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Taking The Leads
Alison Owen states, "I would not have made Jane Eyre unless we had the right person to play Jane. This is not a role that you can shoehorn somebody into. Both Cary Fukunaga and I wanted someone with a natural affinity for the character, and who was of a comparable age to the Jane of the novel.

"In the book's Thornfield sections, she is about 18 years old. One theme that Jane Eyre explores is a young girl's awakenings to feelings that she didn't know she was capable of having. Some are sexual, and some are emotional. A lot of the other pervious screen versions had cast someone who was older; as wonderful as some of these actresses were, they've been more women than girls.”

Mia Wasikowska was the right age – and was at the right time in her career, now taking on leading roles. Owen remembers, "Mia just sang out to us. If you look at the range of actresses out there, you will find some fantastic ones; there's no doubt about that. But Mia is born to play Jane; she inhabits and, ultimately, defines the role.”

Kismet was at work; reflecting the enduring power of the novel, Wasikowska was already reading it on her own and after only a few chapters was moved to inquire with her agent as to whether "there was a script around or anything happening with it, because I thought it would be an incredible role to play. She e-mailed me back saying, no; there was one a while ago but it had gone away. A few weeks later, she said the movie was happening, sent me the script, and told me that the director, wanted to meet me.”

At that meeting, an immediate understanding was forged. Wasikowska reflects, "I first met Cary in November 2009. We hung out for a day and talked about the character. We found that we shared similar ideas of what she was going through; we spoke about strength, and about the kind of agony you feel when you are in love with somebody.

"It's an honor to portray Jane. What I love about her character is, despite all the hardship that she faces throughout her life, she has this innate sense of selfrespect and an incredible ability to do what's right by herself as an individual. I believe that is key for people, especially women, to remember; it's important to do what's fulfilling for you as an individual, even when it can be easier to do what's comfortable.”

Fukunaga comments, "Mia didn't just bring talent; she brought her ideas for the role. She was about doing what was right for it, ready to give her all.”

For her preparation, Wasikowska collected a number of visual references "to form an image of Jane in my head. I looked at a lot of photographs and images, pictures, and drawings of the time – for example, the way people physically held themselves. I also went through the novel again, trying to find moments that were particularly pivotal to her character which would help me figure out who she was and how she was feeling at particular times.”

While identifying those feelings, she also had to articulate them. She explains, "There were a lot of scenes to play that were emotionally challenging and intense – and with language that we don't really use any more. The trick is making that feel right so you can comfortably speak the words. A phrase such as ‘I am not speaking to you through mortal flesh' is so poetic and visual, but I had to make it sound real as well.”

With such emotions going from the page to being expressed by actors, Jane Eyre would depend heavily on the chemistry between the performers playing Jane and Rochester – and playing out the co-existing passion and restraint of the turbulent relationship.

Owen remarks, "There's more than a bit of the good girl/bad boy attraction in this relationship. That's another instance of how the story has been a key influence on many women writers of fiction.

"Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender play it so beautifully. It's tender, romantic, sexy, and exciting – the sparks fly!”

Fukunaga confides, "I'm not a highly emotional person, but there are powerful scenes between Mia and Michael – and I hope this extends to the audience – that nearly brought me to tears. You sense the desperation and the need in both characters.

"At that initial meeting I had with Alison and Moira, Michael's was the first name out of our mouths. I thought his interpretation of Bobby Sands in Hunger was amazing and intense; I wanted him for Rochester.”

Owen praises Fassbender as "a consummate actor, and I can't think of another one around who's got Michael's sexual charisma. Certainly you could see both of those qualities in Fish Tank. I would bet that after this movie, people don't read Jane Eyre without picturing him in their minds as Rochester.”

The actor had seen and admired Fukunaga's Sin Nombre, "and I thought, ‘What a bold choice to direct this movie.' I knew he would take on this classic British piece and bring a different edge to it. I don't know if he's aware of how many times Jane Eyre had been done for British cinema and television. But he's brave and I think that's exactly what was needed.”

Iconic or not, Fassbender found himself drawn to a character whose "gruffness and darkness make him more challenging to take to. This is not a straightforward love story.

"I play Rochester primarily as a Byronic hero. He's quite jaded, yet he is sensitive and has a good heart. He's in touch with his sensuality and humor. He's traveled, and some things happened along his journeys which have stayed with him.” Fassbender delved into his character's history and how it informs Rochester's interactions with Jane. He says, "Rochester has been hurt. He went to Jamaica at such a young age, and his life got spun around. I think that he would have been quite happy without huge amounts of money, but his father said, ‘You have to go and marry this woman, because you need to be taken care of financially.' Subsequently his older brother died, and he took over Thornfield. "He's somebody who is quite opposed to aristocratic judgments. He doesn't mind crossing boundaries through perceived social handicaps. He doesn't mind that Jane is a governess, or that for him to be with a governess would be frowned upon.”

The actor sees the relationship as "Rochester's last hope, really. He sees Jane when everyone else looks past her, and she inspires him, bringing him back to a point in his life where he was more pure and overtly better-natured, not as cynical and arrogant. When Jane responds to him in a way that doesn't kowtow to his beliefs and that challenges him, he sees a real fire within her that she's been suppressing. That intrigues him. The audience should be invested in the prospect that these two people can heal each other and nourish each other.”

Since that is by no means a certainty in the story, both leads strove not to sentimentalize their characters' interaction. Wasikowska enthuses, "Michael constantly surprised me on the set. I would arrive excited to see what he was going to do and how he was going to do it. He has this incredible strength that comes through; his eyes are so piercing! Acting opposite him, I could completely believe he was his character.”

Fassbender was surprised by Wasikowska as well. He notes, "Mia comes from a dance background, which is so disciplined and so regimented. She has taken that discipline into the art form of acting. She has so many facets to her, and has got such a maturity about her; she's much more centred and together than I'll ever be…

"She is fully present as the character in take after take, but the most impressive thing about Mia is that she is very comfortable


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