Take the Australian outback, three wild camels, a black labrador and a woman with a mission and you’ve got John Curran’s drama inspired by the true life of Robyn Davidson, who walked from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in 1977. During this breathtaking travelogue of painful and sweaty trials and tribulations, she makes some interesting discoveries about survival and herself: mainly that she ‘wants to be alone’. Mia Wasikowska gives an exultant performance as Robyn, not the most easy of characters, but certainly dogged and single-minded in her pursuit of a dream. It also stars Roly Mintuma as her Aboriginal guide and Adam Driver as the photographer who fails to win her heart. Despite looking for solitude in the magnificent landscape of the Outback, Robyn feels her deep loneliness at every step of the way, remaining a fascinating but private individual. Matthew Turner met her to try and find out more.
Matthew Turner (MJT): What attracted you to the part and how did you get involved?
Mia Wasikowska (MW): I liked Tracks because I just really understood the character and liked her and I read the book that it was based on and really liked her character and just connected to that.
MJT: What kind of research did you do?
MW: I mainly just read the book and I felt like I understood her well enough to [play her]. I also met Robyn [Davidson], who it was based on and it was nice just to meet her and talk to her.
MJT: How important do you think it was that the film never really tries to explain Robyn or why she decides to undertake this journey? Was that important for you, that you didn’t try to put that across for the character?
MW: Yeah, I think so. Like, I always liked that she had this attitude where she didn’t feel like she owed anybody an explanation and she was just doing something for the sake of – it meant something to her and I don’t think she quite understood why she was doing it at that stage either, it was just something she was really drawn to. And I liked that, I felt like I understood it and what I understood of it was that she kind of wanted to simplify her existence and a good way of doing that is taking it back to the very basics of survival, like putting one foot in front of the other and attending to just your needs in each moment, like feeding yourself or drinking, setting up camp, you know, it just makes it a very simple reality.
MJT: You knew [shooting in the desert] was going to be physically and mentally challenging, but were there any really unexpected challenges that came up that you hadn’t planned for?
MW: I was expecting it to be like, kind of hard. I think the main thing that came up was just the – it’s really nice to be in those locations when you’re on your own time, but when you’re abiding by a set schedule of a film, which is always very regimented and just being outside, like all the time, in the glare and that was probably the harder thing, like even more than just it being hot, it’s more just like the intensity of it on your eyes, of it being so bright all the time. But yeah, other than that it was alright, like it was really enjoyable being in clothes that weren’t precious or anything, so it was nice.
MJT: And I guess being back in Australia as well?
MW: Yeah, it was great.
MJT: Did you feel like you learned anything about yourself? I mean, it’s quite a journey of self-discovery for her and with the connection with Australia and coming back, did you feel – I mean, obviously, it’s a film and it’s a job, but did you learn anything about yourself over the course of the film?
MW: I think it was like an interesting process, the whole making of the film. Most films and scripts usually are kind of in flux as you get closer to production, but this one more so than anything, so the most challenging thing was it changing a lot and having to voice your opinions more if something didn’t work for me in like a new draft or something, more like feeling like it was okay to express that, whereas I’ve always been sort of more submissive or not felt so part of something, to the point of where I could have an opinion or something, so more just like learning to voice an opinion or something.
MJT: Did you spend an extended amount of time in the desert on your own, just to get a feeling of what it was like for Robyn?
MW: Not really. I mean, in my own childhood, we would camp in this one particular spot in Australia, which wasn’t in the desert, it was like in the bush, that was always a greatly formative experience for me, because every summer we would have like at the least three weeks at the one place and there were no showers or bathrooms or anything like that. There was a town like twenty minutes away or something. So that was always really great and that was probably the main thing that it felt like, or, you know, that I could imagine what it was like for her and the kind of freedom that you get from throwing away the kind of more normal parts of society.
MJT: What was John [Curran] like as a director?
MW: He was the complete opposite [of Richard Ayoade, her director on The Double]. He wanted to discover things on the day and didn’t really want to do rehearsals or anything. We had very different opinions about everything, so we were always coming up against differences of opinion and that was like a new thing. But yeah, it was good, it was just like different things.
MJT: John said at the London Film Festival that he wanted to let you discover the character for yourself and he was very welcoming of you having a difference of opinion with him. Did you enjoy working like that?
MW: Yeah, I mean it’s good when you can express something without someone else cutting it off. It’s great when someone is open to that. So I did like that, for sure, yes.
MJT: Did you butt heads at all because you were working from the book? Were there parts of the book that you loved that didn’t make it in?
MW: Yeah, but it was like a different process. So there was an original script, which I loved and then he did a rewrite and I would be like, ‘Well, I hate this bit and I hate this bit and I hate this bit!’ And he would be like, ‘Well, I hate that bit and I hate that bit and I hate that bit!’ And so it was always this continually having to find the middle ground between our two different tastes. I’ve never experienced that before, so that was, like, unusual.
