Eye on the Oscars: The Actress

A number of actresses are enjoying highly praised roles that originated in books, but there the similarities end.

One takes on the anti-hero of a bestseller that has already inspired an acclaimed Danish adaptation. One plays a real-life Hollywood icon. One essays the heroine of a classic piece of literature that has inspired 20 previous movies. And one actually inspired the novelist in the molding of the character.

Rooney Mara understands her visceral interpretation of anti-social computer hacker Lisbeth Salandar in director David Fincher’s adaptation of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” isn’t going to please all the fans of the wildly popular book.

“Everyone has a different picture of who this girl is,” she says, “so no one is going to think it’s absolutely faithful. But I let all of that go for the entire time that we were shooting, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to get through it. I’m never going to be able to please everyone and that’s just something I have to live with.”

Despite Michelle Williams’ reams of research on Marilyn Monroe for “My Week With Marilyn” — about the megastar’s misadventures shooting “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Laurence Olivier (Kenneth Branagh) — the actress says Colin Clark’s memoir of his time on the film’s set offers “a goldmine” of insight into her character.

Williams acknowledges that there are questions about the memoir’s factual accuracy, but explains, “While some of his reporting seems a little self-aggrandizing, there are clear-sighted observations about who Marilyn was and what it was like to be around her. He explains how fragile her features were before she transformed and became the screen icon, what she looked like under that.”

She credits screenwriter Adrian Hodges and director Simon Curtis for culling the script of some of Clark’s more dubious claims (he turned down her offer of sex), adding of Curtis, “He did his research like he was going to play the part,” which helped her to actually do so.

Mia Wasikowska avoided the previous film versions of “Jane Eyre,” Charlotte Bronte’s 1847 novel about a long-suffering young woman’s halting quest for love. “I didn’t want to not do something because it had been done, or do something just to be different,” she says.

She did, however, immerse herself in Bronte’s classic. “I underlined anything I thought was important and ended up underlining most of the book. The tricky thing is, it’s 500 pages of her internal monologue. How do you convey that? Mainly, you must do it visually.”

Praised for her restrained, unsentimental depiction of the heroine, Wasikowska asserts, “The material is strong enough without you throwing it in people’s faces. It’s more emotional to watch someone holding something back than to see them falling apart.”

Octavia Spencer, who plays Minny in “The Help,” was happy to have novelist Kathryn Stockett on set. The pair met while the author was planning the book and it was Spencer’s personality that helped shape the character.

Not everything in Stockett’s tome made it into the film, but Spencer used even those details to add nuance to her character: “She’s an abused woman, which is touched on little in the movie, but that’s the most important thing in her life.”

Co-star Viola Davis, who plays Aibileen, adds that the book helped her recognize and establish her character’s inner voice.

“I wanted them to be more personalized. Aibileen said her son died and a bitter seed had been planted inside of her and she just didn’t feel that accepting anymore. I thought that was very important, to show what her emotional state was at the beginning of the story. I really wanted the audience to feel the impact of what her son’s death meant to her, because for women of that generation, their dreams were their children.”

Barry Garron, Kate Hahn and Robert Abele contributed to this report.

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