About the Actresses to have played Jane Eyre

Virginia Bruce

Played Jane opposite Colin Clive in 1934

Born: Helen Virginia Briggs, September 29, 1910 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Died: February 24, 1982 (age 71) in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA

Best known for The Great Ziegfield 1936 The Invisible Woman 1940 Born to Dance 1936

She was 24 when she played Jane


Joan Fontaine

Played Jane opposite Orson Welles in 1943

Born: Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan
Died: December 15, 2013 (age 96)

Best known for Rebecca 1940, Suspicion 1941, Letter From an Unknown Woman 1948

She was 26 when she played Jane

On her co-star, Orson Welles:
"Everything about him is oversize, including his ego. He's larger than life. I think he is much better combining directing and acting, because he wants control. And he's right; he's a genius. "


Mary Sinclair

opposite Charlton Heston in 1949

Born: Ella Dolores Cook, November 15, 1922 in San Diego, California, USA
Died: November 5, 2000 (age 77) in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Known for Arrowhead 1953

She was 27 when she played Jane



Katharine Bard

opposite Kevin McCarthy in 1952

Born: October 19, 1916 in Highland Park, Illinois, USA
Died: July 28, 1983 (age 66) in Los Angeles, California, USA

Known for Inside Daisy Clover 1965

She was 36 when she played Jane



Joan Elan

opposite Patrick Macnee in 1957

Born: July 24, 1929 in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka
Died: January 7, 1981 (age 51)

Known for The King's Thief 1955

She was 28 when she played Jane




Sally Ann Howes

opposite Zachary Scott in 1961

Born: July 20, 1930 in St. John's Wood, London, England, UK

Known for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968

She was 31 when she played Jane



Susannah York

opposite George C. Scott in 1970

Born: Susannah Yolande Fletcher January 9, 1939 in Chelsea, London, England, UK
Died: January 15, 2011 (age 72) in London, England, UK

Known for Tom Jones 1963, They Shoot Horses, Don't They 1969, Superman the Movie 1978

She was 31 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

At the time I was asked to play the role of Jane, I was quite hot, so to speak. Offers were coming fast and furious, so I was delighted when I got the part. I loved the book and it was a part I had always wanted. I was bewildered and upset, however, when people said I was too pretty to play a plain governess. I have always thought of myself as a character actress and I longed to be noted for my acting ability and hated it when people paid attention to my appearance.

I've never thought of myself as pretty and truly felt I was Jane. She’s not a showy character, but she is still passionate, and that’s what I liked about her. People are also saying that Ruth Wilson is too pretty. But I think she has just the right qualities and seems to have the same view and feel of, and feeling for, Jane that I did.

My co-star, George, was a big, craggy, gruff creature, and he was great for a chat. But our approach to filming was totally different. I liked to rehearse, but he would do a scene in one take then go back to playing backgammon. I thought he made a pretty good Rochester, though, as he had a real presence — although he was perhaps a bit too old. I must confess that I have yet to see my perfect Mr Rochester. Even Toby Stephens in the current adaptation, while a great actor, is not the Rochester of the book as he’s a bit too young.

I wouldn't say I was typecast, but people tended to see me as a more serious actor afterwards. As a result, although I refuse to accept it when people put limitations on me, I’ll admit that it hasn’t always been easy to get roles since.

I don't regret playing Jane, though. It was a brilliant part. Usually I curl up with embarrassment when I watch my performances, but when I watched my version of Jane Eyre, it seemed to me that I had struck the right note.


Sorcha Cusack

opposite Michael Jayston in 1973

Born: April 9, 1949 in Dublin, Ireland

Known for Snatch 2000, Casualty, Father Brown

She was 23 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

Jane Eyre was my first TV job and, to be honest, I felt I was rather hopeless. With no major roles under my belt, my performance was flat. I was very lucky to get the role in the first place and I think I got the part because I’m plain-looking and, because I was born and bred in Ireland, I was ten years behind other girls in terms of sophistication. Both were key ingredients to the character.

As a child, people were always saying, "Isnt Sinead [her actress sister] gorgeous?’ But my look was perfect for Jane. Rochester, Michael Jayston, said, ‘After this you’ll be huge,’ and, while we were filming, I did go to my bank manager and say, ‘I won’t need the overdraft any more.’ But I did need it as I didn’t get any big breaks afterwards. There was plenty of work, but not a role that changed the course of my career.Lots of theatre work followed, but several years after playing Jane, I put my career on hold for a while to return to Ireland to care for my late mother, who had heart problems. It’s nice looking back on the whole Jane Eyre period, and it’s lovely that I still get letters saying, ‘You’ll always be my Jane.’


