Cary Joji Fukunaga may not be the first name that pops into your mind when you think about Brit-lit movie adaptations like Jane Eyre — but for a director who directed Sundance bait and cinematic high-brow fare like Sin Nombre you might reconsider the assumptions. The Oakland-born Fukunaga has quite a diverse scope when it comes to making movies.
With Jane Eyre, he was very familiar with the 1944 version of the film directed by Robert Stevenson and starring Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles. In fact, it’s one of his favorites. His iteration stars Mia Wasikowska (The Kids Are All Right, Alice in Wonderland) as the title character and Michael Fassbender (Inglorious Basterds) as the leading man, Rochester. After spending six years on Sin Nombre, he says he wanted to do something different in terms of scenery, style, location and time period. Even so, he doesn’t see an incredible difference between the two films in term of characters. Plus, it was an opportunity for him to do something that he enjoys: travel.
“It was a moment for me to live in Europe for a while,” he jokes, “changing the jungles of South America to the moors of Northern England.”
I had the opportunity to chat with Fukunaga more about his worldly travels, capturing the essence of Jane Eyre for modern audiences and finding his inner-adolescent girl .
We know that you are a fan of the 1944 movie, but when did you read the book?
After I got the job. (laughs)
What are some of the specific elements that drew you into the story?
I never really analyzed too much why I like movies because it kind of ruins the magic of it. you can find different, intellectual thematic reasons that sort of line up with all the movies you like. (Jane Eyre) is more about this kid’s journey and the person she became. Then there’s elements of secrecy and mystery. They play on ideas of what it’s like to be true to yourself. Love can be all consuming and too often people compromise what they are in order to achieve it. It’s the rare individual who doesn’t do that.
How long did it take you to shoot the movie?
44 days — it seems like it was bigger. We were jamming the whole time — as fast as you can go in a period film.
When creating a period piece, how detailed and accurate do you aim to be with the scenery, language, costume, set design and everything else?
As accurate as possible — especially with the language. Accurate to the point where it is still comprehensible by modern audiences. In terms of all the details — as real as possible. The costume designer, Michael O’Connor, sourced real materials like textiles and used original lace, collars, suspenders — down to the details on the boots. Everything was highly detailed.
Did you think about re-interpreting it for modern audiences? Better yet, why should the High School Musical audience watch it?
One of the best things about Jane — Rochester says it when they first meet — the way she thinks is not like everyone else. She has original thoughts. She doesn’t follow what everyone else thinks is right. The moral code she lives by is something she discovered for herself and she sticks by it. That’s a lesson for young girls or…old people (laughs)
Do you consciously pick projects that are diverse or do you go with what feels right at the time?
I feel like the genres are diverse, but my themes are always linked to family — and that’s very broad. Everyone’s family is dramatic. Sometimes more dramatic than others. In my last two films, I’ve been looking for the inner-adolescent girl in me (laughs). I think I might move on to a different element of the family story. In some way, love, companionship and family are strong themes that I am interested in — but I think there are a lot people interested in that.
Do your projects that you are working on have an influence on your life and vice versa?
It’s a weird thing when directing a film. It’s almost like taking on an accent. When you’re doing film, there’s a sense about being in that world all the time — even when you’re not on set anymore because you’re thinking about the next day. All your relationships are based on that story at that time. It’s like any story — it becomes like a moral tale. How do I describe this shortly? You know when you go to church or temple or whatever you go to and the sermon for the day has some sort of theme and you can reference that later on in terms of how to live life? The literature you read also has that effect — what your moral compass is in life. The decisions that this heroes and heroines have made has an effect on what you do in your own life.
It seems that you like to travel a lot for your films. Where do you want to go next?
I have this film I wrote in Africa, but I am not sure if I want to spend a year in Africa right now. Eastern Europe would be fun. Belize would be fun — but for now, I kind of want to just chill out.
What about America?
My reps keep on saying, “You gotta make a movie in America one day — you are American — don’t forget that.”
Jane Eyre is now playing in select theaters.