Karen Valby
April 11, 2014 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Stars from Julia Roberts to Nicole Kidman circled the role. But it’s taken three decades to adapt Robyn Davidson’s 1980 memoir about her 1,700-mile walk across the deserts of West Australia with only a dog and four camels. In the end, the part went to Mia Wasikowska (Alice in Wonderland), an Australian-born Davidson look-alike who grew up trekking into the bush. “Robyn didn’t have a GPS, a cell phone, email, all these things that are so much a fabric of our lives today,” says director John Curran (Stone). “That idea of a young person confronting this fear of loneliness by pursuing solitude means something completely different today than it did in the ’80s.”

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