Zelah Clarke

opposite Timothy Dalton in 1983

Born: 1954

Known for Lady Jane 1986, Dombey and Son 1983

She was 29 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

Jane Eyre is the ultimate poisoned chalice. Everyone remembers the Rochesters, but no one recalls the Janes. I hoped the role might be a springboard — I never thought it would force me to retire. Before Jane Eyre I had done lots of TV costume dramas, but not a lead role, so I was thrilled when I got the part. Tim Dalton wasn’t a superstar then — in fact, I had more TV experience than him.





It was depressing when things suddenly stopped after Jane Eyre, especially as I had no idea why. But then I got married and my life changed. There is something undignified about old actors scraping around for work. I would never go back into the theatre; it ruins your social life and breaks up families. If I hadn’t done Jane Eyre, perhaps I’d have felt that I hadn’t proved myself. But I did and I have. Now, looking at the series, it seems old-fashioned, but I was pleased with my performance. Between roles I became interested in art, so perhaps I didn’t have such a desire to be a famous actress after all."


Charlotte Gainsbourg

opposite William Hurt in 1996

Born: July 21, 1971 in London, England, UK

Known for 21 Grams 2003, Antichrist 2009

She was 25 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

"The book wasn't part of my culture," says Charlotte Gainsbourg cautiously. "Of course I've read it now but I'm quite thankful it wasn't a big deal for me, because I was more free than someone who had loved it all their life. Jane has a strength to her that is very appealing to play. She puts up a defensive barrier to other people because of the terrible disappointments of her childhood."


Samantha Morton

opposite Ciaran Hinds in 1997

Born: May 13, 1977 in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England, UK

Known for Minority Report 2002, In America 2003

She was 20 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

For a modern young woman like Ms. Morton, slouching on a sofa in the library of the Regency Hotel in New York, wearing trousers and a leather jacket, the self-possessed Jane in her sweeping, long skirts and tight corsets is from another world. ''It's like playing an alien,'' says the actress, who grew up in Nottingham, in the north of England.

To find her Jane Eyre, Ms. Morton went again and again to Charlotte Bronte's 1847 classic novel, taking notes and keeping them close by during the five-week shoot. ''By reading the book you have a clear picture of how she walks, how she sits, how she addresses people, how she smiles, how she dresses,'' Ms. Morton says. ''It's so easy; it's given to you on a plate.


Marla Schaffel

opposite James Barbour in 2000 Broadway musical

Born: April 17th

Known for her role as Jane Eyre starting with the early Kansas/Toronto run all the way to Broadway, 5 years later.

On playing Jane:

Schaffel, who has been playing the part of Jane Eyre for five years, began her journey with the role in a small workshop of the show. "They had one of those humongous auditions for a reading that doesn't really pay anything at Manhattan Theatre Club. And they auditioned hundreds of people, and I'm told that I was the first person that they saw for Jane and the only person that they called back." At the time of the reading, Schaffel had never read the classic novel by Charlotte Brontė. "I read it after I had done the original workshop reading. I didn't have time before hand." Even without reading the novel, Schaffel's love for the part was ignited. "I thought that Paul's [Gordon, the composer] writing was so respectful of Brontė's work that I was completely informed by his work. I knew who Jane was for a start. I know her a lot better now.

Schaffel said she was powerfully drawn to the role from the first rehearsal. "It was her [Jane Eyre's] capacity for feeling, her depth of feeling, her spirituality, her being in touch with things that are not of this world and yet really being a part of this world. And her clarity of vision as to other people's characters, her sense of right and wrong—not necessarily judging, but knowing what is true what is true for her."

Finding her way into the role after a hiatus also brings challenges. "Jane's openness and vulnerability are the hardest things to get back to," says Schaffel. "I'm not generally a very vulnerable person, and it's hard for me to open myself every time we start the show again. Also, I've changed so much in five years, and my life has changed drastically—I was married around the time I got the show and now I'm no longer with my husband—that I have to remind myself to remember the unjaded, youthful side of Jane. Each time it becomes a process of tearing down my walls. "It has continued to be difficult," says Schaffel, "but it has continued to be great."


Ruth Wilson

opposite Toby Stephens in 2006

Born: January 13, 1982 in Ashford, Kent, England, UK

Known for The Prisoner 2009, Luther 2010

She was 24 when she played Jane

At the time she had just one professional credit, as seductive Jewel Diamond in the Five sitcom Suburban Shootout.

