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A lover of history and classic movies, director Cary Fukunaga tackled Jane Eyre with an eye for the period as he explains in this Q & A.

Q: What makes Mia Wasikowska so special and right for the role of Jane Eyre?
A: Obviously, she's very talented. She's from a small town in Australia and she took it upon herself to go out and see if someone would represent her and submit her for castings. I think she shows that luck is only part of it, because if she wasn't good she wouldn't have got the roles. There's something ‘old soul’ about her, something highly intellectual. She has a face that's not really timeless but ageless, like she could be a teenager or she could be a young adult. You can't really place her in that way and there is something about her that the camera just loves, and that's one in a million. 

Q: Is that what you needed for Jane Eyre?
A: Not necessarily. That's part of the reason she's taken off, but what I was looking for were things that I think are inherent in her personality. There's the intelligence, there's the observation, there's the curiosity and there's that fire. Those are all things I needed for Jane Eyre, as well as the fact she was the right age. 

Q: Were you convinced Michael Fassbender was right for the role as soon as you met him?
A: I thought he was a star as soon as I saw him in Hunger. I was like “this guy, there's no one else like him right now”. He was definitely my only choice.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges making this film? 
A: Films these days are very gruelling in terms of time, because every minute counts. It was little bit breezy and sunny the day we were filming the sequence when Jane’s supposed to be showing up at the house after trudging across the marshy moors in three days of rain. But there was bright sunshine and no clouds and we're like, ‘How are we going to shoot this?’ But you've just got to do it and hope to make it work in post-production. I don't think there's such a thing as an easy film to make and just because it's a great experience shooting a film doesn't mean it's a great film. And when you are on a film and everything seems challenging and everything has an issue attached to it, that's par for the course. As a director most of your time is spent putting out fires. 

Q: So what was the most difficult scene to shoot? 
A: You should probably ask what was the easy scene to shoot, because every scene had its challenges. We were shooting when the volcano was going off in Iceland, which meant planes stopped running, which meant film shipments stopped, which meant our film stocks were dwindling. There were no planes in the sky, but now that there were no planes in the sky, people were using chainsaws to chop down their trees next door, or there were insects buzzing everywhere. Every scene had its challenges! 

Q: What surprised you the most about Mia Wasikowska? 
A: You never know what's going to happen on a set or what a performance is going to be like until you start shooting it. We were running out of time to shoot the last scene of the day where Jane meets St. John Rivers in the moor and says, ‘I'll go to India with you but I won't marry you’. It's an important scene and it's a dramatic scene. You see a bit of St. John Rivers’ true side and we’d shot about three-quarters of the scene and it was a misty, overcast afternoon, and then suddenly the sun broke out and we had a lot more to cover. Mia was giving a lot to the scene, it was really emotional and we had to say, “OK, we'll need to re-shoot a bunch of stuff” and she did it and just got better and better. She's tireless in that way, and maybe that's part of youth, but when she turns it on, it's just an incredible performance - and that was just day one!

Q: Do you think the younger generation will become interested in Jane Eyre because of your film?
A: My cousin, Camilla, is thirteen and she came out to a screening. Her mom told me as soon as she finished watching the film that she went home and bought Jane Eyre and now she's halfway through the book and obsessed with it. So I think that it's one of those books that either it really moves you when you're young, or it doesn't do anything for you at all. I've had friends who are like, “I didn't like Jane Eyre, I thought Rochester was horrible and I didn't understand her decision in the end.” Then there are some women who are like “that book just changed my life!” So it’s good that it can be inspiring and get young women to read the book. 

Q: What makes this story a classic that keeps being re-told?

A: There's a very universal aspect to the story, just the whole nature and character of Jane facing so many challenges growing up, and to still end up being such a passionate, strong-willed adult who understands her own worth. I mean, you can ask this question in terms of what makes it modern and what makes it relevant: How many people today would walk away from an imperfect love to save their own dignity? So many people are so starved of love and companionship that they would never walk away from that and to have that strength makes her such an incredible sort of example.

Q: How was working with Dame Judi Dench?

A: That was awesome. I was excited and terrified, all at once. What do you say to her when she’s worked with everybody? But her agent helped when he said, ‘Judi really actually likes direction’. She is tireless and so much fun on set. It was such a pleasure to have worked with her.

Q: You graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in History. Is that why you like period films?
A: Definitely, but I was interested in making movies when I was in college and didn't think someone that grew up in a middle-class family with nobody working in movies could make it. I was always fascinated by these characters and tales I was reading about in history. When reading I would always footnote or put in the margins “Oh, this would be a really cool movie one day”. But I also think in terms of writing it's a good approach because writing is mostly research, even when writing fictional stories. But when you're writing an essay in history, you're doing a lot of work and figuring out why these icons in history did what they did. It's a great character study, so I think it translates really well to making movies. 

Q: Is it true that you shot Jane Eyre in the same location as other Jane Eyre movies?

A: Yes, we were at Haddon Hall in Derbyshire. It was used in Zeffirelli's version and in the 2006 one, and it was used in another version too, I’ve been told. At first I was a little bit wary of using something someone else had already used, but once you start looking at the other homes, that house was perfect and is very foreboding. 

Q: Was the film mostly shot on location or did you have any visual effects?
A: We had a ton of CG in our movie! We had hundreds of effects shots. Things like removing electrical poles and extensions of railroads, and the crossroads. It wasn't easy but often the weather forced us to use CG, when it was a bright sunny day and we had to make it look stormy or even when we had to produce a great sunrise. Civilization was just on the edge-of-frame all the time and we couldn’t avoid it. 

Q: Were you trying to put your own stamp on this film or be true to the material?
A: I'm way more attracted to classic styles of cinema. Even Sin Nombre for me was more a classic style of cinema. If you watch the film it's more like 1970s style, it was more like I was emulating a classic film than emulating City of God. So that was my inspiration, to be classic, not edgy.

Q: What made you feel confident telling a woman’s story?

A: I guess I'm surrounded by women on the production side, with my editor and set decorator and pretty much everybody I work with! I also trust Mia to know that we're getting an honest version of this moment. I think anyone who does art or is trying to create things has to be in touch with their emotional side, because that's what you're tapping into. I don't think you make art tapping into your intellectual side. There is such a thing as conceptual art, but it's not for me. 

Q: So you’re not attracted to doing blockbusters?
A: I was never that guy in high school; I was into history and weird sort of Luddite hobbies. My favourite movies growing up were probably Tron, which was more boyish, or Empire of the Sun.

Published December 8, 2011

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Cary Fukunaga


Mia Wasikowska - as Jane Eyre

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