“I was about to go to law school,” Alicia Vikander tells FilmInk. “I had to tell them that I’d come back for next term…. and I never did.” While the world doesn’t need any more lawyers, it can always benefit from more gifted actors, and we’re all now richer for the fact that the 27-year-old Swedish actress chose the lead role in the 2009 drama, Pure, over the wigs and robes of the legal profession.
After appearances in a number of short films and TV series in her homeland, Pure was the first of the actress’ work to travel internationally, playing at a number of festivals around the world. In what would turn out to be a delightful twist of fate, director, Joe Wright (Atonement, Pride & Prejudice, Pan), caught a screening of the film, and promptly snapped Vikander up for a role in his 2012 adaptation of the literary classic, Anna Karenina.
Just before that, the actress had wrapped the female lead in the Danish historical drama, A Royal Affair, which would go on to become a considerable success on the international arthouse circuit. Since this costume drama double shot, Vikander has been working non-stop, clocking up roles in the fantasy adventure, Seventh Son; the sci-fi mind-bender, Ex Machina; Guy Ritchie’s spy thriller, The Man From UNCLE; the British war drama, Testament of Youth, and the kitchen drama, Burnt, opposite Bradley Cooper. She even journeyed down under for the crime thriller, Son Of A Gun, starring Ewan McGregor and Brenton Thwaites.
A lithe, engaging screen presence possessed of a natural, earthy beauty, it’s no surprise to learn that Vikander has the blood of a performer coursing through her veins. The daughter of stage actress, Maria Fahl-Vikander, and Svante Vikander, a psychiatrist, she is also a trained ballet dancer (“I did love it, but it was later that I realised where my true passion lies”) and fashion model. “I grew up watching my mum,” Vikander tells FilmInk. “I’m extremely proud of her, and she’s an incredible actress. She gave me an insight when I started in Sweden as to how tough this industry is. I definitely know now how fortunate I am. I know how little work there is.
“She’s extremely proud,” Vikander continues about consulting with her mother, “but when I said that I wanted to act and not go back to law school, she asked if I was sure. She just wanted to make sure that I knew that 120% of my willpower was there because it was going to be very difficult.”
Vikander took the plunge, throwing herself into the profession that she’s been a part of since childhood. “My parents are very close, but they divorced when I was very young,” Vikander says. “When I stayed with my mum and we didn’t have a babysitter, I had to sleep in the wings in the theatre.”
Vikander gets her best role yet in the true life drama, The Danish Girl, directed by Tom Hooper, an Oscar winner for 2010’s The King’s Speech. Based on the book by David Ebershoff, the film tells the remarkable true story of Lili (nee Einar) Elbe (Eddie Redmayne) and Gerda Wegener (Vikander), Dutch artists of the twenties whose marriage and love for each other was insurmountable, even through Elbe’s groundbreaking journey as a transgender pioneer. One of the world’s first people to undergo gender confirmation surgery, Lili Elbe’s bravery was extraordinary, and it lit the fuse on a slow-burning revolution that has been catching fire of late, with a new acceptance and understanding of transgendered people filtering through the media and society in general. And though Lili’s story is extraordinary, so is that of Gerda, an equally unconventional and courageous figure. “I’d heard about the project for many years,” Vikander says, “but I was on the tube in London reading the newspaper, and there was a news piece saying that Tom Hooper and Eddie Redmayne were going to do The Danish Girl. And I was like ‘wow’, because I have close friends who have been on this journey over the last few years trying to get this made, and I was like, ‘Finally, a wonderful director who can do something amazing, and Eddie is great casting.’ So I was like, ‘I want to see that film.’ And then two days later, my agents called me and said that they’d sent me the script.”
A short reading with Tom Hooper later, and the role was hers. Vikander has been receiving raves for her touching, powerful work in The Danish Girl, and is already a major awards season player, scoring not one, but two Golden Globe nominations: Best Actress for The Danish Girl, and Best Supporting Actress for Ex Machina, in which she steals all of her scenes as a highly complex android. And when the Oscar nominations are announced, Vikander’s name will likely be read out for The Danish Girl. “It’s quite rare to have a film where both leads are extremely equal,” she says of the film. “That is also the essence of this journey; they’re both on this transition together. Tom has also made those choices in the end product, and so you relate to both of them. They acknowledge that it’s happening to both of them.”
Vikander is now a cinematic it girl, with upcoming roles in the still untitled Jason Bourne movie (“I can’t really talk about my part, but it’s quite different to any female part that has been in that series before”) and in Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans, which saw the actress return to Australia for the WA-set drama starring Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz. “I make lists of people that I would like to meet,” Vikander says. “I had seen Derek’s Blue Valentine and A Place Beyond the Pines, and I thought that he was one of the breakthrough American directors of the last few years. I told my agents, and when they told me about this project, and that there was a chance to work with him, I jumped at it. Plus, Michael is one of the great actors of his generation, and Rachel has an immensely cool body of work.”
Right now, Alicia Vikander is likely on a lot of filmmakers’ lists of who they’d like to meet, but the actress remains engagingly humble. “Acting is my dearest, deepest passion,” she says, “so the fact that now, when I get to do it every day, and to get another chance, it’s overwhelming…”
The Danish Girl is released in cinemas on January 21.
The film is also FilmInk’s February movie-of-the-month.
To see it first, join ClubInk.
For more on The Danish Girl, grab the latest edition of FilmInk where you will find our story with Tom Hooper and Eddie Redmayne.