It’s not just Alice who has returned wiser and stronger in Disney’s new Wonderland film. Mia Wasikowska, who plays her, has a new resolve too, reports Charles Miranda

Mia Wasikowska is feeling more like herself again. It's not that the Australian actress was unwell or distracted, it's just that last time she donned a colourful, patterned dress in the character of Alice Kingsleigh she was tiny and effectively acting alone, talking to blue-screen walls on which Wonderland characters would later be added using computers.

"It doesn't sound like a big deal but in the first one I was shrinking and growing a lot which meant being in someone's pocket or on their shoulder, but in this one I am the same size the whole time so I got to do all the scenes with the cast, which is great," Wasikowska enthuses. "It's good to be back."

She is talking about Disney's latest offering Alice: Through the Looking Glass, the long-awaited sequel to Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland, which the studio released as a feature film six years ago to huge acclaim and box office takings of more than $1 billion.

Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Alice Through the Looking Glass.

The 26-year-old from Canberra is reunited in the whimsical fantasy world with co-stars Johnny Depp, Helen Bonham-Carter and Anne Hathaway as well as newcomer Sacha Baron Cohen. And if being alongside some of the Hollywood greats was daunting six years ago, then - both in character and real life - she has matured.


"In the first film Alice was quite uncomfortable in her skin ... knowing who she is but having a difficult time being that on the outside, or finding the balance of pleasing others but doing what is right for her," Wasikowska says.

"In this one she starts off from a powerful place - she has spent the past three years travelling around the world and being the captain of her own ship. Then when she comes back to England she is sort of surprised to see that expectations are so low for her.

"But the fact she holds on to the sense that she is worth more and deserves better than that is great."

Wasikowska exudes a sense of awkward fragility, naivety and innocence, much like Alice in the first film - but there is an underlying strength, the self assuredness of both the Alice of the second film and the real-life girl plucked from high school obscurity to take the world of blockbuster film by storm.

The girl once dubbed "rowdy" on a film set 10 years ago because she barely spoke a word off-camera to anyone is now more confident and knows where she wants to head, but also coy about talking up her achievements. During a lengthy interview she even apologised and asked whether we thought she was making any sense or simply rambling, or both - very Mia, very Alice.

"People say I'm shy but it's only in the context of the film world or extroverted people that I seem shy - I don't think I'm too shy," she said, looking at her hands, the last line almost posed as a question. But then her self-assuredness kicks in and she talks about the world she has fallen into, almost as if through a rabbit hole or looking glass.

Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Alice Through the Looking Glass.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

has Alice returning to Underland after several years' absence to help her friend the Hatter (Depp) who is more sad than mad in his desperation to find his family. He is dying of grief and Alice has to go in search of Time (Baron Cohen) to travel backwards and discover what happened to the Hatter clan.


In this perilous journey more questions are answered - such as why the Red Queen (Bonham Carter) has a giant head - as Alice is joined by more returning characters including Tweedledum and Tweedledee (both played by Little Britain's Matt Lucas).

Lucas spent the whole film in a blue suit which allowed just his face to be seen. A computer later added his rotund little body.

Wasikowska trained as a ballerina until she was 14, when an injury focused her interests elsewhere. Her parents, Canberra-based photographers, inspired her to pick up a camera, which she did, but she then moved into cinema and made her small screen debut on All Saints.

Over the next few years she was cast in several Australian films before making her US debut at 17 as a suicidal gymnast in the HBO drama In Treatment.

From there her stocks rose. She landed leading roles in films including Jane Eyre psychological thriller Stoker and horror fantasy Crimson Peak.

"It was completely unexpected and wonderful. I'm super-lucky and thankful for the opportunities," she says.

There have been a lot of period and fantasy films in her filmography and Wasikowska says she is ready now for a more contemporary role or even one set in space.

Within a hectic acting schedule she also directed two short films, both acclaimed in international film festivals.

Some actors take to directing because they are jaded after long careers in front of the camera, but Wasikowska sees it as just another outlet for her art, and now a full length feature film may beckon.

"But I'm not in a hurry because I just want to wait for the right thing to come about to work on," she says.

Alice Through the Looking Glass.
Alice Through the Looking Glass.

"I think it's fun to be involved in film but from a completely different perspective.

"It feels really creative and I've worked with a lot of brilliant directors so been able to watch their process and learn from them and to have that opportunity myself has been fun - to be creative in a different way." For now she is pleased to be grounded, living in Bronte on Sydney's eastern beaches. "I have had some great experiences and am lucky to still live at home, but to be able to travel [and] work overseas with some great people," she says.



Mia Wasikowska

What: Alice Through the Looking Glass
When and where: At cinemas nowIt's not just Alice who has returned wiser and stronger in Disney's new Wonderland film.