On playing Jane:

And because most of the parts she was being put up for were similarly glamorous, she approached the Jane Eyre audition considering herself barely suitable for the role of the dowdy governess from Charlotte Bronte's 19th Century novel.

"But then I read the script and the script was amazing... so honest, natural and real," she says.

"It was kind of the first script that I felt really at ease with. When I was at the audition it just came so naturally to me."

She adds: "She's a complex, amazing character - it's a gift to be given really on your second job."

Wilson admits she was "a bit in shock" when she was told she would be joining a stellar cast including Toby Stephens, Francesca Annis, Pam Ferris and Tara Fitzgerald. "I didn't quite believe it for a while. The first people I phoned up were my mum and dad, who were very chuffed and sort of screaming down the phone, more excited than I was."


Mia Wasikowska

opposite Michael Fassbender in 2011

Born: October 14, 1989 in Canberra, Australia

Known for Alice in Wonderland 2010, The Kids are All Right 2010

She was 21 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:
"It’s an honor to portray Jane. What I love about her character is, despite all the hardship that she faces throughout her life, she has this innate sense of self-respect and an incredible ability to do what's right by herself as an individual. I believe that is key for people, especially women, to remember; it’s important to do what's fulfilling for you as an individual, even when it can be easier to do what's comfortable."

Mia Wasikowska assesses Jane Eyre as "timeless in her relevance – and her resilience. Instead of letting her situation grind her down, or becoming damaged, she becomes a stronger person. Jane always challenges herself and follows her gut feeling as well. She knows what's important for her to do. As hard as it might be, she gets on and does it." When asked what audiences should take away with them from Jane’s story, Wasikowska states, "It is about having self-respect and finding self-fulfillment."

About the Actors to have played Mr. Rochester

Colin Clive

opposite Virginia Bruce in 1934

Born: Colin Glenn Clive-Greig January 20, 1900 in St. Malo, France
Died: June 25, 1937 (age 37) in Los Angeles, California, USA

Known for Frankenstein 1931

He was 34 when he played Rochester

 


Orson Welles

opposite Joan Fontaine in 1944

Born George Orson Welles May 6, 1915 in Kenosha, Wisconsin, USA
Died: October 10, 1985 (age 70) in Hollywood, California, USA

Known for Citizen Kane 1941, Touch of Evil 1958

He was 27 when he played Rochester

 


Charlton Heston

opposite Mary Sinclair in 1949

Born: John Charles Carter October 4, 1923 in Evanston, Illinois, USA
Died: April 5, 2008 (age 84) in Beverly Hills, California, USA

Known for Ben-Hur 1959, Planet of the Apes 1968 ,The Ten Commandments 1956

He was 26 when he played Rochester

 


Kevin McCarthy

opposite Katharine Bard in 1952

Born: February 15, 1914 in Seattle, Washington, USA
Died: September 11, 2010 (age 96) in Hyannis, Massachusetts, USA

Known for Invasion of the Body Snatchers 1956

He was 38 when he played Rochester

 


Patrick Macnee

opposite Joan Elan in 1957

Born: Daniel Patrick Macnee February 6, 1922 in London England, UK

Known for The Avengers 1961, A View to a Kill 1985

He was 35 when he played Rochester

 


Zachary Scott

opposite Sally Ann Howes in 1961

Born: Zachary Thomson Scott Jr. February 21, 1914 in Austin Texas, USA
Died: October 3, 1965 (age 51) in Austin, Texas, USA

Known for Mildred Pierce 1945

He was 47 when he played Rochester

 


George C. Scott

opposite Susannah York in 1970

Born George Campbell Scott October 18, 1927 in Wise, Virginia USA
Died: September 22, 1999 (age 71) in Westlake Village, California, USA

Known for Dr. Strangelove 1964, Patton 1970

He was 43 when he played Rochester

 


Michael Jayston

opposite Sorcha Cusack in 1973

Born; Michael James October 29, 1935 in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England, UK

Known for Nicholas and Alexandra 1971, Doctor Who 1985

He was 37 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:

It was marvellous stuff to do, a part you can really get your teeth into. I played it once before at drama school, though obviously I was much too young. It was when the film version, with Orson Welles as Rochester, came out, and I thought he was dreadful! He looked magnificent, but I don't think American actors can cope with period dialogue. Rochester is all women's ideal of a man; arrogant yet strangely vulnerable. The character [has] wit, brooding sensitivity, and a romantic quality.

