In Stoker, Mia Wasikowska plays a mysterious girl named India, whose father dies on her 18th birthday, leaving her with her lacking mother (Nicole Kidman) and a mysterious uncle (Matthew Goode) she never knew about. But India has a dark side of her own, saying she hears things others can’t and sporting a strong affinity for hunting. She’s creepily quiet and hates it when people touch her.
For Australian actress Wasikowska, who starred in 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are Alright and 2012’s Lawless, India’s mysterious ways were exactly what attracted her to playing the part.
“It was a really easy decision for me,” says Wasikowska, 23. “I thought she was really different than any character that I’ve played before so I was instantly sort of thrilled.”
But how do you prepare to play a character who is so difficult to understand? Wasikowska says she and Korean director Park Chan-wook (who makes his English-language debut with Stoker), sent each other images through email to make sure they were on the same page.
“Some of the images were from India’s perspective, so things that I thought would explain the way that she sees the world,” says Wasikowska. “And then the other images would be something that had an essence of her physicality or her emotionally, so that was really helpful.”
India resides in a murky place as the film progresses. Is she a heroine? Or is she a dark soul in the making? She’s at times completely removed from her life, but at other times passionate about everything.
Wasikowska says that in some ways, India remained as much a mystery to her as to everyone else.
“The best way to explain it is when I’m filming, I have a definite story that I follow for her, but then when I finish and I let go of the project a bit, it’s sort of up to interpretation,” she says. “So one of the interesting things has been seeing how people have interpreted her and her character in the story. And the only thing that’s consistent is how different everybody’s opinion is of her.”
One powerful scene in the film features Wasikowska’s character playing a duet on the piano with her uncle. But this isn’t just any old “Heart and Soul.” The taut scene is electrified with sexual undertones as India seems to completely unravel, as if she’s been put under a spell by her uncle.
“That’s sort of one of the scenes that you’re always anticipating during the shoot,” says Wasikowska. “It was almost my favorite one to film, because we had the music there, playing really loudly for us, and then, to a certain extent, I felt like I didn’t have to do anything because so much of the emotion and the feeling was in the music, and if I just sort of surrendered to that, it was all there.”
The film relies heavily on unsettling visuals and sounds and a restless camera, which create the creepy, dark world in which India lives. From feeling a spider crawl up India’s leg to hearing the shell of an egg crack into pieces as it’s rolled across a table, the sights and sounds of Park’s film are so strong that they are not only seen but felt in the pit of a viewer’s stomach.
Wasikowska saw the film for the first time at the Sundance Film Festival, which she says was an interesting experience because she finally got to see all of Park’s hard work pay off.
“Often there were moments [during the shoot] where director Park was trying to explain what he wanted to do visually and we were all standing there like scratching our heads, and so it was pretty cool to see it all finished,” she says.
While the film is extremely dark and visceral, with sounds made louder for dramatic effect, Wasikowska says that when the cameras turned off, she was able to let go of that dark mood.
“I’ve found that on the more serious films, it’s a bit sillier in between takes and set-ups and scenes, almost out of necessity to kind of counter the intensity of that mood and tone,” she says. “We were very good at snapping quickly out of it.”
Wasikowska says she even spent a night doing karaoke during the shoot.
“What were we singing?” she says. “I can’t remember what we were singing. I think The Beatles.”
Stoker opens in theaters in limited release on March 1.
Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford