Hollywood shooting star Alicia Vikander talks about exploring the ocean floor, her love of action films and embarrassing moments.
Ms. Vikander, Were you surprised that your international career took off so quickly despite the fact that you’re Swedish?
On the one hand, yes, because it doesn’t usually happen that a European actor gets the chance to work on so many wonderful U.S. projects and even win an Oscar. I think I have been very lucky. On the other hand, the film industry has changed considerably in the last few years. It has to do with globalization and the fact that borders are losing the importance they once had so that the industry is now looking for talent all over the world.
Your excellent command of English must have helped …
You’re absolutely right, language is extremely important. When I made Anna Karenina in 2012, it was my first English-language film and I jumped right in at the deep end. Since then, I’ve been working hard to lose my Swedish accent, and it hasn’t been easy, I can tell you. I knew the accent had to go and was pretty certain that if I managed to get rid of it, I could actually have a career outside of Sweden.
By now, most people can’t even tell that English isn’t your first language, right?
That was my goal! In Testament of Youth in 2014, I played a World War II nurse, a British woman who was based on an actual person. That was my acid test. And because I haven’t worked in Sweden for so long and rarely visit my parents there, I sometimes feel that my English has become better than my Swedish. I’ve sometimes even found myself searching for perfectly ordinary expressions during interviews with Swedish journalists. How embarrassing is that!
You were a sought-after actor long before you won an Oscar for The Danish Girl. The romantic thriller Submergence is a much smaller project by contrast. What drew you to it?
First of all, I liked the idea of working with Wim Wenders, a director I have admired ever since I was young. And then I liked the book. I thought telling a story like that was unusual and brave. When you look at the script, for instance, you don’t immediately recognize a clear-cut chronology.
So you found the structure more interesting than the story itself?
No, that would be exaggerating. I love the story, too, and not just because my character gets to explore the depths of the ocean or because, watching the film, you realize that there’s a whole new, undiscovered world down there that we know nothing about. I also love that the two protagonists – “my” biomathematician and James McAvoy’s secret agent – are like yin and yang.
In what way?
She is firmly rooted in the world of science and he is rooted in his religious beliefs. Their paths cross, but they are on entirely different journeys and going in entirely different directions – albeit with the same devotion and determination. This gives rise to all kinds of metaphors about the world in which we live, I think. The story touches on many of the political and social issues that motivate us.
Did you engage in scientific research as preparation for your role?
I would definitely not describe myself as a biomathematics or deep-sea expert, but I did meet and talk to quite a few scientists before the shoot to get a feel for their work. I find it incredible that there are animals living 10 000 meters beneath the sea. And that we humans are not part of that world at all. I think it is very important for us to realize that we have not in fact conquered every last corner of the earth and that it’s not just about us or about other mammals, but about every single living thing on this planet. I think it’s wonderful that there are scientists devoted to protecting them.
I hope we will one day take better care of Mother Nature
It’s quite obvious that our ecosystem and the natural world in general are in a lot of trouble. Are you afraid of what the future holds?
To be honest, I’m not optimistic, but naturally I hope that I’ll be wrong. My worst fear is that people won’t change their lifestyles because they cannot see the immediate effect of their actions on the environment. This is because the effects only appear much later. It’s frightening to me that there are actually people saying that climate change is a lie. Although of course these days, the way we’re constantly bombarded with news and information, it’s also quite easy to discredit and ignore scientific findings. In my daily life, I try to make decisions that do not adversely impact our future. I hope that we will one day take better care of Mother Nature.
This past spring, you played Lara Croft in the latest Tomb Raider movie. The contrast between her character and biomathematician Danielle couldn’t have been greater, could it?
That’s exactly why I wanted to make Tomb Raider. I’ve never done a film like that even though I love action movies! Thanks to my mother, who is also an actor, of course, I grew up with the theater and had lots of exposure to European art-house cinema, but I’m a huge fan of Indiana Jones. When I was 11, I must have gone to seen The Mummy starring Brendan Fraser at least three times.
Have female action heroes now come into their own? Has that day finally arrived?
I really hope so! The Hunger Games came out around the time my international career took off in 2012. It was the first time in a long while that I had seen a major action film with a female lead – and then the film became an incredible success. Last year’s Wonder Woman bore out the real shift toward female action heroes currently taking place, not just in the film business but in many industries.