Sometimes neophyte actresses come along who fizzle out after a couple of early promising roles. And then there are those who, from practically the first glimpse we get of them, we just know are going to be big, and are going to be around for a while. Alicia Vikander, a no-brainer inclusion on our On the Rise list from March 2012, definitely falls into the latter category, making a vivid impression first in her feature debut “Pure,” and then breaking internationally with the one-two punch in the corset of “A Royal Affair” and “Anna Karenina.”
On Saturday morning the actress jetted in to the Marrakech Film Festival ostensibly as part of its Scandinavian tribute, but also ended up picking the Best Actress award for her role in the terrific “Hotell,” (review here) her reunion with “Pure” director Lisa Langseth. We were lucky enough to get to talk to Vikander (who despite being just off an intercontinental flight having wrapped shooting on “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” the day before, couldn’t have looked fresher if she’d bathed in dew) about the “Hotell”, her breakout process, and the packed and exciting upcoming slate that will see her in both a multiplex and an arthouse cinema near you very soon.
So you’ve just finished shooting “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” after a string of smaller films. What are your criteria for choosing projects?
Mostly I try to work with great filmmakers. It’s difficult to find good scripts sure, but it’s also so much about the vision and the person that’s gonna make the film...
And the experience that you’re going to have for however many months?
Yeah, you’re gonna work so tight with people. It’s quite a magical experience when you film, when you get together, when the whole machinery works and you’re in a good crowd. So I think that has been one of the priorities among the filmmakers [I’ve worked with so far]. And then I usually go for roles that scare me a bit, that I’m a bit frightened to take on because maybe it takes me out of my comfort zone. Something new that I haven’t done before. And here I think I had longed for something which was not… I had mostly done dramas, so I did “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” [as a change] I really enjoyed [Guy Ritchie’s] previous films and he has a very specific style so there’s a humor to it but it’s more like an irony. I play German car mechanic from East Berlin who helps the boys [Henry Cavill and Armie Hammer].
But you’re here with “Hotell” of course, which reteams you with “Pure” director Lisa Langseth. Had you always intended to work together again?
No, I’ve been away from Sweden for the past few years, but I went home and I had a coffee with Lisa and we just chatted, she’s a friend of mine. And I knew that she was working on new films but I had no idea that there would be any role for me. So it was really a gift when she asked me if I wanted to read her script. And when I did, it was one of the most daring and most profound, layered characters that I’ve read in a long time, so when she asked if I wanted to do it I was so happy.
Did you find many similarities between your “Pure” and “Hotell” characters?
It’s almost like they both take a journey on the social ladder but in different ways, so the characters are very different. But I think [Langseth] likes to make films to bring that subject up about different social journeys.
Both characters are also somewhat borderline, they’re on the edge...
To dig deep, when you say ’borderline,’ here [in “Hotell”] it’s about Erica who thinks that she has her entire life and herself in control and suddenly she’s put off track because of this big trauma that she goes through, and she has to realise what her new self is. And that means that for me as an actress I get so many layers to work with, so it’s a big gift to get that role because you can experiment. It’s hard because I use my emotions as my tools, but it’s interesting how when I made this film I even discovered sides to myself that are maybe closer to me than I thought they were. I questioned myself. I had long conversations with Lisa, because you know it’s a big taboo in today’s society about mental illnesses—you don’t talk about it. And I would have thought that I myself would know if I would cross any of those borders, if I would be able to control myself, but the thing is, when I read the script I was like, I don’t know if I would…
How important is it for you right now to achieve a balance between small-scale dramas and big high profile films?
I think you want the mix. Like I was eager to do something like [‘U.N.C.L.E.’] the film I just finished last night. And now I’ve done that maybe I’ll look for something maybe smaller, more character-based, more intense, more intimate. That’s what I’m trying to achieve now. It’s difficult in this industry to listen to your gut, but I think that is the best way and hopefully you have people around you that you can talk to.
Prior to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” are a series of other films that you’ve shot but are in post at the moment. Tell us about “Son of a Gun” with Ewan McGregor.
It’s a drama and also a heist thriller that we shot that in Australia. I haven’t seen anything of the film so I’m so excited to finally get a look at it—hopefully will come out in the summer. It was a very intense shoot, I mean it’s an indie film and I love how the director [Julius Avery], who had a short film in Cannes that won ["Jerrycan"], he has a very specific style. He shows quite low-middle-class Australian people and I thought that many of the people that he worked with were not actors, but apparently they were—he’s just able to make something very raw and authentic. I play a foreigner in Australia, and when I read the script it had such pace, and then it turns into a heist thriller, so I was very intrigued to see how this director, who I thought was a very arthouse director, would do something like that. Because he had written the script himself. So I liked to see the mix of genres he brought.
