Interview: Mia Wasikowska chats Alice Through the Looking Glass, Sacha Baron Cohen, and more

In 2010, Australian actor Mia Wasikowska found herself propelled into the spotlight when she landed the coveted role of Alice in the reboot of Alice in Wonderland, playing opposite Johnny Depp and Anne Hathaway. Six years later and she has jumped back into the iconic role once more for a sequel many thought would never happen.

Following on from the enormously successful first film with Alice Through the Looking Glass, based on the second Alice novel by Lewis Carroll, the Disney production once again takes inspiration from the classic story to spring Tim Burton’s take on Wonderland (flipped as “Underland”) to life, handing the reigns over to Director James Bobin.

Before the film hits Australian cinemas at the end of this month (Thursday 26th May) we had a bit of a chat with Wasikowska about jumping back into character for this highly anticipated sequel, working alongside new cast member Sacha Baron Cohen (who portrays the eccentric character of Time), and how her journey so far has shaped this version of Alice.

Check out the full transcript and film trailer below.

It’s been a while between films; what was it like for you jumping into the role of Alice and how would you describe Alice now compared to Alice in the 2010 film?

It’s been six years since the first one, but in the story it’s been two and she’s been travelling the world as the captain of her own ship and feeling really great and confident, really doing what she loves. And so she comes back into this story with a much stronger sense of who she is, and confidence! She’s kind of shocked to see that expectations of her are so low in the society that she’s part of.

I notice that there is definitely a different tone to Alice; she’s more headstrong and confident. But then, when she comes back there’s this expectation of conformity which drives her back to Underland. What would you say that Alice is bringing into Underland with her now?

It’s a place that brings her back to herself, which is good. She always ends up going there in the midst of a crisis, or when something isn’t working out in her own world…she ends up falling back into that world where she’s presented with a problem that requires her to come back to herself. In this case she has to save the Mad Hatter who is becoming more and more sane, and she needs to get him ‘mad’ again, or get him back to himself also which is really sweet.

I took it as symbolic that Alice’s entry into Underland is more intentional this time. She goes into the mirror by choice rather than falling down the hole by accident. Is that speaking to her newfound confidence and does that equip her to handle the challenge that’s presented to her?

Definitely. That sense of knowing things and having been there before; in a way choosing to be there and go there and help out. It’s obviously much more pleasant being there than in the real world where no one expects much from her.

I noticed with James [Bobin] at the helm there’s a lighter tone but it’s more emotionally complex this time. You’re dealing with poignant themes of time and memory and loss…acceptance too. How did this change of tone affect what you brought to Alice as a performance?

I think James is really wonderfully, he brought his own sense of humour to the film but also that sense of emotional resonance between all the characters I think.

In the first one it was more that Alice was the only point of reality, but in the second he’s really pushed all the characters to really engage with each other, that was nice. And then there are also the themes between Alice and her Mother and then the Hatter and his Father: trying to connect but then also being able to let go of those relationships and expectations. James is really great. He brought a really great energy and pushed us in different ways.

I read somewhere that this time round there were more sets rather than just green screens. How was that for you in terms of performance, being immersed in this atmosphere rather than having to rely on imagination in green screen?

It was great, really awesome. There were a couple more sets. You get so much from the sets, you know where you are, the tone, and it gives you an indication of all sorts of things.

It’s the same with the costumes, they’re so essential on a film like this because it just gives you an idea of what the scene is supposed to be like. For example when Sacha [Baron Cohen] comes in with his costume you’re like ‘oh okay this is supposed to be really funny and ridiculous.’

Speaking of Sacha [Baron Cohen], he’s probably one of the biggest changes this time. Obviously he did a brilliant job of balancing the pompous with the clumsiness in his character too. You share a lot screen time with him, what kind of dynamic did he bring, and what did he bring out of you as an actor?

James puts it perfectly when he says, ‘Sacha plays a confident idiot really well.’ It’s true, he’s so pompous and just a total buffoon, he takes his character really seriously. I feel like I encounter people like that all the time so it was awesome to see it in the film. He brings a completely different energy to the film… we worked really hard on the character, and he would improvise a lot. It was really good because Alice was the only one that could call him out on his idiocy, that made a really good dynamic.

Did that dimension bring anything new out of you?

Yeah it was nice, there was a lightness to Alice this time, she got to be a little bit humorous…got to have some more humorous dynamics which was great.

What’s your personal experience with Lewis Carol’s novels and the meaning these novels have to you? Has that changed since the first film?

The great thing about the books is that there is such a rich source of material, you can read them as a child and then you can read them as an adult and they mean two completely different things. Everybody takes what they want from it in a way. There have been so many interpretations and there always will be because it classically resonates with people.

How does it resonate with you now?

My interpretation would be completely different to the film I’m in, but I love Alice, and I love what they’ve done with the film. Even though they’re being satirical about female hysteria, and we’ve come a long way with feminism since then, that will be the first point of contact for young women, or young girls — to see a female character being so strong, independent and feisty, I think that’s really great.

For the crew it must of been trickier than the first book to adapt this because the structure doesn’t lend itself to an adaptation. Did that unfamiliarity challenge you at all?

Not really, the first film was such an abstraction of the first film anyway so this was similar. The books aren’t linear, they’re really random little moments so this was sort of to be expected with a film like this, that they would have to round it out more. So the way that they did it is really sweet.

What do you hope audiences take away from the film?

I guess that Alice is always challenged but she always manages to come back to herself and do that is right by her. That’s a good message for young people. Also not conforming to what people expect and being original, and doing what makes you happy.

Alice Through the Looking Glass will be released in Australian cinemas on Thursday 26th May through Disney.