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Jane Eyre redux

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  March 18, 2011

How did you decide on Michael Fassbender?

Fukunaga: I saw him in Steve McQueen's Hunger, even before that, and I was really impressed with his performance as Bobby Sands, it felt like a raw and truthful performance, but also the way he stared, the way he focused on people, was disconcerting in a way, in a good way. Those fireside chats, which are the centerpiece of Jane Eyre, you need someone who has that stare that would make most people crumble.

So how would you characterize his Rochester?

Fukunaga: I think he brought the right amount of cruelty to it, with sort of comedic wit. It's a stinging sort of wit. And it's all in an effort to cover a blighted past. Rochester is obviously a complex being, as most people are. Michael's is a very truthful performance. He can go between those two worlds, from being cruel and stinging and then being complimentary and then being stinging again, and do it so naturally.

Wasikowska: He's good at being menacing and vulnerable.

How did you get Judi Dench for Mrs. Fairfax?

Fukunaga: I got really lucky. I spent some time in Sarajevo with her agent a few years before that, and we became friends, and so when we were thinking of casting Mrs. Fairfax, the agent said, "Write her an email and say you liked her Pride and Prejudice [from 2005, in which Dench played Lady Catherine de Bourg]." So I just wrote her a little complimentary, flattering email, and she signed on.

It's very difficult to get a 500-page book into two hours. Were you given the option of, say, two and a half?

Fukunaga: I think, it's so hard to say how long it should be, it's not until you have it all together.

But this felt right to you?

Fukunaga: Well, for me as a director, I would be more indulgent and put more stuff in there. But for an audience, you have to take something different into account. When you screen for people, you get a sense of whether the pacing's working or not. I think this is probably just the right length. I don't think you want to go any shorter than this.

Well, no. I was wondering whether you didn't want to go longer.

Fukunaga: We did look at various cuts. I think my director's cut was around 2:30 or something. But there is a right pace for every story, sort of like a vibration.

This film is begging for Oscar nominations. But the Academy voters have notoriously short memories. Why release it in March?

Fukunaga: It will require people like you to remind people at the end of the year. That's what it comes down to, refreshing audience memories later on. If a film comes out later in the year, it just seems like it's an Oscar campaign.

Wasikowska: And we really don't have much say in when a film comes out.

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