Alicia Vikander began acting in her native Sweden: both stage roles and television. She achieved global renowned with her stunning turn as a possibly-murderous AI in 2014’s Ex Machina. The next year, she won the Oscar for The Danish Girl, in which she played real-life Danish artist Gerda Wegener. Her latest film is the biggest she’s yet taken: Lara Croft in the latest version of Tomb Raider. She spoke about the film and the legacy of the character she’s playing, at the recent press junket for the film.
Question: How did you find the balance between making an accessible film with a compelling narrative, and the details that the gamers and long-time Lara Croft fans?
Alicia Vikander: I’ve played quite a few roles at this point, both fictional and historical. It’s always a question of finding the essence of the character. Lara Croft has been around for 22 years, and she’s gone through a lot of permutations. It’s a question of finding the common thread through all of them, and then putting your own stamp on it in a way that honors that thread. She’s such a bold, curious being. I had a lot of fun trying to find her personality and her reality.
Q: You’re apparently an avid gamer. When did that start for you?
AC: I was about nine or ten, and I went over to a friend’s house. A bunch of older boys were playing the game, and I had never seen a game with a female protagonist before. They wouldn’t let me play, so I had to wait to play it. But that was the beginning. This character.
Q: How about Angelina Jolie’s turn as Lara?
AC: Jolie made her into an icon. She was the one who showed Lara Croft to the world beyond the gaming community. I was at Crystal Dynamics the other day, and they have pictures of all of the models who they used for the games: the women who invested her with their essence. You can see the evolution. You can see the character changing and growing. And with the character now in her 20s, you see her evolve to fit the times. What Lara is to all of us today is much different than what she was in the 90s. Jolie was a vital part of that evolution. Jolie moved her into this new medium.
Q: Jolie always had that swagger that the character was known for. This is a younger version of the character who’s still looking for that swagger.
AV: Yes, and that’s deliberate. This movie is based on the 2013 game, the reboot, which is a younger version of the character. It’s a coming-of-age story, and that was our inspiration. She’s a normal girl at the beginning. I think we’ve seen a lot of that with superhero stories and superhero movies, and this is of a kind with that style of storytelling. It’s the Hero’s Journey. It’s a chance to relate to the character on a more human level, to see a young woman who’s still trying to find her footing in the world, and who seeks ways to find the woman who she’s going to become: the action heroine that everyone knows she is. You can root for her a little harder. You can look up to her a little more.
Q: Was there anything particularly daunting in that process?
AV: I’ve never been this physical. I was a dancer before acting, so there’s a knowledge of your body’s capability. But I wasn’t an MMA fighter or a combatant. So there was a challenge there. But beyond the physical demands, it’s simply understanding how a big blockbuster movie gets made. I love big movies. I love exciting action-packed summer blockbusters. But I’m mostly known for smaller films, for art house films. Even Ex Machina was a small film, with really just four characters. But this – the sheer scope of a movie like this, and the way you bring a big movie to life without losing the character and the storytelling in the process – this was a new challenge for me.
Q: What else changes when you make a character like this younger?
AV: In any film, you need to narrow down the character, to find one part of her life and focus on it. In this case, it’s the relationship with her father. The pain of his disappearance. And that’s the pain of a younger person. She has no idea what’s happened to him? Is he dead? Is he trapped somewhere and in need of her help? Or did he just abandon her? That can drive you insane.
Q; How about the physical demands of the role?
AV: Yes, that’s part of what you sign on for. I started working out about four months in. she needs to be a strong girl. There are things she does in this film that the audience has to accept as possible. That’s not going to happen unless you can see that strength. There’s no way around it.
It’s a process, and it’s as much a process for the fights and the physical demands. It starts with maps and storyboards, so you get an idea of what they’re going for. Then you get to the actual choreography and you can rehearse and work out the details and improvise a little bit. You find the room to improvise. The places where you can play a little bit in between the marks you have to hit. And it helps you develop the character. It’s still acting, it’s just a different type of acting.
Q: How do you find the character with those kinds of details?
AV: One thing that I remember was the cuts and scrapes and the stitches. That was a fair amount of time in the make-up trailer putting all that on. And it was perfect because not only does it inform the character – Lara certainly doesn’t worry about getting scratched up – but it let us give her some weight. We figure out where every scratch came from, and what happens in the scene to give them to her. That’s the kind of thing that just makes the work so much easier, so much more enjoyable.
Check out Rob's interview with Tomb Raider's director Roar Uthaug here on AFJ.