The Swedish actor, star of seven major movies this year including Ex Machina and The Danish Girl, talks feet, renown and gender
I dont have the best feet, Alicia Vikander says matter-of-factly midway through our interview. She doesnt speak in the smugly self-deprecating tone of unnervingly beautiful celebrities eager to point out that they, too, are humen with physical insecurities; rather, its expressed as a shrugging statement of fact.
As politely as possible, I change in my chair to glance at the feet in question. Best is a strong word, and Im no podiatrist, but at worst, theyre on the elegant aim of normal: petite, pedicured, housed in nude-coloured heels of purposeful height and pointiness. For a 27 -year-old Swedish actor somehow striding into mainstream cinema from multiple doors at once, they appear to be holding her up just fine.
Yet for a ballerina, Vikander explains, they were less than ideal. At the Royal Swedish Ballet School, where she trained in her teens, they werent the fleetest or most liquid, and didnt turn quite as well as some of the other girls. Born and raised in Gothenberg, Vikander had dreamed of a life in tutus since a Christmas outing to The Nutcracker at the age of five; at 15, she was permitted to move on her own to Stockholm to study ballet. Yet while playing the non-dancing, all-miming unisex role of the Witch in her academys production of Les Sylphides , it resulted to the young dancer that maybe acting was her stronger suit. As the only child of veteran Swedish stage performer Maria Fahl Vikander, that cant have come as the greatest surprise.
Another decade on, we can thank those faulty feet for building Vikander the most ubiquitous screen presence of 2015. Asked if even she knows how many of her cinemas have made screens this year, she lithely avoids giving a number. They come out at different times in different places, I dont keep track! she laughs.
The answer is seven, chronologically bookended by the most prestigious. In January, audiences thrilled to Alex Garlands sleek, slippery sci-fi provocation Ex Machina , starring Vikander as Ava, the disarmingly sentient feminised robot who turns the tables on her male minders. Soon theyll watch her in a very different gender inquiry: in Tom Hoopers lushly mounted period biopic The Danish Girl , she plays painter Gerda Wegener, the emotionally conflicted spouse of pioneering transgender surgery recipient Lili Elbe, played by Eddie Redmayne.
Her roles between those two have varied wildly. Playing celebrated first world war diarist Vera Brittain, she anchored the handsome BBC weepie Testament of Youth with stout-hearted sentence; months later, she was on frisky female sidekick duty in Guy Ritchies well-clothed cold war romp The Man from UNCLE . She brought a tang of romantic regret to the underperforming Bradley Cooper vehicle Burnt , and some Russian-accented femme fatale position to the breakneck Aussie thriller Son of a Gun . And if weve forgotten she was in Marchs dismal sword-and-sorcery bomb Seventh Son , perhaps she has too; it never comes up in our conversation.
Even with such misfires, this portfolio more than justifies the Year of Alicia Vikander headlines currently peppering magazine racks her celebrity profile having been further abetted by a closely guarded relationship with Michael Fassbender and her selection by Louis Vuitton as, in their own lofty terms, the new muse of the Maison. Last week she received a brace of Golden Globe nominations for The Danish Girl and Ex Machina. But shes quick to point out that saturation wasnt a strategy. Its a coincidence, genuinely, she says. All these cinemas that I shot at different times over three years simply all arrived together this year. Recollect when Jessica Chastain was suddenly in so many cinemas at once? I suppose its like that. I hope so, because shes incredible.
Vikanders breakthrough does indeed recall the American actors multi-pronged screen assault in 2011; the Swedish ingenue was sufficiently dazzled by Chastain in The Tree of Life to see it twice in cinemas a year before the Oscar-nominated Danish dres drama A Royal Affair , followed in short order by a film-stealing English-language debut as Kitty in Joe Wrights diorama-style Anna Karenina , brought Vikander to the attention of international viewers.
Since then, shes been shooting almost constantly, flitting in and out of her north London apartment “as if its” a hotel albeit one where she has, as she explains with disarming exhilaration, ultimately become acquainted with her neighbours: It took me two-and-a-half years of living here with merely three purses, but it has just about started to feel like home. When we gratify, in a silk-draped Claridges suite, shes merely a day off the plane from Washington DC, where shes been immersed in Paul Greengrass and Matt Damons eagerly awaited return to the Jason Bourne action franchise.