MJT: Do you think benefited from having the two viewpoints?
MW: I don’t know! I think it’s been the best case scenario for the film, because it’s come together quite well, but there were moments where I had no idea what we were making, really. I’d just never really experienced that extremity of differences in opinions. But I mean films, so some extent, are always changing, so it’s kind of the nature of it, anyway.
MJT: What was Robyn’s take on the final film?
MW: She had such a good perspective on it, like I was very scared or tentative about meeting her, because the Robyn in the book would have punched anybody who wanted to play her in a film. And so I was so aware of her probably thinking it was completely ridiculous, but they kept convincing me to meet her and I did and it was a real relief, actually, because she had a really good perspective on it, being just like an abstraction of something that was already an abstraction of the journey. So that was a relief, to be freed from it being her being there, like, waving her finger at us. And yeah, she was just really lovely as well. And anybody can say anything now, about the movie, like, she’s happy with it, so I’m like, I don’t mind if it’s trashed! She liked it and gave it her tick of approval, so it’s fine. That’s the biggest relief.
MJT: What was Adam Driver like as a co-star?
MW: Oh, great. Adam is so spontaneous and really brilliant at coming into a situation and not feeling self-conscious, or not appearing self-conscious or nervous or anything but just going with it and ad-libbing and pretending and I completely admired that.
MJT: How about the camels?
MW: They were great! They’re like the most, like the best film animals ever, which is a shame, because they will be needed like once every decade or something. They were just super-easy, like the dog was really quite hard to work with in comparison to the camels and I thought it might be the other way around, but the camels just like follow you and walk and we had one camel that was just like the most brilliant actor ever, it would just like growl any time it had to growl and, yeah, it was brilliant.
MJT: They didn’t have a special growling camel and a walking camel
MW: Well, that one became the growling camel. The one at the back became the go-to growling camel, because it would growl at everything! It was really great.
MJT: Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
MW: I like the bit where Adam’s character, Rick turns up and he’s talking about his routine where he eats an orange before a flight and after a flight, but he didn’t get an orange because the shops were – it was so brilliant and he was just ad-libbing, it was so funny.
MJT: I gather you’re directing yourself – you’ve done a segment of [portmanteau film] The Turning. Have you finished it? What was that like? And did you take anything from the directors you’ve worked with?
MW: Yeah, I finished it. It came out in Australia. I loved it. We were given complete creative control, so every filmmaker was given a short story and then you had to adapt it. So we shot it over four days and it was really fun, it was really great. But the main thing that I’ve learned from the different directors that I’ve worked with is just that there’s no one way to make a film, there’s no one formula that makes a good film, everyone has their own way of making a film and you have to find your own process or something. So it was really fun and I’d love to do it again.
MJT: How do you pick your projects, usually? Is the script the most important thing or the director or does it vary from project to project?
MW: Usually the director, because I am like a film fan firstly, so if I can work with a great director – and if I’m not sure about the script, at least I can trust that they will have some interesting take on it or they would be open to collaborating or something, so I usually would work with a great director. But also, whatever, if it’s a great script and someone who’s unknown, I would do that as well. So it’s like character and script and director, one of the three.
MJT: It seems like since Alice in Wonderland you’ve taken a slightly less obvious route than people might have expected. Is that something you’ve done deliberately, to choose more interesting projects rather than blockbusters?
MW: Yes, definitely. I mean, I’m in a lucky position, after a movie like that, to be able to be slightly more selective, so I’ve just done films that I like or worked with directors that I really like, so yeah, it’s a good position to be in.
MJT: Do you feel, as a woman, there are a lot of those, because most of the characters that you’ve played are interesting or unusual or they have that [element]. Is it hard to find those roles still, or do you feel like the landscape has changed a bit?
MW: I think I’m lucky in that sense, because I can choose that stuff, but I think that there can always be more. And I would definitely love to see more female directors, like, I think I’ve only worked with one female director on a feature film. But I would love there to be more females working in films. But I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of good female characters, so I can’t complain.
MJT: You mentioned you were a film fan. Did you watch any particular films in preparation for Tracks? I was thinking, maybe Walkabout?
MW: Yeah, I mean Walkabout and Wake In Fright were two films that were [relevant to this]. So I watched those.
MJT: And as a final question, I was wondering if you could please tell us the correct pronunciation of your surname?
MW: Oh! Vash-ee-kov-ska.
MJT: Thank you! Do you correct people if they say it wrong?
MW: I don’t, really. I mean, I always say it the right way, but I wouldn’t enforce it on other people.
MJT: Thanks Mia.