I landed the role of Rochester as a result of a practical joke. My then wife, Heather, sent a funny letter to the director, Joan Craft, saying, ‘It’s about time Michael played Rochester’, and we used to think that I got the part as a result.Looking back, though, I was on a roll at the time. I’d just come from playing several highprofile roles such as Tsar Nicholas II in Nicholas And Alexandra, and A Bequest To The Nation opposite Glenda Jackson. And here was the ultimate romantic part.

Sorcha was only 23 and I was 37. People said there was an electrifying chemistry between us, which was true. I did find her attractive, but we kept things quite jokey on the set to alleviate the intensity. It’s not that romantic performing love scenes on a cold morning at 8am, with a props guy holding a hot fan right next to you to stop your lips freezing. Professionally, playing Rochester didn’t do me much good. I never played a romantic part on TV after that. I was baffled because when it was shown on TV, I received the biggest fan mail I’ve ever had.


Timothy Dalton

opposite Zelah Clarke in 1983

Born: March 21, 1944 in Colwyn Bay, Wales, UK

Known for Licence to Kill 1989

He was 39 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:

"I think why it worked so well was because, in truth, it's such a good part. What a blow to the image! Rochester is tough and hard, short-tempered and curt on the one hand, and concealing a soul that's been hurt and made sensitive. So you have a lot of the qualities that really appeal to women in Rochester, and I was simply lucky enough to be playing him.

"There's got to be a bit of yourself in it. I don't think you can be a good actor unless you reveal something of yourself. You're revealing a character through the knowledge you have of yourself and the life around you. Yes, I can see certain elements of myself in Rochester... Of course, Rochester was no fisherman, while fishing is my obsession."


William Hurt

opposite Charlotte Gainsbourg in 1996

Born: William M. Hurt March 20, 1950 in Washington, District of Columbia, USA

Known for A.I. 2001, A History of Violence 2005

He was 46 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:

“I had read the book a long time ago, and when the project was first mooted, I went back to the book and was blown away by it. The more I delved, the more inspired I became by it. It is a great work of art and it has been a privilege to spend time with it,” says William Hurt. 

“Rochester is a wonderful character; he rises out a great romantic figure with tremendous energy and power. Of course I have to throw away everything that is not useful in realizing the work – other people’s reputations, their vision, don’t have to be mine. I can’t think of him as a hero, I have to let the structure of the work do that. I can only think of him as a human being or I give myself added pressure if I see him as a famous role with a lot of expectations riding on the piece. As an actor I have to put those expectations aside and look at him freshly: he is very much at the centre of many conflicting loyalties; he is compelled and repelled, and he is really at the crossroads of many different forces. The fact that other actors have played him is not important: roles are made to be played by different actors. What frightens me is what Charlotte Brontė might think of me as Rochester!”


Ciaran Hinds

opposite Samantha Morton in 1997

Born: February 9, 1953 in Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK

Known for Persuasion 1995, There Will Be Blood 2007

He was 44 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:

He was chosen for Rochester after the director, Robert Young, heard him play the part on radio. "He told me there was passion in my voice. I couldn't evaluate whether I was right or wrong. I haven't seen any film versions, or read the book. I don't want to because I'd worry about the impossibility of translating it to the screen. I'd wonder why particular scenes are left out, and that would cause frustration as well as getting in the way of the screen writer, who has worked very hard for a long time and knows more about it than me. Sam (his co-star Samantha Morton) has read the book several times, so I developed the character through her. She's only 19 and has an amazing talent. She treated me like her grandfather," he jokes. "The danger is that Rochester has been played so many times I risk being shot down by the critics. But a good story is a good story, whatever, and this is still about two hearts. I hope I can communicate real emotions. I hope against hope sometimes, but there's an extraordinary feeling when you get it right." 

"Rochester is, he believes, selfish, arrogant, chauvinistic, bullying, sexist. "You could say he's a man of his time, a rich landowner, with power which he abuses. I wouldn't fancy him, and I wonder why women find him attractive. It's the power, I think. My job is to try and make viewers have sympathy. I hope we show how his heart was hit badly by his first wife. She'd been a bit of a sex siren when younger. How was he to know she was barking mad? Jane is employed as a governess and responds to him like a genuine person. It's not 'Yes, sir, no, sir.' She looks him in the eye and speaks her mind, which is a new experience for him. He finds her fascinating. In the end he says 'We are one soul,' but he can't trust himself to open up completely and admit, 'I love you'. He is callous, too, in the way he flirts with Blanche in order to make Jane jealous".


