With eight films due for release this year, Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has never been busier. She chats to us about ballet, bonkers stunts and becoming an honorary English Rose. Words: Camilla Davies
Admit it, a year ago, you had no idea who Alicia Vikander was. But come 2015, with a staggering eight films set for release, the Swedish beauty has become a household name. “I’ve been going from one film set to another over the past two years, and suddenly they’re all being released,” explains the 26-year-old from Gothenburg. “It does feel like there’s momentum – and I don’t want it stop!”
Her first big studio motion picture, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., is sure to keep the momentum going. Alicia plays the female lead, opposite Henry Cavill, Armie Hammer and Hugh Grant, in the big screen reboot of the iconic TV series, directed by Guy Ritchie. Playing an East German mechanic who is called upon to assume the role of a glamorous wife in 1960s Rome, Alicia brought some glamour to the boys’ club production. But Ritchie didn’t cut her any slack. “He would often change the script. It was a challenge made more difficult for me given that English is not my first language.”
And the actress’s skills were also put to the test when she ‘forgot’ to mention at auditions that she couldn’t drive. “Luckily there were some incredible stunt drivers,” Alicia laughs. Her Trabant was actually controlled by a professional in a cage on the roof. “It was so wild. We would do these crazy tricks where the car would come to a sudden stop and then do a 180 degree turn and race off in the opposite direction…”
With a stage actress mother and psychiatrist father, Alicia was barely seven years old when she began a three-year, twice-a-week acting stint in a musical production about Swedish emigration. A passion for ballet then took over: “I trained with the Royal Ballet School in Gothenburg but injuries meant I couldn’t continue,” she explains.
Her plethora of films this year cover almost the entire cinematic spectrum – she becomes Vera Brittain in the World War I drama Testament of Youth, channels the supernatural in Seventh Son, and leaves the human form behind in artificial intelligence thriller Ex Machina. She is part gleeful, part dubious about the attention coming her way. “I worry people will be sick of my face. They’ll think, oh no, not her again…”
But despite intercontinental roles and all the travel involved, the new Hollywood ‘it girl’ has decided to root herself in the very earthy surrounds of London – with no delusions of grandeur. “Even three years ago, I was living in this rat-infested flat in Notting Hill with three other Swedish girlfriends,” she says, recalling the ‘lost years’ so many artists experience on their way up. While working towards their big breaks, the girls, including Swedish DJ duo Icona Pop, shared single beds. “You just needed to believe in yourself and hope you would find enough work to survive.”
The grotty Notting Hill days are long gone – Alicia has had her own north London base for over a year, and has been slowly making it into a home. It’s another task in an already hectic schedule that requires her to juggle acting and relentless promotional work with exploring London.
Her ability to multitask might come from being self-sufficient from an early age. At 15, Alicia moved alone to Stockholm to pursue her ballet aspirations. “When I look back, it’s almost scary because I was so young. But I loved ballet and I was swept up in that world. It was hard, though. I was living in a beautiful old house but in a room that was really a big closet with a very small kitchenette. I must have been very ambitious to want to live like that!” she laughs.
“I still love the ballet,” the actress admits. “Any time the curtains go up, I think, ‘What if?’ and I get sucked into that world again.” Her training certainly wasn’t wasted – the dancer’s delicate stance informed her portrayal of robot Ava in Ex Machina: “I wanted Ava’s body language to have the kind of perfection that evolves organically and flows naturally rather than it seeming too mechanical or jerky, and that’s where my dance training was very useful,” she says. “The stillness of how she moves and sits down and doesn’t blink… those kinds of things made her feel more robotic, because humans are more inconsistent and have more flaws.”
Despite teetering over the boundary of ‘over exposed’, the actress remains a bit of an enigma. Prior to this year it was her romantic links that had kept her on the radar – she is currently dating fellow actor Michael Fassbender – yet at 26, she’s making a relatively late big screen debut, despite having lived and trained independently for over a decade.
She accepts, though, that public interest is all part of the job. “I’ve worked with so many good actresses and actors and seen them handle their private lives so well, then use that same interest to drive people to films,” she says. Prepared she may be, but if Alicia does decide she needs somewhere to hide from the paps, we’re happy to assist. The Man from U.N.C.L.E is in cinemas from 14 August