As the awards season winds to a close, and various critics groups begin red-eyed nights staying up to get those last minute screeners in before they cast their votes on the best flims of 2011, it's easy to get a myopic view of the release calendar that only includes the last four months of the year. The simple reason that the year-end is so crammed with quality movies is that studios both major and indie realize that if they want their top-shelf films to get awards recognition, a release in February probably isn't the best idea. But even then, you can't put all your movies out in the fourth quarter either. Focus Features had a year most other studios would envy, with one critically acclaimed film after another, and one of them we hope Academy voters don't forget is Cary Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre."
At first glance, the filmmaker behind "Sin Nombre" seemed an odd choice for the material but as the resulting film bears out, his was the exact touch the movie needed. Lining up a first-rate cast with Michael Fassbender, Mia Wasikowska, Judi Dench and Jamie Bell, the film brings an emotional complexity and unfurls torrents of untold feeling that pass between Rochester and Jane. In the exclusive behind-the-scenes video below, Wasikowska talks about her approach to the role and what was required to help put across a story that is more than a hundred years old. But as Fukunaga noted in our recent conversation with the director, it was the generosity between his leads that made the adaptation work.
"That's the tricky thing, you never know how that's going to come out. The novel is written in the first person and all observations are internal, including the fireside chats which sort of become the centrepiece of the film between Rochester and Jane," Fukunaga explained. "The language itself is very rich which then allows for the gaps between the language to have that much more life. And I think Mia has a really rich internal life, there is something always going on in that girl's head. And Michael has a very different acting style, but the way they interacted seemed to work somehow. They really played off each other. And even in the scenes where we're doing singles -- where it's not two people in the camera, but one person at a time -- and you have Mia just off camera reading the lines for Michael. A lot of times, actors will take a break then or save their energy for when they're on camera. But both of them gave 100% or more for the other person, so the other person could really play off them for those singles. And I remember Michael remarking on that and being so thankful for that especially for the more dramatic scenes, Mia was just giving him everything she could, even when she wasn't on camera."
The other curiosity factor around "Jane Eyre" and Fukunaga's decision to make a new version, was the existence of multiple movies and TV adaptations with folks ranging from Orson Welles to William Hurt and Joan Fontaine to Charlotte Gainsbourg taking the lead roles. But as it turns out, Fukunaga was unware of just how many other versions were out there, and thus didn't feel beholden or constricted by what came before. "I didn't even know there so [many] adaptations. The fact that were twenty-something adaptations was news to me well into prep. We were talking about casting, and someone was like, 'So, do you want to look at some of the Jane Eyres,' and I'm like 'What do you mean, other Jane Eyres?'," he said. "I knew about the Orson Welles one, and I kind of noted which ones there were and who was in them, but I didn't really watch them, mainly because I didn't want to be influenced in a negative way, in terms of what not to do. I thought already, starting off from our script which is non-linear, and the cast that we're getting, and just by the nature by me doing it would be a different film than what the others ones have done."
And undoubtedly, "Jane Eyre" is very much Fukunaga's film, one that is more sensual, gothic and genuinely moving that any incarnation in quite some time. But the picture is also one that is a complete one-eighty from his feature film debut "Sin Nombre." Where that film was a contemporary, Spanish-language coming-of-age drama, this film was a period-based literary adaptation that explores an entirely different world. But this career approach is both by accident and by design.
"I had written this child soldier script ['Beasts Of No Nation' based on the book by Uzodinma Iweala] while I was waiting for 'Sin Nombre' to go, and around that time period was when the economy started collapsing. The prospects of making that film seemed almost impossible, and I was still traveling around Europe promoting 'Sin Nombre' and I also thought maybe it was time to make a film in English, being that I'm American, and that even my short film ['Victoria para chino'] was in Spanish," Fukunaga said about how the project came his way. "So I had been writing an outline of this musical and I realized that was going to take me at least a couple of years to get right and 'Jane Eyre' came along as a project the BBC had on their slate and it was a film I loved as a kid, and even a classic I was considering adapting while I was waiting for 'Sin Nombre to go, so it just seemed like perfect timing. The prospects of making a classic piece of English literature, living in Europe, living in London and doing kind of a two-hander acting piece all sort of seemed like the right choice."
The director told us way back in 2009, "I would ideally want [a career] with as much diversity in my work as possible." And he's certainly been moving in a few different directions. The musical he's talking about is something that first emerged a couple years back with Owen Pallett and Beirut set to do the music. He confirmed to us that it's still in the works, with Pallett still on board, but it won't be a big splashy production. "[It's] definitely not about big setpieces. If I could think of a visualization of it, it would be like 'Science Of Sleep.' In camera, lo-fi, whimsical, magical realism, a bit of Greek tragedy thrown in...Which I think is literally music to the ears of studios, because it's cheap," he said.
Also on his potential plate is the Gore Verbinski-produced sci-fi flick "Spaceless" (though Fukunaga says that title will change). Penned by Jeff Vintar ("I, Robot"), the story centers on a top assassin hunting a high-profile target in space who must figure out how much of his reality is an illusion and what really matters in life before he can complete the job. Between this and musical, Fukunaga will decide which one will go next, but if all these projects seem completely different, the director told us that at their core are the kinds of themes and stories he wants to tell, that also share DNA with his past efforts.
"This might sound vague, but it's actually very specific. It's whatever is driving me at that moment," Fukunaga said about how he chooses projects. "The musical and the sci-fi are both sort of these tragic love stories…'Sin Nombre' was almost like the adolescent version of 'Jane Eyre.' 'Jane Eyre' sort of picks up where 'Sin Nombre' ends, it's about this girl who starts off on her own at her lowest point of despair, and she figures out how she got there. And by the end of the film she's sort of able to achieve what she wants without sacrificing her morals. The next film [I'm considering] [explores] what happens then and what is the nature of adult relationships. Is it always ideal once love actually takes place or are there way more complications that we bring to relationships that make longevity impossible? So right now I'm focusing on these people who are sort of running away and running towards love at the same time."
And whether you're in love or without it, Fukunaga's "Jane Eyre" is worth running to and is now available on DVD and BluRay if you missed it in theaters. Watch Mia Wasikowska talk about her role in the film below.