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Q&A: “CRIMSON PEAK” Heroine Mia Wasikowska

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Actress Mia Wasikowska is no stranger to tales of dark fantasy and Gothic romance, the two genres intertwined in Guillermo del Toro’s CRIMSON PEAK (on Blu-ray and DVD today). FANGORIA spoke to Wasikowska about the lavish supernatural thriller in this exclusive interview.

CRIMSON PEAK, released by Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, casts Wasikowska as Edith Cushing, a young woman in turn-of-the-century upstate New York who bucks the expectations of her gender by aspiring to become a writer of Gothic literature. She winds up living out just such a scenario when she is wooed by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston), who whisks her off to the crumbling British mansion he shares with his unbalanced sister Lucille (Jessica Chastain)—and which also has a few ghostly inhabitants. The film (which we reviewed here) fits right in to Wasikowska’s résumé, which also includes Tim Burton’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND and James Bobin’s upcoming sequel ALICE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, the 2011 screen version of JANE EYRE, Park Chan-wook’s dysfunctional-family horror film STOKER and Jim Jarmusch’s vampire drama ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (also starring Hiddleston).

FANGORIA: Having done a few films based on period literature, was that something you’d been enthusiastic about before you took those roles?

MIA WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, I really like those Gothic novels. You know, Guillermo puts everybody to shame when he starts talking about that literature, but I did like the Bronte sisters, and then I read FRANKENSTEIN and THE TURN OF THE SCREW on this film, and gained a wider appreciation of the genre.

FANG: And had you been a fan of del Toro’s cinema before doing CRIMSON PEAK?

CRIMSONPEAKWASIKOWSKAWASIKOWSKA: Yes, I thought PAN’S LABYRINTH was so beautiful, and I loved THE DEVIL’S BACKBONE and how he creates a world and a fantasy and sort of a very dark fairy tale, but the violence never is gratuitous or without a greater emotional heart.

FANG: One of the interesting things about CRIMSON PEAK is that its true horror comes from the people and not from the ghosts; the spirits are almost a secondary element, in a way.

WASIKOWSKA: Absolutely; they’re always the ones that are warning Edith and trying to remind her of something, and that is, I think, very true-to-life. It’s not really those things in the past or that mentally haunt us that we have to be scared of; it’s really things in the present, or the people in our present.

FANG: Del Toro is known for creating sketchbooks full of drawings and images for his projects; did he do that on CRIMSON PEAK, and if so, did he share it with you?

WASIKOWSKA: I’m not sure if he did; I didn’t see one, but maybe he did, I don’t really know. I did see a couple of sketches of the look of the ghosts, and they also made up miniature clay models of the ghosts, which were pretty amazing.

FANG: The ghosts were enhanced via CGI, but were the actors on set for you to play opposite?

WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, they were, and they were these two guys [Doug Jones and Javier Botet] who were very tall and very thin. They would spend six hours in prosthetic makeup, kind of getting the skeleton painted on top of them.

FANG: CRIMSON PEAK has quite a bit in common with STOKER: Even though STOKER is completely modern and has no supernatural elements, it has a Gothic feel and centers on your character’s relationship with an untrustworthy man. Can you talk about the comparison?

WASIKOWSKA: They seem very different in some ways, but then maybe there is a through-line that’s slightly similar. They’re also very steeped in a kind of family dynamic that’s holding the characters back, in a way. In one sense, they really want it and need it, and in another way, they’re trying to break free of that suffocating family dynamic.

FANG: Edith has a very complex relationship with Thomas. Were you able to shoot that in sequence, or did you have to deal with jumping around in terms of where you were in that relationship?

WASIKOWSKA: It was pretty jumpy; we shot all the stuff in the house first, and that was sort of in sequence, but we started from the middle of the story. I’d worked with Tom once before, though, and he’s a lovely guy and very easy to work with. I think a lot of people experience the kind of relationship Edith has with Thomas, were you become completely infatuated very quickly, and then slowly, you realize it’s not exactly what you thought it was.

FANG: Did you get to see the spectacular mansion set come together when they were assembling it, or did you first walk onto that set when it was finished?

WASIKOWSKA: I did see it once before we started filming, when it was in the stage of being built, and then I saw it again just as we were about to start filming, and it was completely amazing. It’s increasingly rare to find yourself on a film that has a built set that is so beautiful and detailed. There’s so much you can get from an external environment like that that you don’t even realize until you’re standing on a greenscreen stage, and you realize it feels quite stale. Anything that gives you a sense of where you are, who you are and the world you’re living in is tremendously helpful.

FANG: Where were the exteriors filmed?

WASIKOWSKA: We shot a lot of that in Kingston, which is outside of Toronto by a couple of hours, and then also in Hamilton for a little bit; that’s a mining town.

FANG: Can you talk a bit about the comparison between del Toro and ALICE IN WONDERLAND’s Tim Burton, in terms of how they deal with their actors amidst these lavish productions?

WASIKOWSKA: They’re quite different, but then all directors are very different. Guillermo is incredibly collaborative, and really wants to know your opinion and shares the experience closely with you, in a way that you wouldn’t expect from someone who’s so prolific, and that’s really wonderful. Tim is great as well, though he sort of expresses himself and communicates things in a more visual way. He’s not big on discussing things and talking in depth about them.

FANG: Del Toro likes to collaborate with the same actors repeatedly. Have you talked to him about coming back for another film in the future?

WASIKOWSKA: I would absolutely love to, but we’ll see in time if anything is appropriate. He’s just wonderful, and any actor is very lucky to work with him.

FANG: You and Johnny Depp are back together in the ALICE IN WONDERLAND sequel; is it a direct adaptation of THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS?

WASIKOWSKA: It’s kind of an amalgamation—as was the first one—of all different elements of the books. But yes, there are strong elements from THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS. Johnny is so great as The Hatter; he’s one of those very rare people who does those very big characters so brilliantly.

FANG: You’ve appeared in movies by many of this era’s great fantasist directors; are there any others on your wish list?

WASIKOWSKA: Yeah, so many—but I always feel embarrassed saying which ones!

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About the author
Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold has been a member of the FANGORIA team for the past three decades. After starting as a writer for the magazine in 1988, he came aboard as associate editor in 1990 and two years later moved up to managing editor. He now serves as editor-in-chief of the magazine while continuing to contribute numerous articles and reviews, as well as a contributing editor/writer for this website.
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