At 18 years old, Mia Wasikowska has already become a master at foreign accents.
The Oz-born actress has played a suicidal American teen in “In Treatment,” a Polish-Jewish refugee in Edward Zwick’s upcoming Nazi-era drama “Defiance” and American aviatrix Elinor Smith in Mira Nair’s Amelia Earhart biopic, “Amelia.” Most recently, Wasikowska was tapped for the titular role in Tim Burton’s filmic adaptation of the Lewis Carroll classic “Alice in Wonderland.”
“I was probably a bit of a mimic when I was a kid, and I used to imitate people,” explains Wasikowska of the ease with which she slides into character. “My mum is Polish, and my nana speaks with a very strong Polish accent, so that wasn’t too hard to pick up. Also, in Australia we have so many American films and TV shows, it’s easier for an Australian to pick up an American accent.”
While her first love was ballet, Wasikowska was 14 and a dance student at drama school when she discovered the joys of acting.
“Dance is such a stressful environment,” she notes of her departure from the discipline. “A lot of it is about your body, which really bothered me because I like the emotional side. Acting really suited me because I could connect as an actor to emotion.”
Having secured both an Australian and an American agent, Wasikowska read the pilot script for “In Treatment” and made a demo reel for series showrunner Rodrigo Garcia.
“My American agent showed it to Rodrigo, and about a week later he brought me over for a studio audition,” recalls the newcomer of how she snagged the breakout role of Sophie in the acclaimed HBO show, which is returning for a second season. “It was great.”
Garcia proved a supportive force to Wasikowska, who prior to “In Treatment” had only been cast in a few Australian productions.
“He was really quiet,” notes the ingenue of Garcia’s directing style. “He wouldn’t say a whole lot to me, but when he would say something to me it would be very important. He kind of left it a lot up to us.”
It was her dynamic performance as Sophie that grabbed the attention of both Zwick and Nair.
“He had so much to think about and managed to make it all seem very easy,” Wasikowska says of Zwick. Of Nair, she adds, “Mira knows exactly what she wants and know exactly how she’ll get it from you.”
As for Burton, for whom she’s currently shooting scenes in L.A., Wasikowska is ebullient: “I can’t wait to see how it all turns out.”
Yet while “In Treatment” has certainly propelled the young actress to a whole new level in Hollywood, Wasikowska remains wary of any full-blown fame that might roll her way in the upcoming years.
“I really like my anonymity and my privacy,” she admits, “so being recognized on the street is not really something that I’d be excited about. On the other hand, it would also give me such amazing opportunities.”
An actor should always: “Remember to enjoy themselves. It’s very easy to get caught up in the anxieties of the job.”
Lucky break: “In Treatment.” “I hadn’t done much before that. There was no real proof, so to speak, that I could handle Sophie. For them to put their trust in me, I’m very thankful for that.”
Favorite film character: Holly Hunter as Ada in “The Piano.”