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Mia Wasikowska found playing lead in desert trek film 'Tracks' was 'freeing'

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TORONTO - As she walked across a sweltering desert with unshaven legs, sunburnt skin and unwashed hair streaked with dirt, Mia Wasikowska felt like she was in her element.

Over the weeks spent in the Australian desert filming "Tracks," the petite, soft-spoken actress embraced her character's love of the harsh but awe-inspiring landscape.

"It was really freeing," she said of the experience. "It was actually quite a relief to be able to just sit on the floor or roll around with the dogs and go and play with the camels and to have no one coming up and say 'be careful.'"

"Tracks" tells the true story of Robyn Davidson, who captured the world's attention after trekking an unforgiving 3,200 kilometres by foot across Australia with just four camels and a dog for company most of the way.

The 1977 journey which ended at the sands of the Indian Ocean led Davidson to recount her experiences in a book, which Wasikowska is now bringing to life on the big screen.

"I really loved Robyn's character. I liked her kind of prickly, reserved nature," said Wasikowska, who got to meet the woman she portrayed in the film.

"It was really just the immediate connection that I felt...I felt like I understood her so well that I almost didn't have too many questions."

Davidson liked the film, which was a "major relief" for Wasikowska.

"I feel like I'm a lot like her but I get very little opportunity to be that way especially when you're in an industry which is very reliant on being an agreeable person," the actress said with a laugh.

"Other people demand answers of her that she's not really able to give...she's just doing it for herself."

Davidson's entire trek certainly had many wondering why she made the punishing journey, but Wasikowska said she didn't question it.

"I think it was a really great way of simplifying her existence and just really taking things back to the basics of survival," she said. "Just seeing who you really are."

Adam Driver, who plays a National Geographic photographer who intermittently interrupts Davidson's solitary journey of self-discovery to take pictures for the magazine sponsoring the trek, agreed.

"Even if (Davidson's) reason was 'I did it for the sake of doing it,' I think that's just enough reason for anyone to do anything because that's just a beautiful thing to do," he said.

"People just feel the need to explain everything and have an answer ... it never really crossed my mind of trying to figure out a reason, to try to attach something in my life to her story. I didn't think of it that way."

Driver, who is perhaps best known for his role on the HBO series "Girls,'' said the character he played in "Tracks" was an enjoyable change from his TV role.

"To be able to view the world differently, that's the luxury of acting," he said. "You change your perspective and any time you do that, that's kind of eye opening."

American director John Curran, who lived in Australia for a number of years, readily admitted he still didn't entirely understand Davidson's motivation for her desert trek, but he was nonetheless fascinated by it.

"It just seemed so weird to me to be drawn to that emptiness and I think just the emotional and photographic qualities of the desert appealed to me," he said.

"With this story all I wanted to do with it was not judge what's she's doing...but just embrace that idea of disconnecting and being on your own. It's scary but it seems so healthy."

To his surprise, Curran said the experience of actually working in the desert led him to connect with the landscape.

"There's sort of a beautiful peace that emptiness provides," he said. "Working hard in the heat, the mood was always kind of zen."

A number of scenes in the film where Wasikowska trudges across barren land by herself were shot from afar, said Curran, with the actress left by herself to interact with the landscape.

"She had to manage the animals and do what she was doing at the same time, that was an opportunity," he said.

"The isolation and the heat and the openness, I think you want the landscape ultimately to start reflecting the interior shifts in her character."

"Tracks" opens in select cities on Friday.

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