NY TIMES: It’s impossible to watch “The Light Between Oceans” — Derek Cianfrance’s tale of a childless Australian couple who discover a baby in a rowboat and keep it — and not assume that you’re witnessing its stars, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, falling in love.
After all, speculation ran rampant last year when photographs suggested that the incandescent actors were an item — a suggestion that neither would confirm. Rumor seemed to become fact when Ms. Vikander kissed Mr. Fassbender after she won the best-supporting actress Oscar for “The Danish Girl” in February, and the world’s collective knees went weak.
Seated on a sofa — but not too close — at the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park this summer, Ms. Vikander and Mr. Fassbender completed each other’s sentences as they discussed their film, an adaptation (opening Friday, Sept. 2) of M. L. Stedman’s novel about Tom, a World War I veteran turned lighthouse keeper on a rocky, storm-swept island, and his wife, Isabel, whose maternal longing he wants nothing more than to satisfy.
Asked about their discretion, Ms. Vikander, wearing geometric-print palazzo pants and radiantly barefaced, said that “we’ve done this film and we’re talking about it,” but added: “Then you keep certain things private and between us, which I think is the right thing.”
Ms. Fassbender, his blue T-shirt complementing her outfit and his eyes, chimed in, “Our work is something that we’re very committed to, but also our private lives.”
Congratulations on your Oscar success.
ALICIA VIKANDER: It was the most memorable and extraordinary night, and good partying, and I’ve kind of been in a bubble since then.
With so many offers sent your way, why this film?
MICHAEL FASSBENDER: I was doing “Macbeth,” and Derek came to visit. The script really got me in a primal place, just hit me emotionally. It seemed like a very old-school film, and that felt very refreshing.
VIKANDER: I admired Michael for being one of the most brave actors I had seen. And when I knew that he was involved in this, and with Derek, whose previous films [like “Blue Valentine”] I’d loved, that was it even more. It was a script that made me cry. But the people are always what draw me most to a film.
The lighthouse setting is otherworldly. Where is that?
FASSBENDER: It was Cape Campbell, outside Blenheim [New Zealand]. A peninsula, much to Derek’s dismay. He almost wasn’t going to pick it because it wasn’t an island. I was like, “Dude, it’s not going to get any better than this — this is amazing.” He was like [lowers voice], “But it’s not an island.” Small compromises.
VIKANDER: I felt like I was in “Jurassic Park.” It’s that kind of nature that looks morphed and bigger than anything I’d seen. We camped there and had dinners in the evenings.
James Kent, the director of “Testament of Youth,” said that no one does tragedy like Alicia Vikander. What’s your secret?
VIKANDER: You need to have an extremely supportive director and co-actors you can play with and you can search with and you can dare to try new things with. It was the first day of work, and we were going to do a scene again, and [Michael] said, “Give me some reason.” [Snaps fingers] “Give me a new idea. Just give me anything, whatever it is.” That showed him to be an actor who was so willing to be involved and work together.
The scenes of Isabel’s two miscarriages are harrowing. How difficult were they to portray?
VIKANDER: I was quite terrified, but Michael allowed me the possibility to “lose it” a bit. It’s a very primal thing, and as a woman who hasn’t had children, this is the one time I feel like a real fraud.
Tom and Isabel seem the perfect example of good people who do a bad thing. And yet we sympathize. What’s your take when all is said and done?
VIKANDER: When I look back at emotional situations in my life, I probably reacted in ways that surprised me. Keeping a baby, like Isabel does, is of course considered morally wrong, and I felt that. Then I got in the head of someone trying to do good and wanting to just give love to a child, and I understood how she ended up where she went.
FASSBENDER: I would like to think I would go down more Tom’s route, to go through the correct procedures, but it’s just too easy to say. It’s like the classic thing of people saying in hindsight after the era of slavery, “Well, I wouldn’t be one of those white people that had slaves on the property,” or black people would say, “Well, I’d be one of the slaves that revolted against the master.” It’s impossible to say, because you try to survive in whatever circumstances you’re in at the time. It’s always easier to say from the other side of the fence looking in.
Whose idea was it to shave off Tom’s mustache?
FASSBENDER: I just had this idea that Isabel might have said, “Oh, get rid of that old mustache, it scratches me.” It was a sign of people making little changes to coexist together.
VIKANDER: And also a moment that signifies them having a fresh start, to being clean. And it’s a wonderful thing that she physically is the one to take it off.
It takes guts to let someone other than a barber go after your face with a straightedge.
VIKANDER: Derek asked me [whispers], “So we’ve got this idea, and everyone says that it’s dangerous and that you can’t do it. Do you want to do it?” I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Can you do it?” Then I started to really freak out because that thing is just a blade, and I’d never shaved a man before. [Laughs raucously]
FASSBENDER: [Raises an eyebrow] She made me bleed a little.