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‘Alice in Wonderland’ star Mia Wasikowska on Johnny Depp: ‘He’s so brave and smart’

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FACES TO WATCH 2010: MIA WASIKOWSKA

So what was Mia Wasikowska’s experience filming the new Tim Burton extravaganza “Alice in Wonderland”? Very “isolating” admits the 20-year old Aussie who won the title role after the producers went on a major casting search.

Lonely, perhaps, because 90% of the filming was on green screen, the special, bare background used for special-effects shots. Every time Alice speaks to an animated character such as the White Rabbit, the Cheshire Cat or the Caterpillar, Wasikowska was actually communing with a piece of sticky tape or a tennis ball or a cardboard cutout standing in for one of Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical creations.

“I was basically planted in this sea of green,’ the Aussie said. ‘I really had to use my imagination.’

Audiences might recognizeWasikowskafrom her nine-episode role as Sophie, a suicidal teen gymnast, on the HBO series ‘In Treatment.’ She’s not a little girl in ‘Wonderland’ either -- in Burton’s version, Alice is 19 (and a return visitor, according to the denizens of Wonderland in the new trailer) not the 7-year-old in the literary classic. Wasikowska elaborated: “She’s grown up a lot and is somewhat a different person, and she’s kind of going back to her roots and discovering herself’ and battling the evil Red Queen, played by Helena Bonham Carter.

One of Alice’s friends in the film is the mad, mad, mad Mad Hatter, played by Johnny Depp in a tangerine fluorescent wig, with lime-colored eyes rimmed in red, and a pallid complexion.

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“I think he’s so brave and smart with his choices. He can play a crazy character but still give it a core humanity which I think people can identify with,” Wasikowska said. (Depp, who prepares for his roles by drawing his characters, particularly wanted the crazy orange hair, an allusion to the mercury poisoning -- many hatters, it turns out, used mercury to cure felt. As Depp told the Los Angeles Times last summer: “I think he was poisoned, very, very poisoned, and it was coming out through his hair, through his fingernails and eyes.’)

Mad as he might be, the Hatter is Alice’s ally. “They’re on the same side, “ Wasikowska said. “They have an understanding about each other. They both feel like outsiders and feel alone in their separate worlds, and have a special bond and friendship.”

-- Rachel Abramowitz

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