“Obviously,” the actress Mia Wasikowska says, “I’ve been in the right place at the right time. Again and again.”
That began before Tim Burton plucked her from obscurity as the Alice he wanted for his “Wonderland.” She did a no-budget Southern gothic drama, “That Evening Sun” with Hal Holbrook, that garnered her an Indie Spirit Award nomination for playing “poor white trash.”
“Love Southern gothic, Southern accents,” the native Australian says. “I can’t wait for the chance to do another.”
At 20, coming off the billion-dollar smash, “Alice in Wonderland,” the slight blonde can look at the movie world as her oyster. Plum roles in prestige pictures? Yes, she just finished “Jane Eyre.”
“The corsets,” she mutters. “They’re as bad as everyone says. TORTURE!”
Having gone from the sweaty, rural grit of “That Evening Sun” to the limitless budget and English soundstages of “Alice” where her “soft-focus regality” (Time magazine) seemed so at home, she is most anxious to do one thing — “go back to the sort of pre-‘Alice’ roles I love to do. You know, small films.”
So she’s done a Gus Van Sant teen drama, “Restless,” “because Gus really understands the complex inner life of adolescents. He gets the alienation. I am privileged to be a part of this world, if only for a bit.”
And she has tested herself on screen with a couple of the finest actresses working in the movies today — Annette Bening and Julianne Moore, who play her “moms” in the eccentric but heartfelt family dramedy “The Kids Are All Right,” opening gradually across the country this month. She plays a curious teen, on the cusp of college, who meets the sperm donor her lesbian “Moms” used to give birth to her and her brother (played by Josh Hutcherson).
“There comes a point in your life when you realize your parents aren’t perfect,” Wasikowska says, talking of the film’s theme. “No one’s perfect, but when they’re your parents and you’ve reached an age where you can see them in a different light, that can be sad. Joni, my character, really loves her parents. At the same time, she’s confused by them and by what’s happening to her family.”
What happens is that things are never quite the same once “the donor” (Mark Ruffalo) finds his way into their lives. This very non-traditional family is tested and Joni comes of age as she sees that seeking a “normal” family can be a fool’s errand when you already have a “normal” that works.
“I like characters who remind me of someone I know,” she says. “There are friends I admire who are a part of her. She’s very comfortable in her place, with who she is. So I pushed to have her, whenever she was at home, in her pajamas. That’s comfortable! And that’s something I do.”
Another thing, which filmgoers have picked up from Wasikowska, is her gift for accents. The daughter of a Polish photographer and her Aussie painter-husband, Mia “grew up listening to American accents on TV and in movies. It isn’t hard to pick up. Doing an accent removes you from yourself and reminds you, every instant, that you’re playing a part.”
To manage “Southern Californian” for “Kids,” “You have to pronounce your R, which we don’t do in Australia.”
She donned a Yorkshire lilt for her turn in “a very non-traditional” “Jane Eyre” that was directed by Cary Fukunaga, who did the harrowing emigre drama “Sin Nombre.”
But even with offers coming in and critical praise further bolstering her position in the world, Wasikowska is dealing with many of the same life decisions that her character, Joni, faces. At 20, this child of artists isn’t necessarily thinking acting is all she will ever do. An avid photographer herself, “I’m reading Susan Sontag’s ‘On Photography’ and taking lots of pictures on my Rollei 120 film (camera) at the moment.
“I really love acting. But I know that I don’t want to be locked into that small box — ‘acting.’ I’d love to go off to college to study photography, art history, humanities. Actors do get to learn about the world, to travel and study all sorts of history, people and types of work. But there’s no reason to limit yourself to one thing, really.”
Even if you’re excelling at that one thing.