Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

4. Mia Wasikowska for Jane Eyre

Charlotte Brontë's heroine, a tough, sensitive soul lashed by grim fate and the torrid moor winds, has been played in movies by Joan Fontaine, Susannah York, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Samantha Morton. But never has an actress shown Mia Wasikowska's composure to face both icy adversity and fiery romance (in the person of Michael Fassbender's Rochester). Offscreen, this 22-year-old Australian, who made a powerful impression as a suicidal teen gymnast in Season 1 of HBO's In Treatment and as a deadpan dreamer in Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, is a friendly sort in a blond pixie cut who could pass for Michelle Williams' kid sister. But when in character, she becomes a mirror into a rich interior world. Her Jane betrays neither glumness nor self-pity; she observes even Rochester, whom she secretly loves, with the poised intelligence of an extraterrestrial visitor. This illuminating stillness is a gift shared by few English-speaking actresses. Her mentor might be the French star Isabelle Huppert, high mistress of revealing a soul without making faces. Hollywood will do itself a favor if it writes new stories on her blank-slate face; if it finds the strength and mystery in Wasikowska that Rochester did in Jane.