Jane Austen has been a movie and television icon for some time now, and yet the Jane that both big and small screens just can't get enough of is the "poor, obscure, plain, little" heroine of Charlotte Brontë's 1847 novel. I sat down with Cary Fukunaga, director of the latest film adaptation of Jane Eyre (from BBC Films and Focus Features), and Mia Wasikowska, who plays Jane, to explore this phenomenon.
This is the fourth major motion-pictureJane Eyre. There have also been two major TV movies and three mini-series. Why do you think Charlotte Brontë's novel is so popular?
Fukunaga: It's hard to say. I walked into the project pretty much ignorant that there were so many other adaptations on screen. They never made it to where I grew up - they were pretty much off my radar.
Where did you grow up?
Fukunaga: In the Bay Area, in San Francisco. I knew of the '43 version that had Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, and that's the one I grew up with, and so, when I stumbled upon this one, I didn't think there was so much competition.
Had you read the novel before you saw the film? Or did you read it later?
Fukunaga: I saw the Orson Welles film when I was a kid, six or seven. So I didn't read the novel until I was doing this project.
But you must have had a reason for wanting to do your ownJane Eyre. Was this a project that somebody suggested to you?
Fukunaga: I'm not saying I just saw the movie - I loved the movie when I was a kid. So the idea of doing an adaptation had happened before, I knew there was a project with the BBC, you have general meetings when you travel. So when I was in the UK, I had a general meeting with the BBC, and I found out they had Jane Eyre on their slate, and of all the things they were talking about, that was the one I was interested in. I think they wanted me to read a Hardy adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd, and I wasn't as interested in that.
Next time, perhaps?
Fukunaga: That's a tough one, I think. Bathsheba, you know. A complex female character as well. I didn't think that one was ready yet. But I was piqued by the Jane Eyre possibility. I read the script and I liked what [Moira] Buffini had done with it, so it was a simple decision to sign onto it. I also wanted to live in Europe for a while, so it was a perfect opportunity to get really into English history and literature.
And where was the film shot?
Fukunaga: Northern England.
Mia, how many film adaptations ofJane Eyre have you seen?
Wasikowska: I haven't seen any of them. And I chose not to see them because I didn't want to be influenced by anything, even in a way that I didn't know. And I was also overwhelmed by how many there were, and I didn't know where to start. We had two weeks of preparation, and I would have spent the whole time watching Jane Eyre adaptations. But I started reading the book a few months before I found out that the project was even going ahead, and I was halfway through it, and I got in touch with my agent, and I asked her if anyone was developing the project, or if there was a script around, and there wasn't at the time, but two months later she sent me a script, and I met Cary, and it went from there.