In the dark psychological thriller “Stoker,” Mia Wasikowska plays India Stoker, an introverted loner who is grieving over the sudden death of her father, Richard Stoker (played by Dermot Mulroney), whom she was closer to than she is to her dysfunctional and emotionally distant mother, Evelyn (played by Oscar winner Nicole Kidman). When Richard’s younger brother Charlie comes to live with Evelyn and India in their mansion, things start to take a twisted turn in their lives.
Charlie is obsessed with India, he openly flirts with Evelyn, and certain people in contact with the Stokers end up getting killed. With murder and possible incest as major plot devices in the movie, “Stoker” is definitely not for the young, impressionable and easily offended. Wasikowska talked about making this risky film when I sat down with her at the New York City press junket for “Stoker.”
India Stoker is a character that keeps people guessing about how good or bad she really is. Did your perception of this character change at all during the process of making the movie?
When I first read the script, I had that same feeling that the audience has throughout the movie, of not knowing what side India is going to fall on, whether she’s going to be a hero or anti-hero. And so I liked that until the end, we were kind of guessing. There were so many questions about who she was.
What had surprised me, I guess, what that director Park [Chan-Wook] talked to me about her in quite an innocent way. And he had seen it as sort of a coming-of-age story. And that although India realizes herself in a darker way, in the beginning, she still has quite regular teenage desires and feelings. And that’s what he stressed for me. And that surprised me.
Can you talk some more about working with director Park Chan-Wook?
It was pretty great. I’d never worked with anybody who storyboarded the movie from start to finish. That was pretty unique. It was so precise in a way that usually isn’t the case with films. And yeah, it was pretty brilliant. The obvious difficulty was that he didn’t speak English, but it was something that was so flawless after a couple of days that we didn’t really notice that we were talking through a translator.
So Park did a lot of pointing when he was trying to communicate?
Yeah. He always puts it well when he says, “There was a lot of gesticulation.”
After you saw the storyboards, were you surprised by the final cut of the movie?
Yeah, I was definitely surprised because although it was storyboarded, as we were shooting, it was changed quite a lot. Usually, you can watch his films and watch it with a book of storyboards, and every shot is exactly the same. But I think this was one of the first of his films where he had to modify things as we went along because of timing and other issues.
Did you have any favorite visuals in “Stoker”?
I liked the egg metaphor, which is throughout the film, particularly for my character. He had always seen her as this little chick pecking out of her eggshell. So that really inspired a lot of the look for India. Things were yellow and fluffy in her bedroom. And if you look closely, some of the chairs in the house are more egg-shaped.
And behind her head at one point are five white plates in a circle and one yellow one in the middle, like an egg yolk. So yeah, down to the fine details like that, it was pretty great.
There’s a piano duet between India and Charlie Stoker that’s one of the most memorable scenes in the movie. Can you talk about that scene?
It was always written very intensely. It is sort of like a love scene. It’s the love scene of the movie. And it was one more favorite days on the set, because India’s a really closed-off character, so for a lot of the film, everything’s held together and held back. And that was one of the few moments where, as a character, she allows herself to be swept away a little bit more. So it was nice to be able to let go.
And also, we filmed it with the music. Sound is an element that we don’t always have the privilege of when shooting films. To be able to shoot a scene with the music is pretty great.
Most of the stars of “Stoker” are not American, yet the movie is about an American family and has a very American setting. Can you talk about any cultural adjustments that you had to make as an Australian?
It wasn’t something that was thought about too much. Park did make it feel very timeless and non-specific to where it is. It is quite an American film, in terms of the setting and the location and the design of the house. He wanted it to feel like it could be any time period in any country. So I sort of feel like it was universal enough in a way that the different cultures [of the actors] weren’t notice.
There are shots of a spider throughout “Stoker.” What do you think is the significant of the spider in the movie?
There are so many different ways that you can interpret the visual metaphors, but do remember talking about that [spider] symbolizing Uncle Charlie’s arrival, in a way. And also, when he’s in shot, I think you see a spider cross away from his face or go away. So there’s the arrival of the spider, and then the spider disappearing into top or something. That’s what I remember, but I’m sure there’s any number of others.
What are our thoughts on how blood is filmed in “Stoker”?
I think director Park said it really well when he said that rather than it necessarily being about bad blood and predisposition for evil and the bloodline, maybe it’s more that violence is contagious, which I thought was really good, because we don’t really know what would’ve happened to India if Uncle Charlie hadn’t turned up. I thought that was a more interesting take on it, rather than it being something in the bloodline.
What surprised you the most about working with Nicole Kidman?
She was just so open and kind and warm from the very beginning. [She] really took me under her wing and was just very kind. And it was great to watch her work because she really tries a whole array of things. She’s really bold as a person and as an actress. And that was cool to see. She’s not embarrassed in any way, which is great. She’s not self-conscious. She just really goes for it. It was really great to see that.
Were you a fan of Park Chan-Wook’s films before working with him?
I actually hadn’t seen his films before. I heard of him, and I heard of “Oldboy.” But after I signed on for the film, I did a marathon [of his movies], which was intense.
Did any other movie characters inspire you when you played India Stoker? Did you watch any Alfred Hitchcock films as inspiration?
I didn’t have any specifically. I did watch a lot of Hitchcock films previously. But it wasn’t really mentioned to me as something to look into as research. And it’s actually the link to Hitchcock has more about now rather than we were filming. It had been mentioned, but it wasn’t something that was stressed when we were prepping the film.
“Stoker” is a very dark movie. Were there any light-hearted moments when you made this film?
Luckily, it was very jovial when we weren’t on set. Everybody is quite like a light spirit, which is nice. And Matthew and I had a regular Saturday-night tradition of hitting up the honky-tonk bars in Nashville and going from country bar to country bar. We had a lot of stuff to blow off on the weekend after playing such uptight characters. Often on the more serious films, things tend to get sillier quicker, I think, out of necessity maybe.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as an actress that you think you brought with you to your directorial debut in “The Turning”?
I don’t know because I haven’t shot it yet, but I’ve learned a lot from the directors that I’ve worked with, just that there’s no one way to be a director is the most important thing that I’ve learned. There’s no one formula that will equal being a good director and making a good film. Things that would work for Tim Burton wouldn’t work for director Park and vice versa. Everyone has their own way of achieving what’s right for them in preparing for the films that they’re going to do.
What do you think your directing style is going to be?
There’s only one cast member in the film, and he’s a young boy, so it’ll mostly be about making him feel comfortable an at ease. We only have a couple of days to shoot, but I definitely want to spend as much time as possible in the locations. I think the more prepared you can be, the better. There’s nothing lost in preparing as much possible for me, I think.
What do you think of Richard Ayoade, who directed you in the comedy film “Then Double”?
He’s brilliant! He’s so, so clever. He’s already a brilliant filmmaker but he’s a comedian and also an actor and a writer/director. I think he’s got great sensibilities, but that [movie] will be my first comedy, which is nice.
For more info: “Stoker” website