And there’s also “Ex Machina,” Alex Garland’s directorial debut?
Yes, that was one of the best scripts I’ve read. It’s an intimate psychological thriller, it has almost only three roles in the entire film, and is set in a very small space so it’s almost like it brought out [theatrical] possibilities for me. And it’s a page-turner. I don’t know how many “wow” effects it had on me a different points, but it’s still just three people in one space.
And it presumably helps that the other two are Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac?
Oh yes. And Alex [Garland] is one of the most intelligent, calm… I felt so extremely safe working with him. I mean, he wrote an amazing script but as a director too, there are very long scenes, like doing theater and it was tough with long days—I didn’t sleep for those six intense weeks. But I always felt like he knew exactly what he wanted and for each take he’d let us run the whole way through, and let us experience and develop in our own ways. It was a very creative film.
And reteaming with your “Anna Karenina” co-star Gleeson?
Well like with Lisa [Langseth], the good thing is that you already have a language. Because the thing is we never have a lot of time to film, it’s always on the clock. So to work with people that you already have a way of communicating with just makes things easier—you can get to the heavy work a bit faster.
Further off there are a couple of films you’re attached to that haven’t shot yet, like “Tulip Fever”—Matthias Schoenaerts was rumored for that at one time, is it still him?
Um, no. But we are hoping start shooting in the spring/early summer. I can’t say much more on that one.
There’s also “Ali & Nino.”
Yes! It’s a book that I very much enjoy: I love that story. I met [director] Asif [Kapadia] and there’s a script coming, but it’s very, very early stages. It’s another princess role—but a very different role from anything I’ve done before. In the book, it’s one of the most grand love stories that I’ve read but also to get introduced to that Middle Eastern part of the world and how it was a melting pot of different cultures, and how they were able to live alongside each other at that time, before the First World War. It’s a fantastic novel.
And before all of this you shot YA adaptation “The Seventh Son”?
Oh yes, and then it got delayed because it was Legendary and Warners and now it’s Universal so it’s gonna be 2015. Yeah, so that was three years ago I got that part. I mean, I really enjoyed to work with the actors there [including Jeff Bridges, Julianne Moore and Djimon Hounsou], that was my first big American film and to work with Sergey Bodrov. But I think most of those other films are gonna come out before that—I even shot “Anna Karenina” after that. It’s been a while.
“Pure” got you recognized by the directors who would cast you in “Anna Karenina” and “A Royal Affair,” what was it about that film and role that you think caught their attention?
[“A Royal Affair”] was an international explosion, but it’s amazing how “Pure” this tiny film from Sweden with a very low budget… it’s amazing when I’ve been abroad, people have seen that film. It got an incredibly big audience in the end. And it feels like a film that has a long life. And it was also my first feature and to get that role, that chance to throw yourself out there. It was a difficult part, but it was also a way for me to show what work I, as a young actress, wanted to make and what I could do. It’s difficult to find young female roles, good female roles overall, and Lisa... had auditioned very many girls and I was one of the last to get a chance. It took a couple of times but I felt like I connected with Lisa. I remember I read the script and I felt, “This is it. This my role.”
It was the same thing with “A Royal Affair.” I never thought I was gonna get it, because I thought it’s Danish, and I’m almost glad I thought like that because I got such tunnel vision. I just wanted the part it so badly that I was like, “I’ll learn Danish!” and then I got the part, and I freaked out. You know it was almost like a dream when you say, “Yeah, I’m a circus artist, I can do whatever” and then you’re standing their in front of an audience and you need to perform. That really struck me when they gave me the opportunity: “Now I really have to make it work.”
We heard a rumor you pretended your Danish was at a better level than it was through your audition?
I didn’t pretend, I mean it was obvious! I had never been to Denmark! I couldn’t have pretended for more than two seconds if I’d wanted to, but then it was funny, when I did my last screen test, it was me and Danish girls left and [director] Nicolaj [Arcel] called me. I was at the hotel and I was like “I am never gonna get this, never never” and I was quite sad. I was like, “I’m just going to go to sleep now and then I gotta get up and go back to Sweden. Whatever. ”
And then I got a text, “Can I come by for a beer at the hotel?” and he came and I guess he wondered if I could try to speak in Danish, so he said something, and I struggled. I tried to get what he said. But I had said “What?” maybe a hundred times already that day and I was just like I can’t do it once more. So I just nodded and smiled did this very cheap thing like [sighs in a kind of bored way] “Yeah.” And then he said it again and then he was like, “I just gave you the part” in English. And I had not understood! So I’m happy he didn’t turn and walk straight out.