Magazine

Lights Up: Mia Wasikowska on costumes being the final “piece of the puzzle”

Date posted: 13 Oct 2020Author: STC

Mia Wasikowska (Image: Zan Wimberley)

Star of stage and screen Mia Wasikowska (STC’s Lord of the Flies, Films Alice in Wonderland, Tracks, Jane Eyre) is one of the generous artists in our community who have rallied around STC to help us recover from 2020 by supporting our Lights Up online fundraising auction. As well as helping organise the auction, Mia has offered to take a STC supporter on a tour of our incredible costume department in what will be the newly refurbished Wharf. Known for her gripping performances across genres, from fantasy, horror, period, modern dramas and more, Mia sat down with us to talk about why costumes are an important “piece of the puzzle” for every actor.

When you’re preparing to play a character, what impact does your costume have on your process?

I always tend to think of the costume as the last piece of the puzzle when developing a character. It’s massive, really. It’s easy to forget how much your clothing impacts how you feel. There’s a double purpose in how they make you feel about yourself, but also what you present to others. 

Like when I was filming Jane Eyre, they were incredibly strict about my corset, and also about the authenticity of the undergarment to be of that time. I think even all the hems had been hand sewn – so they were just so authentic down to the final detail, on each layer. 

I had worn a corset before on Alice in Wonderland but it wasn't until Jane Eyre that I realised how much leeway they have given me on Alice in Wonderland, with a kind of fake and modernised corset, and I didn’t have to wear it for the whole shoot. 

So on Jane Eyre I was a bit shocked about how incredibly uncomfortable it was and how oppressive it would have been to be in that every day. This was only a couple of weeks of my life but I could imagine having to grow up with that oppression as a young woman. It was pretty astounding. I absolutely hated it! [laughs] but the costume designers on that were absolutely brilliant.

Mia Wasikowska in Jane Eyre (2011) in costumes designed by Michael O’Connor

So what impact did wearing that costume have on your performance?

I realised that in my preparation for that role, I had been quite nervous about whether I could appear to move the way that the women of that time, and have their posture and the right stance, and the minute I put on that costume I thought “Oh. That’s done all that work for me”. Because you’re so limited in your options, you’re completely rigid and the way that you move is very dictated by that costume. 

I feel like I learn a little bit about history as I’ve played characters in different periods, countries and classes. Like there is there a huge difference between period costumes on Jane Eyre and on Crimson Peak in terms of stylistic changes, and the way you’re allowed to wear your hair, and the differences between America and England. So I do learn about those times a bit through the costumes. Especially when I think about playing Madame Bovary and the incredible costumes on that film.

So I do love that about doing period films, but it’s also the same with quite modern settings and getting to find really strong character in the costumes from the modern world. 

On stage at STC you played a schoolboy Ralph, and the costumes you and your cast mates wore were more symbolic than literal – how did that help you get into the world of the play?

I really love the whole concept behind the costumes and wardrobe in Lord of the Flies. I remember hearing the initial idea and being quite blown away by it. I had come in quite naive assuming we be in school uniforms and I hadn't really thought much beyond that. But then we explored this very specific idea that as the play went on and as it descended into madness and chaos, our colourful modern day top layers would come off and the layers of clothes underneath would look like skin. It got closer to looking like flesh, and almost a degraded part of our skin. Then you had this amazing contrast when blood got on those fleshy tones and it was quite startling. 

The cast of Lord of the Flies in costumes designed by Elizabeth Gadsby. (Image: Zan Wimberley)

Are there any costumes in other STC productions that stick out to you as memorable?

I remember seeing Cloud Nine a few years ago and thinking they were fantastic. They really illustrated these characters – you had Heather Mitchell playing this young kid, and Harry Greenwood playing a woman. The costumes really grounded you in one part of the reality of the world of that play, and you were able to completely believe in those characters.

The cast of Cloud Nine in costumes designed by Elizabeth Gadsby (Image: Daniel Boud)

If someone were to take a tour of the STC costume department, what do you think would surprise them?

Just seeing the level of detail and thought that goes into the costumes in an STC play. I'm just continually amazed at how much thought and creativity goes into it. Even some of the things on Lord of the Flies where they had shoes that the hunters had made into masks and I was really hoping that the audience got to see the detail of that. That they’d actually ended up tearing up the shoes and making these masks. So I reckon you might be surprised to see little details that you've missed when you're more focused on the story.

To bid on a tour of the costume department at STC, in the newly refurbished Wharf hosted by Mia Wasikowska and her Lord of the Flies co-star Contessa Treffone, or any of the sixty amazing prizes on offer, head to the online fundraising auction here.