn’t have the right body type to pursue it as a career. Heartbroken, she turned to acting. “It’s a really close cousin [to dance] in the sense that it’s a full body kind of expression.” In short order, she was signed to a talent agency and began booking auditions, including one that brought her to Los Angeles. Though Wasikowska didn’t land the intended part, she signed on with a stateside talent agent, eventually scoring a recurring role as a suicidal gymnast in the HBO drama series In Treatment at age 17. Since then she’s also gone on to star in a flurry of films including Stoker (2013) opposite Nicole Kidman, 2014’s Map to the Stars alongside Julianne Moore, and the Guillermo del Toro-directed Crimson Peak in 2015. Wasikowska also just wrapped production on the World War II thriller HHhH, about a plot to assassinate the head of Hitler’s Gestapo.
It’s been almost 10 years since Wasikowska entered the world of Hollywood, yet she’s no closer to coming off like an award-winning, box-office-gold starlet than when she started. Work brings her to Los Angeles but Wasikowska remains firmly rooted in Australia, where she’s close to her family and away from the glare of Tinseltown. “If I was only thinking about that and around people who were talking about films I’d probably go crazy,” she says. Despite being romantically linked to actor Jesse Eisenberg for a period, Wasikowska is decidedly un-Hollywood. “My ideal holiday is staying at home, because I feel like I’m always somewhere else,” she says. In Australia, she spends her free time gardening, reading (she’s currently on the hunt for a trashy novel), and honing her photography skills, a hobby she picked up from her mother which she has put to use on sets, snapping behind-the-scenes shots. She’s also been trying her hand at directing, starting with The Turning (2013) and Afterbirth (2013), the latter based on a collection of short stories she penned. “It felt like a more wholly creative kind of experience. When you’re acting, you’re one piece of somebody else’s vision. And this was really fun, to try and make the world myself and feel more involved in it,” she says.
If anything has changed since Wasikowska last fell down the rabbit hole, it’s Alice’s character. At the beginning of the film, we find out that she’s been traveling the world for two years as the captain of her own ship. “She always ends up going back to Wonderland in the middle of a crisis in the real world, and then coming back more equipped to deal with it,” explains Wasikowska. “So I feel like she’s in a really different place in the beginning—really confident and more self-assured.” And the same could be said of Wasikowska herself, who has earned a new degree of confidence in her own life since then. “It’s knowing the world, and feeling like I can navigate films and home; I have that good balance. In the first film, I didn’t have my own place. I was still at my parents. It made a difference after I decided where I was going to live. That stuff all makes you feel more independent and really grounded in your own sort of thing.”
Photography by ALEXEI HAY.
Written by LESLEY McKENZIE.
Styling by KARLA WELCH.