Meet Oscar-winner Alicia Vikander
Alicia Vikander’s face lights up. To her, meeting a Swedish reporter is like coming home.
“How wonderful to speak Swedish,” she says. “I spend so much time speaking English these days, I almost have to do a reset in my head to speak Swedish.”
No wonder. In the space of a few years, Vikander has become Sweden’s most internationally sought-after and acclaimed actor since Ingrid Bergman, which is why it felt appropriate that it was Vikander who narrated extracts from Bergman’s diaries in the documentary film Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words.
Vikander has completed several big movies, she’s constantly on the move around the world, and she would also like to devote some time and attention to her boyfriend, the Oscar-nominated actor Michael Fassbender.
Rejected from drama schools for three years
It’s hard to believe today that she spent three years applying to drama schools in Stockholm, Malmö and Luleå – and that she was rejected each time. By then, she was a trained ballet dancer at the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Stockholm, a budding career cut short by back problems. She considered studying law – and got into law school – but realized that law wasn’t her calling.
Her mother, Maria Fahl Vikander, is an actor, and at an early age Alicia was already involved in productions at the Göteborg Opera. It was Maria who recommended her talented 6-year-old daughter to audition for the Göteborg Opera’s production of Kristina from Duvemåla. According to Maria, that was the only time she got involved in her daughter’s career.
“I was driven,” Alicia says. “I knew what I was capable of.”
Maria says that Alicia was often at her side when she worked at various theaters in Gothenburg. Alicia enjoyed being around, and she even worked in the cafeteria serving coffee while observing theater as a living workplace.
Family: Boyfriend Michael Fassbender
Current projects: Burnt, The Light Between the Oceans, Tulip Fever. Muse for Louis Vuitton.
Earlier projekts: Pure, The Crown Jewels, A Royal Affair, The Fifth Estate, Anna Karenina, Ex Machina, The Man from UNCLE, The Danish Girl
In the pipeline: New Jason Bourne movie (no official title as yet), Wim Wenders’s drama Submergence
A dream to play the queen
She became famous in Scandinavia for her role in the popular Swedish TV drama Andra Avenyn and was then cast in the lead role in Pure, directed and written by Lisa Langseth. That opened the door for Vikander to play the female lead in the Oscar-nominated Danish movie A Royal Affair.
“To play the queen in A Royal Affair was my classic princess dream coming true,” she says. “It was great to see all the women in the movie dressed in corsets and fantastic dresses. Although it’s not much fun the first time you wear a corset. Going to the bathroom is a bit of a pain. You can do it, but it’s fiddly.”
Early in her career, she could be a bit uncomfortable in interview situations, particularly in the conveyor-belt-type arrangements in which dozens of journalists get a few minutes to ask often similar questions. Not anymore.
In the same worldly-wise way, she now walks red carpets around the world (often wearing Louis Vuitton, for whom she is a muse) and handles interviewers from all parts of the globe. She’s happy and open – to a certain extent. She will not, for example, talk about her relationship with Fassbender, even though they’ve been seen walking in Cannes and in Stockholm in tight embrace.
“I won’t discuss my private life,” she says, and acknowledges it is irritating to be trailed by paparazzi.
I’ve seen that firsthand, having encountered Vikander at film festivals, premieres, after-show parties, airport lounges, even on airplanes. (I once sat diagonally behind her on a flight from Nice to Stockholm and, although tempted, declined to try to take a peek at the manuscript she was reading on her laptop.)
Roots and people are the most important
For several years, she did not really have a fixed anchor point.
“I genuinely was living out of a couple of suitcases,” she says with a laugh. These days, like fellow Swedish actor Noomi Rapace, she has bought a residence in London and uses the British capital as her hub.
“But my roots are very important to me, and I miss my family and my friends,” she says. “I have come to realize during all my traveling that what matters most are the people, not where they live.”
She always calls her parents regarding possible projects or just to seek advice.
“It has become a good tradition, especially as I rarely see them these days,” she says. “They’re incredibly honest in their opinions.”
Her mother Maria was especially pleased to help persuade Vikander to say yes to Wim Wender’s upcoming movie.
“Wings of Desire is one of my favorite films, so I am delighted that Alicia is going to work with him,” Maria says.
Ballet dancing background proved very useful
Alicia’s first major English speaking role was in the costume drama Anna Karenina, another corset film.
“She came over to London and felt exactly right,” says director Joe Wright. “The only thing that worried me was what her English accent would be like. But I was worrying unnecessarily. It was perfect. Plus she has trained as a ballet dancer. That was important, not least for the long dance sequence at the start of the film.”
There’s that ballet connection again. It seems to be something that many actors have been involved in. For example, both Mikael Persbrandt and Mads Mikkelsen took ballet training. With her background, Vikander has a style and balance that many other actors lack.
“As a ballet dancer, you learn to work with the spatial dimensions of a room and in relation to others, how to release your body tension and experience and communicate both abstract and real expressions,” says Pär Emteryd, head of the Royal Swedish Ballet School. “You learn discipline in the way you perform, to sustain masses of information, in your head and body at the same time, to be creative and attentive, to be musical and agile in a way that harmonizes your body and intellect. You learn to express yourself in your own way while remaining loyal to the choreographic concept. That’s an excellent platform for an actor.”
Perspectives on Vikander
Directors and actors who have played opposite Vikander are effusive about her, says Tom Hooper, who directed The Danish Girl, for which she has been nominated for an Oscar,
“It is incredibly difficult to find really, really good actors. True geniuses are incredibly rare, and if you also want someone with a special look, the list is even shorter. I have had my eye on her since A Royal Affair, Anna Karenina and Ex Machina, and I was fortunate enough to be able to cast my film with someone as formidably good as Eddie Redmayne, who plays the lead role.”
“She is fantastic,” Redmayne says. “Everyone talks about her ballet background, on the strength and posture it has given her, but she also has a fantastic emotional capacity.”
Vikander looks for opportunities to jump between genres.
“I want to push myself,” she says. “I feel as though I want to step outside my comfort zone and I also look for things that make me nervous. I want to find something that I am not quite able to do. The journey there is incredible fun.”
While she already has a long list of nominations and prizes, that’s definitely not the most important thing for her.
“It is important to find a good project and to be involved in the journey of making a movie that audiences like. Prizes and nominations are just the icing on the cake,” she says.
“And I try to enjoy myself as much as I can. This profession is so transient.”
Text: Gunnar Rehlin
Published: February 29, 2016
Last edited: March 31, 2016