Her entry into the realm of such studio tentpoles has added an unfamiliar degree of promotional work to an already crammed schedule. Also new to her is the glad-handing and red carpet-grazing of the movie awards season. The Oscars may not be until late February, but the four-month marathon of campaign receptions and precursor prize-giving ceremonies is already well under way. Vikander admits to being bemused by it all. Up until 18 months ago, I thought the word awards season was a kind of joke, she says. I had never genuinely reflected that a certain kind of serious movie came out subsequently in the year. I merely thought fall seemed like a good time to go to the movies. Its colder, after all.
We had both attended the British independent film awards one of the circuits boozier, jollier shindigs the night before. If Im feeling worse for wear, her face betrays neither hangover nor transatlantic jet-lag, though she insists that she partied late. I may not be a dancer any more, but I do love a boogie, she says, softly chair-dancing for emphasis. She takes alternating sips from a Diet Coke and a bamboo-hued herbal tea.
As for the awards themselves, it was swingings and roundabouts: Vikander lost her best actress bid for The Danish Girl to Brooklyn superstar Saoirse Ronan, but delighted in an unexpected sweep of the nights top gongs for Ex Machina . Halfway through the ceremony she was informed that the influential Los Angeles Film Critics Association had just voted her best supporting actress for Garlands film. This worldwide spread of recognition is insane, she murmurs. I was brought up in a small country. If you made a Swedish movie that just got into a movie celebration somewhere, that was like the biggest thing you could wish for.
Further accolades for her roles as Ava and Gerda are likely over the next weeks, and shes equally deserving of honours for either. She is coolly heart-clutching in Ex Machina as an android studying, both physically and psychologically, what it means to be a woman; in The Danish Girl , shes a vibrant, sensitive reflector for a biological human going through the same complex learning process. Her Oscar campaign has her classified as a supporting actress in the latter, though that rather misrepresents the movie. Either Vikanders Gerda or Redmaynes Lili could be viewed as the Danish girl of the title, as the narrative dwells less on one spouses transformation than the evolution of their matrimony as a result.
Its about them going through a transition , not just him, says Vikander, who was greatly moved by Gerdas split impulse between supporting her husbands wish to be his true self and mourning the loss of a fan. In any relationship, when you go through any big change, you struggle to find your new constellation, your new ground. It takes a while to ascertain what the new relationship between you is. I could relate to that. That got to me immediately.
Less obvious to Vikander at the time of filming was the thematic dovetailing of The Danish Girl with Ex Machina as a tale of adopted female identity. It was only when she represented the former at Champions of Change, a White House event celebrate LGBT media luminaries, that it became clear to her via feedback from transgender attendees who had find both cinemas. Three trans girls came up to me separately to tell me they had felts such a connection with Ava in Ex Machina , and her dream of ultimately coming to full female fruition, she recollects. They had all screamed; one said she was very emotional during the scene where Ava ultimately puts her skin on for the first time. I hadnt really made that connection, yet that was very much what I felt when I did that scene. That longing.
Vikander likens this to her own strong sense of desiring womanhood when she was a young girl: I vividly recollect watching women in cinemas when I was nine or 10, picturing them being what Id be like as an adult. I had these real female crushes on certain actresses. And Id watch them supposing, one day Ill be that. One day Ill be a woman. Its obviously not the same, but I get that wish to find your complete form.
I ask if she can name any of these youthful crushes. Her creamy complexion pinkens. Oh God, she murmurs, eyes darting from side to side as if one of them might be lurking in the linen cupboard. Helena Bonham Carter was one of my biggest crushes. And Rachel Weisz. I think I told her that “when hes” filming, which was probably a bit embarrassing.
Weisz and Vikander co-star in The Light Between Oceans , Blue Valentine director Derek Cianfrances adaptation, due in 2016, of ML Stedmans emotive bestseller. Fassbender and Vikander play husband and wife. She saw the fourth cut on a recent journey to New York; she says she favor watching her cinemas in progress than after the final edit. Im very interested in the editing process in all aspects of film-making, genuinely, she says, adding that shed consider getting behind the camera at some point.
One of Vikanders repeat collaborators is the Swedish playwright and film-maker Lisa Langseth, who directed her in her debut movie role in 2009 s Pure ; they reteamed four years later for Hotell , a darkly comic group-therapy analyze that are now marks the actors last non-English-speaking role. Despite “members attention” of Hollywood, shes keen to work with Langseth again, and to maintain a presence in European cinema. Ingrid Bergman managed that balance in the end, after all; Vikander, who earlier this year channelled the Swedish icon to narrate the documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words , is probably weary of the comparison, however flattering. Still, a similarly international -Alist career beckons, straddling speeches as fluently as genres. With endearingly girlish reverence, she cites French star Marion Cotillard as her key contemporary inspiration and dream collaborator.
