Ex-Machina, Testament of Youth, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, Burnt and The Danish Girl all have one actress in common, Alica Vikander. The actress has had a whirlwind year and got to visit the White House for the first time. She’s just returned from D.C and I manage to sit down with the actress who leads me into her “little lounge” that overlooks Sunset Boulevard. Vikander is dressed in a long skirt, her dark hair slicked back, she’s about to head to Chateau Marmont for a cocktail reception celebrating her latest movie, The Danish Girl.
Awards Daily: Wow! What a year for you and what a weekend.
Alicia Vikander: Yeah, it’s been busy and fun. We had the premiere three days ago, I can’t even remember. I was in D.C yesterday, so I’m a bit, “I don’t know what day it is.” It was my first time ever going there, and then I’m going back to shoot in six days.
AD: What was that like for you?
AK: Well, I got to go to the White House so that was pretty extraordinary. It was for an event called Champions of Change, so we were there, invited. Obama is the first president I think to use the word transgender and he had invited a group of LGBT personalities involved in film to help spread awareness. To be there with them was amazing and moving.
AD: What attracted you to the role when you first heard about it?
AK: I think I had heard about the script and I had known about Lili’s story, that she might have been the first to go through it. I was blown away by it, but it was also a story about Gerda, and became a story about how a couple found their new change in a relationship, and I felt like it was a love story that was so relatable. Gerda was a part that I was blown away by and found inspiring. She was someone who sacrificed a lot and who goes through a very tough journey herself. She’s not passive. She feels like a very active, strong woman, and you can do that and be considered to be extremely powerful.
I admired her for her endless and unconditional love and supporting the person she loves.
AD: She was really inspiring and gave him everything.
AK: Exactly. It was something we’ve discussed. Back then there was no reference of what they went through. Lili was almost locked up in Copenhagen for expressing that she felt like a woman and that the answer to that — and it’s something that Tom reminded me of through the whole of the shoot — was that it must have really come from a place where there was complete and total love from somebody to be able to do what they did and for Lili to do what she did. Especially in that time.
AD: What was it like working alongside Eddie Redmayne?
AK: To star alongside Eddie, he’s amazing. He blew me away because by the time I showed up, he had already done at least six months of preparation. He’s become a dear friend. Normally on a film it’s usually a case of meeting someone and you need to pretend to be best friend’s on day one, but it usually takes a few weeks and you get to know each other. Tom gave us two weeks of rehearsal that allowed us to get close to one another. I felt relaxed working with him, and he pushed me to do new things, and I knew I had to step up too.
Tom, Eddie and I were there, and so was Lucinda (Coxon -screenwriter) which was a rare thing to have your writer there at rehearsals, but she’d been working on it for so many years. So any questions we had, she could answer and that was an endless source of inspiration having that come from her.
AD: Did you have to learn how to paint for those scenes where we see Gerda painting?
AK: [laughs] I can’t paint. I was asked earlier what I’d be afraid of to do at a dinner party. If anyone asked me to play Pictionary I would crawl under the table. I would draw a line, point at it and say, “It’s a donkey.”
I had a month with artists and an artist who later on did the version of Lili’s paintings. What they gave me was confidence. I was worried I couldn’t do it, they told me it was about having the confidence to paint big strokes which later on I was able to do. I was grateful and I actually really enjoyed it. It was just fear, I felt I wasn’t good and I was nervous.
AD: Next time you play Pictionary people are going to want you on their team.
AK: Well, maybe I’ll dare to try to do something which is a big difference. My first task was that I’d been given a piece of charcoal after telling them I was so nervous. We had to paint for three minutes without lifting the charcoal and keep it moving. My heart started pounding. I wanted to do the role justice, anyway, I wanted to do something and afterwards, I looked at the work and thought, “Maybe no one else knows what it is.” I still have a photo of it, but I had tried to paint Lili.
AD: What did you take away from playing Gerda?
AK: I think I’m not alone in that when you kind of read about Gerda or see her on film you’re amazed at how she stays so strong. I loved that I could question her, but at the end I was amazed. With Tom’s and Lucinda’s help, I truly understood, and because deep down I am a romantic, your strength can hold you. To be given the chance to portray that while trying to find yourself and the truth in how Gerda must have thought to overcome difficulties and to be able to know what the most important thing was in her love for somebody, that was interesting.
AD: So, I read you’ve trained as a ballerina?
AK: I went to the Royal Swedish Ballet school for nine years.
AD: How does that help you with your work today?
AK: I’ve done roles like Anna Karenina and Ex-Machina, and a bit in The Danish Girl. Tom said early on that he wanted it to be different. I came up with this idea, that she’s very physical and you don’t read it as masculinity because society reads me as very female, but I played around with physicality with this film. I didn’t go to theatre school, so I guess the ballet school is my artistic education, also I started it when I was nine. I think the physicality of putting things and setting things in room and space is there without me thinking about it. I like playing around with space. It was a lot of fun in Ex-Machina. We had one room to play out half the film in. How do you make that interesting when it’s just a glass box in a room?
That was a lot to play with and be in touch with the physicality.
AD: You’ve not gone to theatre school, but you’re mother is a theatre actress. Is that something you’d like to explore in the future?
AK: I would love to. In Sweden, I didn’t have a reference, I didn’t know you could act abroad, the highest dream I had was to be an actor. Maybe do a film there. Our film industry isn’t as big. I would love to be on stage.
AD: What are some of your favorite shows?
AK: I will always say Shakespeare because I grew up watching my mum as Olivia in Twelfth Night, and I went on the world tour. I saw Romeo and Juliet something like twenty-five times and I never questioned it. The other night I stayed with a friend and every morning the kids were watching Frozen, but then that’s how I did it with theatre. I went every weekend. My mum was like, “I’m tired of doing this.” I just wanted to see it again and again.
AD: You know you made Tom Hooper cry.
AK: He told me he sat like this. [wipes tear].
AD: Scene 56.
AK: He told me it was that scene.
With that, Alicia must leave to go to her cocktail reception.