Alicia Vikander talks “The Danish Girl”, fashion and how English has opened up the whole world for her
TORONTO – Hollywood’s latest “It Girl,” Alicia Vikander is staying cool and graceful amid all the hype and glory. With six films unspooling (not that they actually unspool anymore in this age of digital) cinema) this year, the strikingly beautiful Swedish actress is ready to step into the limelight. With performances in the sci-fi thriller Ex Machina, the period drama Testament of Youth (as British pacifist Vera Brittain), and Guy Ritchie’s slovenly The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Vikander has already gained plenty of career momentum.
But she’s not done yet. Now she’s about to gain possible Oscar recognition for her work in THE DANISH GIRL, the much talked-about film in which Eddie Redmayne plays a man transitioning to a woman in 1920s Copenhagen. Vikander plays Gerda Wegener, the Danish artist whose husband, Einar (Eddie Redmayne) would become one of the first known recipients of gender-reassignment surgery. Though Redmayne is again the subject of Oscar talk (he won for The Theory of Everything earlier this year), Vikander delivers a remarkably sensitive and compelling performance that may well earn her a nomination or two as awards season looms.
Not that she’s worrying about accolades. Vikander, 27, is the consummate professional who takes her work very seriously and has spent the past seven years working her way up the ladder and is poised (in both senses of the term) for the kind of recognition that she never dared imagine as a former ballerina turned actress in her native Stockholm.
“I”m very flattered that people are appreciative of my work but it’s much more important to me that the film is attracting a lot of buzz,” Vikander says. “Eddie gives such an incredible performance and I was honoured to have had the chance to be part of this very special love story that is also going to raise a lot of awareness and hopefully change attitudes.”
Apart from acting, Vikander is muse to fabled fashion designer Nicolas Ghesquière and the face of Louis Vuitton. She currently lives in London where she has a circle of Swedish as well as British friends.
In person, Vikander is lively and outgoing although she admits that her serious approach to work and giving interviews in English, her second language, sometimes leaves people with the impression that she is cool and aloof. “Anything but!,” she laughs. It is also pleasant to report that Alicia is even more stunningly attractive in person than she appears up on the screen.
Q: Alicia, this has been a very busy last year or two for you, hasn’t it?
VIKANDER: (Laughs) I’ve only had a few weeks’ break here and there. The rest of the time I’ve either been shooting or doing promotion for my films. Sometimes I forget what day it is or where I’ve been the previous week. That’s how crazy it’s been. But I love travelling and I’m having a lot of fun.
Q: How do you feel about your sudden leap to fame and having so many films come out in one year? Does it feel like a shock to your system?
VIKANDER: It’s really a coincidence that all these movies are coming out at the same time and sometimes you worry about overexposure and audiences getting tired of seeing you! At least there’s been some time between the releases of the films and not all of them have received as much publicity as Man From U.N.C.L.E. or The Danish Girl.
The truth is that I’ve been working steadily ever since A Royal Affair (the Danish film nominated for Best Foreign Film in 2012 – ED). It’s been a long process and I don’t think there’s been any change in my personal life except for the terrible paparazzi.
I think it’s actually been a healthy thing that I’ve had time to get used to being part of some big films and doing the promotional work before there’s been a lot of public attention around me. In the meantime, I’ve been able to get to know and work with a lot of talented people in the business and focus on my work and not worry about anything else that might have been a distraction.
Q: You’ve become close to fashion designer Nicholas Ghesquiere. Do you consider yourself a fashionista?
VIKANDER: I love to wear designer clothes on special occasions and I’m very interested in design and the sheer beauty and art that goes into fashion. But at home I’m much more comfortable sitting around in my pyjamas.
Q: The Danish Girl is an extraordinary film and it must have been an equally extraordinary experience watching Eddie Redmayne transform himself from Einar into Lili?
