Oscars 2016: For Alicia Vikander, each film is a new love

At 27, Swedish native Alicia Vikander still presents as something of a wide-eyed outsider in Hollywood. That she had seven feature films land on American shores last year hasn't stopped her from being disarmingly happy to be doing what she's doing. She's soft-spoken, polite, extremely thoughtful. The world is her oyster and right now she's finding an abundance of pearls.

"When I came here to L.A. for the first time, it was for a screen test," she says in her gently accented English. "I called my mom, I was like, 'I'm at Universal, but not at the fun park. I got to go in on the other side, where the studio is.'"

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This has turned into a busy awards season for the actress, with an Oscar nomination on the strength of her arresting turn as a painter whose husband receives one of the first known gender-reassignment surgeries in "The Danish Girl." She also earned a supporting actress nod at the Golden Globes for playing a sentient android in the much-lauded "Ex Machina." And now she has the pleasure of bringing her parents to America to visit.

"I was home at Christmas; we live in this small town outside Gothenburg, which is a fishing town, and we got to go into Gothenburg — a bigger town — and my dad got to try on a tuxedo for the first time in his life. At 65. He was so handsome. They're going to come out to Vegas [where she is filming a 'Bourne' sequel with Matt Damon] and my dad's a big 'Bourne' fan.

"To be able to do that for my family makes me know just how lucky I am."

To get where she is, however, surely had a lot more to do with range than luck. Last year also saw stateside releases of "Son of a Gun" with Ewan McGregor, "Seventh Son" with Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore, her richly realized work in the little-seen "Testament of Youth," "The Man From U.N.C.L.E." and the Bradley Cooper vehicle "Burnt." The quantity of work hasn't dulled the quality of the experience for her.

"You [get immersed in] a film and of course you think that that is it," she says. "And then you go away and you read a new script and you have a new crush. And then suddenly that's the most interesting thing — it feels like a new love. And I have dear memories of all of them."

"Ex Machina," which deals with issues surrounding artificial intelligence, and "The Danish Girl," which concerns transgender struggles, came out at perfectly timed cultural moments, although each had been in the works for years. "I came on [to 'Danish Girl'] two years ago; just to see the change in [society] over that time — such a social and cultural change, even since we finished the film — it's wonderful," she says.

Although she cites the in-depth conversations she had with families and loved ones of trans people as among her most meaningful memories of the project, she cuts right to the heart of her character Gerda Wegener's struggle with her husband Einar's change into Lili Elbe. "It's a fear that everyone has who loves someone: They always know that it's a living thing and you can't hold it and you never know when it might go away," she says. "She sees the world for what it is and she sees her lover for who she is. [Gerda] sacrifices and gives, even knowing that might mean she'll have to let that person go.

"Interestingly enough, with her paintings, which is her subconscious as an artist, I think it comes out. She probably hadn't been able to put her thoughts together, but it comes out in her work. It's almost like she's always known.

"I love that in the script: [Lili says] 'You helped to visualize the real me.'

"I love that Gerda actually blossomed in her work in discovering Lili."

In Alex Garland's "Ex Machina," which she calls the best script she's read, she made use of her classical dance training. "If you brought it just the tiniest bit over the edge of being too perfect, you lose the inconsistency and the off-beats that every human being has, even if they're still," she says of trying to create something subtle that would make viewers question whether a robot could be a person.

Garland "gave me a very good note of something he saw early on — never to play [the sexuality], but always just to keep her doe-like, like a newborn, which she is. Then it becomes a power game. You want to care for her. Then you have the entire audience with her.

"It was interesting to do press for it. The journalists who came in — every single one had a different view of the film and was sure that everyone else thought the same. One was like, 'So, Ava, what a bitch.' Some were like [pounding the table], 'Man, I sympathized with her.' It all comes down to whether you, as an audience, believe she has a consciousness or not.

"If you were to see a girl in a box, in a room in the ground, far away, what would you feel? If you take it to that point, then the story is one thing. If not … we never give the answer."


Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
A version of this article appeared in print on February 28, 2016, in the Entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times with the headline "Each film is a new love" — Today's paperToday's paper | Subscribe