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Mia Wasikowska on Being ‘Crucified’ For ‘Madame Bovary’ and the Grueling Experience of ‘Crimson Peak’

Mia Wasikowska on Being 'Crucified' For 'Madame Bovary' and the Grueling Experience of 'Crimson Peak'

READ MORE: Mia Wasikowska on Making ‘Tracks’ and Returning to ‘Wonderland’ Without Tim Burton

There’s a line from Gustave Flaubert’s 1856 novel “Madame Bovary” that reads, “Never touch your idols: the gilding will stick to your fingers.” Mia Wasikowska paid no heed to this warning. The actress, who plays Emma Bovary in Sophie Barthes’ recently released adaptation of the groundbreaking novel, has surprisingly few qualms about embodying one of the most iconic female figures in literary history. 

“People have been imagining Emma Bovary for hundreds of years, and you don’t want fans of the novel to crucify you for portraying her in a different way,” Wasikowska told Indiewire. “It’s a little daunting when there’s a huge fan base for a particular novel or character. But I just try to put it out of my mind.”

This isn’t the first time 25-year-old Australian-born Wasikowska has portrayed a literary icon. In 2011, she starred in Cary Fukunaga’s lauded adaptation of “Jane Eyre.” Like her peer Carey Mulligan, Wasikowska clearly has a penchant for female-driven historical dramas. Her ballet-trained poise, classic beauty, and commitment to complex characters make subversive period dramas the natural choice. “It’s just much more fun to play someone who’s pushing a boundary or challenging themselves, and those situations tend to be raised by the more interesting female characters,” said Wasikowska. “I always really like playing the kind of characters that give you a chance to do something not easy in real life.” “Madame Bovary” certainly isn’t easy. Previous cinematic adaptations from acclaimed directors such as Jean Renoir, Vincente Minnelli, and Claude Chabrol have notoriously fallen short of Flaubert’s vision of a larger-than-life woman trapped in a banal existence. Part of the challenge of “Madame Bovary” is the interplay between the novel’s hyper-realism — evident in meticulously rendered quotidian details — and the juxtaposing force of Emma Bovary’s turbulent emotional life.

For Wasikowska, playing an irreconcilable romantic was a welcome challenge. “Emma Bovary is such a great anti-hero,” she said. “[Sophie Barthes and I] talked about not vilifying her, even though some of her actions are not particularly heroic. We just wanted to bring a level of understanding. We both found that we empathize with why she did the things she did.” To get inside Emma’s mind, Wasikowska re-read the book, focusing on her character’s loneliness and idealism. “Reality wasn’t what she expected. She felt like she was never able to learn or grow. I think it’s really sad when people can’t fully realize experiences and feelings in their minds.”

In keeping with its feminist overtones, “Madame Bovary” marks Wasikowska’s first collaboration in a starring role with a female director. “It was nice to have a partner in a different way,” she said of Barthes. Wasikowska hopes to continue to work with women because “people respond to females a little bit differently — there’s less of a hierarchy on set.” So, who’s next? “Jane Campion and Sofia Coppola,” said Wasikowska definitively. 

Audiences will soon be treated to another period performance from Wasikowska in the highly-anticipated gothic horror “Crimson Peak.” “Guillermo del Toro is such a fantastic director, and I think the film will be really interesting,” said Wasikowska. It’s the actress’s second foray into both genre and big-budget territory following her breakout performance in Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland,” and, much like Emma Bovary, Wasikowska’s expectations of the experience were quite different from reality. “It was a little bit like a cat and mouse game,” said Wasikowska. “You read a script, and the character is running around and in a state of anticipation, and you forget that you’re going to have to be doing that for six months. That physically impacts you a lot. It was a very physical shoot, which I wasn’t expecting.”

READ MORE: Watch: ‘Crimson Peak’ Trailer Traps Mia Wasikowska in Guillermo Del Toro’s Haunted House

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