A few weeks ago Hollywood producer Suzanne Todd was looking at some large photos in a conference room at the Disney movie studio lot in Los Angeles.

They featured the cast of Todd's 2010 surprise box office blockbuster Alice in Wonderland, including Johnny Depp, Anne Hathaway and Helena Bonham Carter.

Despite the star power in the photos, Todd's eyes were focused on "baby Mia".

Canberra-born actress Mia Wasikowska was only 19 when cast by Todd and director Tim Burton as the title character, based on English mathematician Lewis Carroll's classic 1865 novel.


"I'm so impressed with her," Todd says.

"Even at 19 she was self-possessed, thoughtful and intelligent and came at everything from a place of integrity."

Wasikowska's first break came on the 2004 Australian TV series All Saints and in 2008 a role on the award-winning US series In Treatment introduced her to American audiences and filmmakers.

The surprise success of Alice in Wonderland in 2010, which joined Titanic and Avatar at the time as the only films to earn more than US$1 billion at the global box office, would have tossed many young actors down a treacherous Hollywood rabbit hole.

But Wasikowska landed on her feet.

Instead of searching for other blockbusters, the young Australian starred in a mix of critically acclaimed roles helmed by elite directors including Gus Van Sant's Restless, Rodrigo Garcia's Albert Nobbs, John Hillcoat's Lawless, Cary Fukunaga's Jane Eyre, Lisa Cholodenko's The Kids Are All Right, Park Chan-wook's Stoker and John Curran's challenging Australian adventure film, Tracks.

Wasikowska said she had little to do with the success of Alice in Wonderland.

"I felt like a very small part of it because a lot of the success was because of the other really great actors and creative people who were doing it," Wasikowska said.

"I felt kind of removed."

Wasikowska, Todd, Burton, Depp, Hathaway and Bonham Carter have reunited for a sequel loosely based on Carroll's follow-up novel, Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There.

Burton has taken a producing role, with Brit James Bobin - whose credits include episodes of Flight of the Conchords and the most recent Muppets movies - directing.

There was pressure after the success of the first movie to make a sequel, but Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass lacked a storyline so it was a struggle to come up with a strong script.

"It was eight chapters about a chess game and although it is very entertaining, there wasn't anything to draw from for a three-act structure for a movie," Todd said.

The creative team, however, latched on to a small part of the book relating to time - how people spend their time, waste it and do not necessarily realise how precious it is.

The main new character in the movie sequel is Time, played by comedian Sacha Baron Cohen. Bobin was a writer and director on Baron Cohen's Da Ali G Show.

Wasikowska, 26, said audiences will discover Alice is a different person.

"In the first one Alice is a little uncomfortable, awkward and unsure of herself, but this one she has just spent a year travelling around and being the captain of the ship so she is extremely empowered and knows who she is," she said.

Todd said that is also a good description of Wasikowska - not just today but back when she was 19-year-old "baby Mia".

"There are so many young actors who struggle with decisions in their career," Todd said. "There are so many trajectories.

"Are you going to be somebody who takes every movie because you want to work all of the time or do you just want to be on the cover of People magazine?

"Mia has always been someone who has been about the work and made her choices very carefully based on interesting directors she wanted to work with and cultivating experiences."

Kiwis' whiz-bang work praised

Alice Through the Looking Glass

will be one of the visually impressive movies of the year.

While the film is a sequel to Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland from 2010 and builds on his trademark style of the original, two New Zealanders are key to the look of the new movie.

Stuart Dryburgh, who lensed Jane Campion's An Angel at My Table, The Piano, and The Portrait of a Lady as well as Once Were Warriors and In My Father's Den, is the cinematographer on Looking Glass which marks his first 3D production.

The film's production designer is Dan Hennah in his first film since working on The Hobbit trilogy, having been art director on many of Peter Jackson's earlier films.

Said the Hollywood Reporter in its review of the film: "Amid the frenetic back-and-forth, there's plenty to admire, if not be truly wowed by, in the whiz-bang effects work and the robust production design by Dan Hennah. Stuart Dryburgh's cinematography showcases the exuberance of the sets and costumes, with palettes that range from stygian to dazzling."

Both men had earlier studied architecture.

Dryburgh has been based in New York since the late 90s. His other credits include episodes of Sex and the City and Boardwalk Empire, Bridget Jones's Diary and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.