Indeed, if Vikander has any one complaint about a thus far charmed career, its that she doesnt get to work with other women nearly enough a realisation that hit home on the define of another of her scheduled 2016 releases, the Tom Stoppard-scripted historical romance Tulip Fever . Of course Ive had a run of great opportunities and characters to play, but I was shooting this scene with Holliday Grainger that merely felt like something new, she says. It just came so easily, and “were in” having so much fun. And only when we were chatting afterwards did I suddenly realise why: Id just made five cinemas in a row, and this was the first one where I had a scene with another woman.
So will she be more mindful of the Bechdel test the feminist guideline that requires cinemas to feature scenes of female characters in conversation , not about a human in future? Well, yes, but I merely felt so embarrassed that I hadnt realised that earlier. Women talking together apparently it is a reality! Who knew? And while we talk about the lack of female leads in cinemas today, male dominance is just as strong in supporting roles.
With or without female scene partners( or directors, for that are important ), a streak of feminist resolve has run through a number of Vikanders recent projects, including Testament of Youth , Ex Machina and The Danish Girl . Vikander describes feminism as essential to her own identity and upbringing where I grew up, its a word of equality for men and women , not something to question and certainly doesnt pick such roles by accident, though she tires of the media equating strength in female characters with unyielding toughness.
Gerda or Ava or Vera are all strong characters in different ways. I dont think so much about whether Im playing a strong person or not its not that the character needs to be loud or straightforward, she elaborates. It can be a fragile, flawed person, but if they have enough dimension, and depth that you understand them even at their weakest, thats a strong character to me. Then you have something to play, and play with. Its about not being the girl.
Is she concerned that she may be regarded as merely that when taking a role in a project like The Man from UNCLE , in which her character is wooed by a burly male super-spy and gets to model a procession of Audrey Hepburn-style attires? Well, you need silly movies too! And what I liked about that script was that it wasnt just dumb action or slapstick its a comedy about strange characters clashing, and that chemistry is whats funny.
So , not every project can be chosen on the basis of its political or representational properties, then. But Vikander is optimistic that the gender balance in the industry is slowly changing. Theres a change happening, and I want to be part of that, she says. Im so new, Ive merely been reading scripts for a few years on the international market, but you see something like The Hunger Game or Insurgent proving that a female role can carry a successful blockbuster, and that entails something. You begin to feel their effect. When people in the industry and in the media are recognise the issue and talking about it, then you begin to look around and realise what needs to be done.
Media interest has its flipside, of course. Vikander is freshly confronting the through-the-looking-glass absurdity of paparazzi attention, having recently discovered a series of snapshots of her running errands in Soho over 30 of them, taken over four hours had surfaced on celebrity news sites. Theres nothing to them: Im merely buying a book and fulfilling a friend for coffee, she says. Its merely very strange. And its hard to say anythings tough when youre getting to make a career out of what you love most, but I dont think thats anything you can be used to.
I like mystery, she continues. I like not knowing about my favourite actresses and actors. I love watching Meryl Streep up there and knowing so little about who she is outside of what shes playing on screen. But I gratify journalists and even girls who say, Oh, we just want to know more about you. I guess its become another a character, a role in a way, for actors to play this version of themselves to present to them. But it is a made-up idea of who you are.
She shuns social media out of the same wariness. I tried it once for two weeks but I felt this constant pressure to post. I was so stressed.
If Vikander receives it comparably stressful to retain secrets while also giving hour-long interviews to the likes of me, she doesnt let on. Shes a savvy operator, after all, having briefly signed up for statute school after discontinuing ballet, before fate( or at least casting directors) intervened. You could argue that her catholic taste in movie projects, her blithe swerving between arthouse and multiplex, between Hollywood and Scandinavia and the UK, is a neat style of preserving her own actorly mystique, of preventing her audience from pinning her down, on camera or off. I ask if she ever misses ballet. Its a more punishing calling, perhaps, but outside of performance, a less public one.
She shakes her head softly. Of course, each time I go to the opera house and mind sitting down and the curtain goes up, it reaches me quite hard, she says. I cry, because, like art, it puts you in a place where youre transferred somewhere else, and all these what ifs come up in my head. But when the curtain goes down, I know I couldnt keep abreast. I feel Im merely an foreigner seeming in, really impressed.
The Danish Girl is released in the UK on 1 January
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