After a string of period films, heart-tugging dramas, and art house indies, the Oscar-winning actress opens up about her first action-hero role as Lara Croft in this month’s Tomb Raider, and what she hopes for her future in Hollywood.
Alicia Vikander likes making plans. When she was 12 years old, she looked at the year 2018 on a calendar and thought about what her life would be like then. “I realized I’d be 30, and in my head, 30 was the year you became an adult, so I remember thinking, Hopefully I’m going to have something good by then, but I’m also going to be old.”
Vikander laughs—a lovely husky sound that rings out across the garden of L.A.’s Chateau Marmont, where she sits without a bit of makeup on, relaxed and glowing in cropped Paige jeans and a long-sleeve navy t-shirt. She’s just back from skiing in the French Alps over New Year’s (“It was amazing!”). Her dark wavy hair is air-dried, her tobacco-brown eyes warm, a Louis Vuitton Petite Malle bag tossed casually to one side. It’s the day after the Golden Globes, where Vikander presented the award for Best Motion Picture Comedy to Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird, and the hotel is bustling with postmortem cheer. A sleepy-eyed Dakota Johnson comes up, murmurs,“Morning…” and envelops Vikander in a bearhug. Once she’s gone, Vikander smiles wryly and continues, “The nice thing is, life has only gone better than I’d imagined.”
That’s some understatement. At 29 (her birthday is in October), Vikander is in that moment of early Hollywood megastardom when the fates seem to smile on her every move. Since bursting on the scene in 2014 with four show stopping roles in Ex Machina, Testament of Youth, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., and The Danish Girl (for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), Vikander has become a face of Louis Vuitton; starred opposite Matt Damon in Jason Bourne (2016) and opposite James McAvoy in Wim Wenders’ Submergence (2017); fell in love with her Irish costar, Michael Fassbender, while making Derek Cianfrance’s romantic drama The Light Between Oceans (2016); and capped the whole thing off by quietly marrying Fassbender in Ibiza last fall.
This month, Vikander stars as Lara Croft in the reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise (out today), which, if successful, will officially make her that rarest of Hollywood commodities: a great actress who can also sell gazillions of movie tickets. She is, as one fan likes to put it, “the biggest Swedish export since IKEA.”
“You used to want her to be attractive and sexy, but, nowadays, you want this to be a girl that fights. Someone who’s vulnerable, but funny. Someone who’s OK with people seeing her bad sides.”
Because Vikander is taking on a role that Angelina Jolie made into a worldwide sensation in 2001, it’s tempting to wonder how she feels about stepping into Jolie’s formidable shoes (or boots, as it were), but Vikander sidesteps comparisons. “We’re making a different movie; it’s an origin story,” she says, explaining that Lara Croft 2.0 is grittier and more realistic, based on the Lara Croft of the current video games (themselves rebooted in 2013 to incorporate more hand-to-hand fighting and less running around in short shorts).
“She doesn’t have the big mansion and all the money in the world; she’s not kick-ass yet,” says Vikander. If Jolie’s Croft was all bodacious, unflappable globe-storming heiress, Vikander’s Croft is a scrappy, decidedly more relatable creature. The new Tomb Raider finds her at 21, broke and aimless, working as a bicycle courier in London. She has no interest in taking over the family empire and no idea what she wants to do with her life. Mostly she’s worried about how to pay the rent. Of course, eventually, Croft becomes the force of nature we all know and love, but the fun of the movie is watching her struggle to get there.
Vikander put on 11 pounds of muscle and trained for four months straight to prepare for the role—doing MMA (mixed martial arts), boxing, and heavy lifting until her abs were quilted in brawn and she could choke a man the size of a mountain with her bare hands.
“It’s interesting that a character that has been seen as very sexualized back in the ’90s is very different now,” says Vikander. “If you go out in the street and ask men and women, young and old, what they find attractive, it’s different. You want her to be attractive and sexy, but, nowadays, you want this to be a girl that fights. Someone who’s vulnerable, but funny. Someone who’s OK with people seeing her bad sides.”
In some ways, Vikander’s Lara Croft seems tailor-made for the #MeToo movement. She’s all about strength and grit, taking on challenges. Survival. There is no love story in the film, no steamy shower scenes or sultry pursing of lips before throwing punches. Instead, we see her bruised and bloodied but never down for the count. “She always stands up,” says Vikander. “When things are found to be quite shit, she always sees the bright side. She just keeps on going.”
ON CONVEYING LARA CROFT’S STRENGTH IN TOMB RAIDER:
“We wanted to base most of the action in reality. She’s a girl my size having to become a survivor and overcome a lot of obstacles, and I wanted it to be believable that she could do it. All the action scenes when I had to fight with a man bigger than me—we had to figure out how I could actually kick his ass. I wanted to show young girls that it’s cool to be a girl who’s really strong and that watching her, you feel like OK, she might be able to climb that wall. She might be able to lift her own weight.”
ON LIFE WITH HUSBAND MICHAEL FASSBENDER:
“I’m a big romantic, and I always have been.”
ON HOW HER FRIENDS SURPRISED HER FOR HER BACHELORETTE PARTY:
“I was there [in Paris] for the Louis Vuitton show and suddenly got a text that says, ‘Go out. We need you right now.’ They kidnapped me for 24 hours!”
ON HER HOPE FOR MORE WOMEN IN LEADING ROLES:
“I think it’s an interesting time now, because, sadly even if there are some stories being highlighted with female leads, it’s still—you know, I did five films in a row where I was the lead, and I didn’t have another woman to work with. It was still just men in it, even though they had a female lead. So being an actress wanting to work with women? It’s an exciting time now, because I think the awareness will bring a change.”