James Barbour

opposite Marla Schaffel in 2000 Broadway Musical

Born: James Stacy Barbour April 25, 1966 in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, USA

Known for Eight Crazy Nights 2002, Alchemy 2005

He was 34 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:
Some critics think I'm the worst thing to hit the stage. Others see me as the epitome of Rochester. Part of the problem in building this character is that if you go back to the novel ['Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Bronte], you only see him through Jane's eyes.

"The big challenge, however, is that viewers are expecting a performance like one of the many Rochesters who have appeared in the movies. Audiences usually envision Orson Welles [who played the part in 1944]--a 250-pound55-year-old, who is a gruff, dark, tortured soul.

"For starters, I am not that much older than the actress who plays Jane[Maria Schaffel]. I'm 35. More important, I try to bring humor and irony toRochester. If he is all that stoic, and has no sense of lightness, why would Jane fall in love with him? He is not a wall of stone. His biting wit is a form of self-protection. In some ways, he is not unlike the Beast in 'Beauty and the Beast' or Billy in 'Carousel,' two characters I've played."

[He] describes Rochester as "a rebel who doesn't care what others think about him. Yet, he is a highly moral figure. He feels very confined and breaks away in order to feel alive," Barbour asserts. "Rochester is constantly running away--he has no home--and he has a true sense of responsibility."

Barbour defines himself as an actor who sings as opposed to a singer who acts and he comes to each role with the actor's sensibility. That is not to say his strategy for each part is the same. "When I played the Beast["Beauty and The Beast"], I approached the character physically--what he moved like, what he looked like. With Rochester, I took a more intellectual tack--his history, his ideals. Then I moved on to what he was about physically--the way he stood and sat. Of course, the period influenced those things as well."

In preparation for the role, Barbour boned up on the era, reading a host of books on Victorian women, aristocracy, social mores, and values. "Victorians of Rochester's class were always aware of what they looked like and the impression they were making. That would be true of Rochester as well. But because he is a rebel in our view, he would deliberately break some of those conventions."

Toby Stephens

opposite Ruth Wilson in 2006

Born: April 21, 1969 in Middlesex, London, England, UK

Known for Die Another Day 2002

He was 37 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:

The contradictory aspect of this is that Stephens knows what Jane Eyre could mean for him. He says he grabbed at the chance with both hands. He then worked extraordinarily hard filming it, mainly at Haddon Hall, over a particularly cruel Derbyshire winter. "I remember sitting in the main hall thinking: 'This is f***ing torture.' My face was frozen in this kind of rictus and I thought: 'This is going to be Rochester's expression. I canķt move anything.' It was horrible for about three, four weeks and then it slowly started thawing out. By the summer it was the most beautiful place on earth.

He appreciates that, rictus grin or not, his Rochester will not satisfy all of the bookķs devotees. "Every woman has their own idea of Mr Rochester. I'd had this image in my head of him being this rather remote, enigmatic, taciturn figure. And I read the book again and, actually, he never shuts up. He just grinds on and on and on, and he's actually quite theatrical.

In the book Rochester has to adapt to a female personality as wilful as his own. Susanna White says that Stephens exhibited no comparable agonies working for a female director.


Michael Fassbender

opposite Mia Wasikowska in 2011

Born: April 2, 1977 in Heidelberg, Germany

Known for 300 2006, Inglourious Basterds 2009

He was 33 when he played Rochester

On playing Mr. Rochester:

Iconic or not, Fassbender found himself drawn to a character whose "gruffness and darkness make him more challenging to take to. This is not a straightforward love story.

"I play Rochester primarily as a Byronic hero. He’s quite jaded, yet he is sensitive and has a good heart. He’s in touch with his sensuality and humor. He’s traveled, and some things happened along his journeys which have stayed with him."

Fassbender delved into his character’s history and how it informs Rochester’s interactions with Jane. He says, "Rochester has been hurt.  He went to Jamaica at such a young age, and his life got spun around. I think that he would have been quite happy without huge amounts of money, but his father said, ‘You have to go and marry this woman, because you need to be taken care of financially.’ Subsequently his older brother died, and he took over Thornfield.

"He’s somebody who is quite opposed to aristocratic judgments. He doesn’t mind crossing boundaries through perceived social handicaps. He doesn’t mind that Jane is a governess, or that for him to be with a governess would be frowned upon."

The actor sees the relationship as "Rochester’s last hope, really. He sees Jane when everyone else looks past her, and she inspires him, bringing him back to a point in his life where he was more pure and overtly better-natured, not as cynical and arrogant. When Jane responds to him in a way that doesn’t kowtow to his beliefs and that challenges him, he sees a real fire within her that she’s been suppressing. That intrigues him. The audience should be invested in the prospect that these two people can heal each other and nourish each other."