VIKANDER: Yeah, his transformation left me speechless. The first day Eddie came on the set as Lili I didn’t recognise him at first. I was wondering who this red-haired woman was and then maybe five minutes later I finally realised, “Hey, it’s Eddie!” That’s how incredible it was. But the real transformation for me was how he played Lili and how deeply sensitive his performance was.
Q: The story itself is very heavy and emotional. What was it like working with Eddie on the set? Did you remain very serious when you weren’t doing your scenes or did you have some lighter moments?
VIKANDER: We usually tried to relax and break the tension whenever we could. Eddie is very funny and energetic to be around. We had already met before at the BAFTAs when we were presenters and we had some friends in common who had told me that I was going to have the greatest time working with Eddie because he’s so genuine and a truly sweet and lovely man. And they were right!
Q: Did you have a chance to bond on the set especially since your characters have such a deep affection fort each other?
VIKANDER: We had a few weeks of rehearsal together which allowed us to get to know one another better and we’ve become very dear friends. Eddie is a very generous man in person and as an actor. He also sets such a high standard in his work that he not only pushes you further but you also feel that you need to do your best work possible to meet him at his level.
We worked very hard and put in very long hours on the set but I don’t remember a single time that Eddie was anything but friendly and supportive even when he had just finished doing some very difficult emotional scenes.
Q: What was about your character Gerda that stood out most for you?
VIKANDER: I saw Gerda as this very avant-garde woman who had the personal conviction and strength to be ahead of her time. She was a non-conformist and independent thinker and also someone who was able to love Lili more than she loved herself. It was so beautiful to be able to help tell this story and explore this extraordinary love that Gerda and Lili shared.
Q: How did you approach Gerda’s ability to accept Einar’s transition to Lili?
VIKANDER: One of the interesting things for me was that I had to come to terms with what kinds of emotions Gerda must have gone through during all this. I had spoken to people who were close friends of people who had transitioned and every one of them was anxious to explain how tough it was for them, too, to deal with the experience.
They all felt that they had also undergone their own form of transition and that was when I realised how strong Gerda must have been to deal with this. She must have been a very strong woman as well as being incredibly loving and compassionate. Very few women, especially 100 years ago when no one really knew anything but transgender people, would have been able to remain as loving and supportive of their husband the way Gerda was. That was the part of the story that just blew me away.
Q: When you were growing up in Sweden, did you have any dreams of going to Hollywood?
VIKANDER: No. Originally I wanted to be a ballerina but at a certain point I wanted to be able to tell stories with words and emotions more than just with my body. As an actress, I love being able to touch people with my work and make audiences laugh and cry and experience the journey that I’m taking in whatever role I’m playing.
That’s the real reason I became an actress. But I never imagined getting these kinds of opportunities. I would have been happy doing acting in movies in Sweden and working in the theatre. Just as long as I would be able to earn a living doing what I love.
Q: You have an advantage in that your English is excellent?
VIKANDER: Thank you! Being able to speak English very well is definitely the most important thing if you want to be able to work internationally. When I did Anna Karenina I worked very hard on trying to get my accent right. That was a very important step for me because all the work and effort I put into perfecting my English enabled me to keep working in American or British films and it’s like the whole world has opened up to me now and given me a career outside of Sweden.
Q: You live in London now, don’t you?
VIKANDER: Yes. I left Sweden three years ago and at first I lived in this terrible flat in London with some Swedish DJ friends of mine. I still live in London but I’m almost never home. If you work a lot your home is basically whatever hotel room you happen to be staying in whichever city you’re working.
I would love to get back to Sweden more often because culturally I am still very, very Swedish and Scandinavian and I get homesick for the woods and all the islands and beaches. It’s very different from living in England.
Q: What are your goals for the future?
VIKANDER: I try to live in the moment and not think about the future too much other than to keep doing interesting work. This job is very unpredictable.
Q: What about romance?
VIKANDER: I hope to continue to fall madly in love with each role! (Laughs)