The Swedish Girl: Alicia Vikander enjoys breakout year

Adam Graham
The Detroit News
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Toronto — After playing a seductive robot in spring’s “Ex Machina,” a fashionable spy in summer’s “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and the supportive wife of a transgender pioneer in the current “The Danish Girl,” Alicia Vikander is having the kind of breakout year about which the term “breakout year” was coined.

The 27-year-old Swedish actress is now earning year-end accolades and major Oscar buzz for her role in “The Danish Girl.” In addition, she’s got several movies ready to roll in 2016, and is set to appear in the next “Bourne” movie, which is currently filming.

“I hope people are not going to get bored of my face!” says Vikander, looking posh in a Toronto hotel suite during September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

That’s not likely to be a problem.

Vikander steps into the room like she’s just walked off a fashion runway. “The Danish Girl” will toast its North American premiere later that evening, but for now, she’s cool and calm and talking about her year of being everywhere.

The 2015 Vikander Takeover was not a part of a master plan, but a fluke of Hollywood scheduling. The films in which she appeared this year — she also had roles in the British drama “Testament of Youth” and the Bradley Cooper chef tale “Burnt” — were filmed over a three-year period and happened to hit theaters, one after another, this year. (“Ex Machina,” filmed in 2013, was in theaters at the same time she was wrapping “The Danish Girl.”)

“It’s a bit of a coincidence,” says Vikander, who says the staggered release schedule has allowed her to keep her head in her work. The subsequent attention “has been very new, and sometimes I’ve been nervous, but it’s also a lot of fun.”

In “The Danish Girl,” she plays Gerda Wegener, an artist in 1920s Denmark whose husband, Einar (Eddie Redmayne, an Oscar winner for “The Theory of Everything”), undergoes sex reassignment surgery. Vikander’s warm, compassionate work in the film has made her a leading candidate for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar, and has already earned her nominations from the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. (She also earned Best Supporting Actress recognition from the Detroit Film Critics Society, which also named her the year’s Breakthrough performer).

The film is being released at a time when transgender issues and awareness are making headlines more than ever before.

“It’s education for a lot of people, including me,” says Vikander, who prepped for the role by talking to transgender patients, as well as their spouses and families.

“Meeting people who have been loved ones or close to someone going through a transition is something I hadn’t really read much about before, and that was one of the things that really drew me to the part,” she says. “There were a lot of people I met while preparing that were happy I was telling about their experience.”

Growing up in Gothenburg, Sweden, Vikander never dreamed her experience would involve Hollywood. The daughter of a stage actress, she considered acting to be merely a local pursuit, and had very few role models to look up to in the film industry (outside of Ingrid Bergman and “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’s” Noomi Rapace, the list of crossover Swedish actress success stories is short).

Vikander moved to Stockholm at 15, where she became close friends with Ebba Nilsson, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, who went on to become pop singers Tove Lo and Icona Pop. (They’re all BFFs to this day.) She finished school for ballet at 19 and then went on to law school, where she hoped to eventually build a career producing films.

But she kept acting, and when she appeared in the 2012 Danish film “A Royal Affair,” she figured she’d hit the big time. “That was how I had pictured my international stamp,” Vikander says. “I was like wow, I’m going to work outside of Sweden!”

“A Royal Affair” led to a role in the 2012 adaptation of “Anna Karenina,” which starred Keira Knightley and Jude Law, and gave her an opportunity to work in English for the first time.

“I thank forever (director) Joe Wright, who took me on when my English wasn’t as good, and he was fine with me struggling and working through it,” she says.

Now her English is smooth, and she may get an opportunity to show it off to the world during some rather prestigious awards season acceptance speeches. What does she think about Oscar being in her future?

“Any kind of buzz or conversation that makes people go and, in the end, watch the film, is wonderful,” she says. “Also, I think it’s a very important story to tell, so any kind of positive buzz around it, if that makes people go and see it, I’m extremely grateful.”

We’ll soon see if Oscar voters are bored of her face, and she may be pleasantly surprised by the answer.


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