Mia Wasikowska Is a Cultlike Teacher with a Secret in Jessica Hausner’s ‘Club Zero’: First Look

Aussie actress Mia Wasikowska earned a reputation in the mid-2010s for insidious roles in indies like “Stoker” and “Maps to the Stars.” After Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland” and “Alice Through the Looking Glass” films found her briefly courting the mainstream, she largely faded from view to pursue passion projects and more prickly, socially conscious fare like last year’s “Blueback” and this year’s “Club Zero.” The new film set in a boarding school and around new teacher Miss Novak’s (Wasikowska) unusual methods makes Austrian director Jessica Hausner (“Little Joe,” “Lourdes”) one of seven women in a record-breaking competition section. Within the walls of the boarding school, it’s not long before other teachers notice their new hire is teaching young students of the Gen Z set that eating less is somehow healthier.

Written and directed by Hausner, “Club Zero” is about many things, namely how the idealism of youth can be challenged and exploited, even, by an older mentor figure. The film also interrogates cultural stigma around eating and eating habits and, as is de rigueur for the current moment in storytelling, convenes around a cultlike, messianic leader wielding groupthink to push their own agenda.

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Before the eerie dystopian drama makes its way to the Croisette later this weekend, IndieWire spoke to Hausner about “Club Zero.” You can also watch an exclusive clip from the film here.

IndieWire: This is not your first time working with English-language talent after “Little Joe” with the likes of Ben Whishaw. How did Mia Wasikowska enter the picture?

Hausner: Many years ago, I watched “In Treatment,” I think it was in 2009. I remember it so well because it came out in Austria just after I showed my film “Lourdes” in Venice. I was really exhausted, thinking, “I’m watching this series now.” I was totally fascinated by her. She was really young then, 16 or 17, and she was so interesting and magnetic and very, very special, and I felt there was a strong power coming from her as an actress. Since then, I have seen everything or a lot of things where she appeared, and I never would have dared to ask her to be in my film. But then I saw her in a film by Mia Hansen-Løve, “Bergman Island,” and I asked Mia Hansen-Løve to say a good word about me to Mia Wasikowska and then I offered her the script, so that’s actually how I dared to approach her.

Club Zero
“Club Zero”Courtesy the filmmakers

IndieWire: In this film, Mia Wasikowska plays a schoolteacher. How would you describe her character relative her some of her others? She’s always willing to go to these dark places and seems very comfortable in that mode.

Hausner: The interesting thing is that she never exaggerates anything. In the film, she is a teacher but also a sort of cult leader, and we met some people who were members of a cult and managed to escape, so they told us about the cult leaders they met. Everything sounded quite frightening, but what was most interesting for us in building Mia’s role, some of the cult leaders really believe what they say. They’re really convinced they’re doing good, even when it’s not doing good, so that was key to Mia’s role: She’s convinced she’s helping the children when she’s not.

IndieWire: Was there a particular cult that inspired you in the writing of the movie or more an amalgam of different ones?

Hausner: I am interested in all sorts of religious substitutes that exist nowadays, so part of being Catholic or Christian or whatever, I think there are a lot of cults going on that aren’t necessarily combined to a religion. Nutrition offers a lot of ideology to build up with, and I found out that in nutrition, also, there are some people who are vegan who hate vegetarians and things like that, so you suddenly enter a world of very dedicated but even extremist opinions. That inspired me to choose that specific subject of nutrition.

Club Zero
“Club Zero”Courtesy the filmmakers

IndieWire: Why center your movie around habits of eating?

Hausner: Eating is on the one hand something very intimate because it’s things that you actually put into your body. It’s very personal in that sense, but it’s also social, because it’s something we do together or with friends, so it says a lot about the rituals we have as a society…. It’s as important as sex or sleep.

IndieWire: You’ve long made the movies you want to make, in a moment starved for originality in the U.S. but one where original cinema is thriving in Europe. Would you ever consider making a film for an American studio, or are you more comfortable in places where you know you’ll meet less resistance?

Hausner: I don’t have the comparison because I don’t know what it’s like in the U.S. to make a film, but from what I’ve seen, I understand what you’re asking. There is more originality in European films and maybe it has to do with the public funding. Our films are financed by cultural funds. There is a competition, there is a jury, the films do have to perform commercially afterward, but still it’s a cultural thing, so the people decide if you get the money or not, they are interested in the artists, the cultural side of films, more than the commercial side.

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