Fishing in the Desert

Mia Wasikowska talks about the personal journey behind Tracks

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At only 25 years old, Mia Wasikowska has the kind of career for which industry stalwarts pine. Among any huge number of roles for both TV and film, she counts defining turns in Alice in Wonderland, The Kids Are Alright, Jane Eyre, Only Lovers Left Alive, In Treatment and Stoker, with such upcoming films as Madame Bovary, Maps to the Stars and the next Alice installment, Through the Looking Glass. Point is: if she hadn’t been working for more than a decade already, she’d be one of the most exciting new actresses to watch.

Recently, Paste had a chance to talk to Wasikowska about Tracks, in which she plays Robyn Davidson, a young woman who in 1977 trekked 1,700 miles across the Australian desert with some camels, her dog and a heavy dose of determination. The film is based on Davidson’s memoir of the same name, and co-stars Adam Driver as Rick Smolan, the National Geographic photographer who documented her journey.

Paste: Robyn’s journey is documented in National Geographic, but she’s also written about it. When embodying her, was there something else you discovered?
Mia Wasikowska: I felt like I really understood who she was from the beginning. Although the first draft [of the script] changed so much, it was so sparse. I understood her and didn’t have to investigate too hard. Then I met her and we became good friends. She was very open.

Paste: Was there anything she told you that wasn’t already widely known?
Wasikowska: [Laughs] You’re fishing! …the most interesting thing I heard was what happened with the camels after the journey. They went to a family in western Australia and [then] to another family. She would come back and see them once a year. There was a big storm one night and they all ran away…released back into the wild.

Paste: Robyn’s idea to travel 1,700 miles borders on arrogance. Reading her story at first, did you find it hard not to judge her one way or another?
Wasikowska: I just liked her so much. There was nothing that didn’t gel with me that I had to remain diplomatic about. It’s a tricky thing to play because she’s chosen to take this journey. It’s not like she’s in a war zone. You have to be careful because you can’t portray her too snippily; it’s [her] choice. That was a balance we had to find in the film. It was a personal journey.

Paste: In the film, you mostly walk and squint into the sun! There’s not a lot of dialogue or action. Was it a challenge to bring a character to life when that’s the circumstance?
Wasikowska: No more so than maybe other films but you had to make sure you knew where you were in the film. There are no words telling you where you are, you have to emotionally know where she is in each moment.

Paste: You interact with camels frequently in the film. Had you worked with camels before?
Wasikowska: It was cool. I had never worked with camels before. I had never been in the Australian desert before. It was really amazing to explore that part of my own country. Working with camels—it’s something I never thought I would do! It was really fun.

Paste: Robyn talks a lot about needing to be “alone.” Have you also felt this need to escape into solitude?
Wasikowska: Yea, I guess so. Yes. I like that. I think everybody likes solitude because it’s a peaceful thing. When [solitude] goes into isolation it becomes painful.

Paste: When Robyn actually does admit to Rick, “I’m so alone,” it’s like she’s found what she’s looking for and it’s not satisfying like she’d expected. What do you think she was really looking for?
Wasikowska: I don’t know. I think there was an element of testing herself. I think she wanted to simplify her life in a way: people wanting things from her, feeling responsible for people. I could understand the desire to simplify your life and [get] back to the basics.

Paste: Robyn does talk a lot about getting back to basic human needs. One of which is love, which she doesn’t really admit to. What is love to Robyn?
Wasikowska: I mean, I think it might more be like respecting herself in a way. It’s not romance. The relationship with Rick is not really what she was looking for. It doesn’t necessarily fill the emptiness. Maybe there’s an element of putting herself in a position where she could have been conquered by the landscape or conquered it.

Paste: Robyn says, “God gave us three things to make life bearable: hope, jokes and dogs.” Do you agree?
Wasikowska: To a certain extent. I don’t have a dog myself. I want one so much! I think [for me life is made bearable by] my family and, you know, my friendships. I value them a lot. Having a home, my connections and a place I really love.

Paste: I can’t help but think playing a woman like this changes you as a person. What about Robyn did you keep with you?
Wasikowska: The nicest thing about her journey that hopefully people can take away is not that you should go out to the desert, but you can make your own path as a female and a woman and be in control of your life.

Meredith Alloway is a Texas native and a freelance contributor for Paste, Flaunt, Complex, Press Play on Indiewire and The Script Lab. She writes for both TV and film and will always be an unabashed Shakespeare nerd. You can follow her on Twitter.