Since the invention of movies, there’s been no shortage of film adaptations of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre: The Gothic tale of a headstrong orphan who grows into a quiet, thoughtful young governess and falls in love with her employer Edward Rochester, a mad, bad and dangerous-to-know Byronic Hero.
The latest cinematic Jane Eyre is a raw and thrilling interpretation from director Cary Fukunaga and writer Moira Buffini that remains faithful to the novel, but draws considerable energy from Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland, The Kids are All Right) as Jane and Michael Fassbender (X-Men: First Class, Inglourious Basterds) as Rochester. Also on hand are Jamie Bell as St. John, Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, and Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed.
Last spring other writers and I sat down in Chicago to talk with Jane Eyre director Cary Fukunaga and star, Mia Wasikowska.
The following is a reprint of that interview. Jane Eyre is now available from redbox.
Mia, what did you want to communicate about Jane with your performance?
Mia Wasikowska: She has a strong sense of self, of who she is. She doesn’t compromise herself for anyone, and there’s something inside of her that believes she’s worthy of having a good life and being treated well and respected. I think that’s really admirable.
You’ve been Alice in Wonderland and Joni in The Kids are All Right, and now Jane Eyre. Are there similarities in these characters that drew you to them?
Wasikowska: There’s a complexity to them–they’ve got a lot of layers and different things going on. That was something like I hadn’t done before and I like doing things that challenge me and are different from what I’ve done before.
How do you play Jane for a 21st century audience?
Wasikowska: If you were to take away the costumes and the period setting, at the core is a story that’s very familiar to audiences, which is partially why it’s lasted such a long time and it hasn’t wavered in its popularity. At the core of it is a young woman who’s trying to find a connection, love and a family in a very dislocated, isolated world.
Wasikowska: It was great. We were able to counter the intensity of the material with a lot of fun playing around and goofy activity and then channel that energy into the intensity of the scenes. I have so much respect for him–it’s so easy to act opposite someone who’s as present as he is. There’s such intensity not only to his performance but to who he is as well–that really brings you in.
Cary Fukunaga: I know loyalists want actors that match physical descriptions, but the most important thing is spirit, the essence of what the actor does and what they bring to the role. Rochester is a bit wild, mercurial and dangerous, and had an incredible emotional tragedy early in his life that has affected the way he lives and operates and how he indulges himself. There’s something naturally wild about Michael Fassbender that he brings to the film.
Fukunaga: My style of film making right now is trying to be realistic or authentic–it should feel like it’s happening, not like we’re watching some sort of arch version of the story. So the novel’s language came into play because it’s so specific, that language of Bronte’s time.
Wasikowska: There was a lot of translating. The language in that time is so poetic and elaborate, so it’s kind of like decoding another language. Then once you understand the meaning of it, you can own it a bit more.
Cary, your film opens in the middle of the novel, with Jane fleeing across the windswept moors, then tells most of the story in flashback from St. John’s home. Why did you and writer Moira Buffini approach the material this way?
Fukunaga: I think in a very eloquent way it allows you to tackle the third part of the novel, the St. John section that’s often a very difficult narrative hump to get over. By peppering it across the course of the film you can stay faithful to the novel and still tell a compelling story that starts off with a mystery and hopefully keeps you engaged all the way through.
You certainly emphasized the story’s ghostlier tone.
Fukunaga: I interpret the novel as a spookier story. I have friends who read the book and were horrified while reading. The difficult thing is managing that horror and the romance–if you focus too much on the horror it’s exciting in the moment, but you lose the emotional connection with the characters. And likewise, if you spend too much time on the characters then the horror tends to disappear.
Fukunaga: We needed to be faithful to story, a Jacobean castle that had pre-Victorian interiors. We couldn’t afford to build sets for the film so we had to shoot in real locations, and Haddon Hall [in Derbyshire, England] came up as being the perfect place. I initially was against shooting at Haddon because other versions of Jane Eyre had shot there [the 1996 Zeffirelli version with William Hurt and Charlotte Gainsbourg and the 2006 BBC version], but it’s so far and away better than other houses, you’d be cutting off your nose to spite your face not to shoot there.
Cary, Jane Eyre is a departure from your first film Sin Nombre, about gang members and immigrants coming north from Mexico. Did you deliberately try to go in a different direction?
Fukunaga: You know, you have a story, an idea and what it looks like in your head, and you set out to do that. But all the elements of film making are the same. And when it comes to choosing projects I tend to go where the wind takes me. I have no strategy other than just doing things that I feel like. Maybe I should. But you’re going to be giving two years of your life to something, so for me it’s just, “Don’t say ‘no’ to good things.”
Jane Eyre is available from redbox.
More from the cast of Jane Eyre at redbox:
- Mia Wasikowska in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids are All Right
- Michael Fassbender in Jonah Hex and coming soon in X-Men: First Class on DVD and Blu-ray
- Jamie Bell in The Eagle on DVD and Blu-ray