Alicia Vikander: "What I find sexy is something much more than tank tops"
Strong, sophisticated and magnetically spirited. A candid chat with Alicia Vikander on gender equality in film, the changing relationship between the small and silver screen, and her definition of what she finds sexy
"This is a life saver!" exclaims Alicia Vikander. I've passed her one of our Buro 24/7 Singapore foldable fans. "I actually collect fans from around the world," she confesses, turning the fan over in her hands, looking for a way to unwrap the plastic cover. And just as I offer to help, she brings the fan to her mouth, and rips it open with her teeth. "It's okay," she says with a smile, "I've bit into it."
Gift unwrapped, Vikander fans herself casually. Legs crossed, hair elegantly tied up in a low bun, and seated on a gold Tiffany chair on the third floor of the ArtScience Museum in Singapore — the same location for the Bulgari 'SerpentiForm' exhibition that she is here to officiate as one of the brand's ambassadors — every whip of her hand reveals a diamond-encrusted Bulgari Serpenti bracelet; every turn of her head unveils a glittering Bulgari Serpenti earring. Vikander is positively sparkling.
The Swedish actor possesses a hypnotic beauty — a certain presence and quality that you would expect from an Oscar winner (she won an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her portrayal of loving wife Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl). But yet, as our conversation meanders from playing Lara Croft in Tomb Raider (scheduled for release in March 2018) to her most valued piece of jewellery, what captivates me most about the former ballet dancer is not her poise and polish (which she exudes in spades), but her grounded strength and indominable spirit.
One of today's hardest working actors, we speak candidly about the current state of gender equality in film, why what women wear shouldn't be the be-all and end-all of female sensuality, and the changing dynamics between the small and silver screen.
This is your first time in Singapore. Have you had the opportunity to try any local food? I want to. I'm a big foodie. One of my siblings actually moved here, but she sadly left three days ago so I missed her — she had to go back to Europe — but she's going to send through a list of local recommendations. One of them is Odette. Is that close by?
Yup, very close by. It's just in the National Gallery of Singapore. It tells you a lot about culture, actually, the local food.
There's a lot of hawker food you should try, like onde-onde and kueh lapis. I'll have to send you a list too. Yes, please! Would love to.
What was your first experience with the house of Bulgari? Was it a gift? Was it something that your mother wore? You know, I think the first experience was... well, my mother is an actress [Maria Fahl Vikander] and I was introduced to the world and heritage of cinema growing up. And, without knowing, I think it was only in my mid-teens when I realised, that the actresses that I grew up admiring — from Ingrid Bergman (who is from my home country) and Audrey Hepburn, to Elizabeth Taylor and Rachel Weisz — all of those of women have been part of this brand and history. Especially the Serpenti range. Since my early teens, I've recognised it as an iconic piece of jewellery that defined the house of Bulgari.
"I've done five films in a row where I played a lead and I didn't have one scene with another woman. That tells you something about reality."
Talking about the Bulgari Serpenti, it is famous for being sleek and sexy. And you've just finished filming Tomb Raider, playing a strong female lead known for wearing a tank top. Do you consider yourself sexy? Is this an adjective that you're comfortable with? I find this interesting. You are the one that's putting the words 'tank top' and 'sexy' in the same sentence.
[Laughs] You don't find tank tops sexy? What I find sexy is something much more deeper and, you know, a certain sensuality. Especially when it comes to women, I think it's more about empowerment rather than tank tops, to be honest [laughs].
Fair enough. You know, I embrace women and men who can stand up, empower their own personalities, and express themselves. And for Lara Croft, ever since I played the game Tomb Raider since I was 10 years old, I like that she is a woman that never gives up. Even when she falls down, she stands up again. That to me, is extremely sexy. That is definitely something I hope to communicate. Angelina Jolie did that brilliantly in the earlier films, and now with this reboot, because it's more of an origin story, you get to flesh out more of this beloved character. Hopefully we will honour what has already been, but also present something fresh and something new.
How far have we progressed when it comes to gender equality in film? I think we have a long way to go. But I think it's wonderful to see greater versatility in female roles now, which really is a product of the growing awareness for gender equality. Ever since I moved into English-speaking cinema — which is a step that I never thought I would take, growing up in a small country like Sweden — but over those years, it feels like there has been a change. I've been singling out lately that I haven't been able to work with a lot of women. A lot of people mention, "Oh you're playing a strong female character", but if you look at the films that I've done, I've done five films in a row where I played a lead and I didn't have one scene with another woman. That tells you something about reality.
Do you think the case is different for television? Have you watched Big Little Lies with Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon? I have.
That was fantastic. Strong female characters in a predominantly female cast. Except for Alex [Skarsgard] who played a horrid character — he's an old friend of mine — but he was so good.
Do you think television provides more opportunity for women to develop interesting characters as compared to film? Only because I've noticed that there are more shows now — be it Big Little Lies, Orange Is The New Black, or The Handmaid's Tale — that provide complex female roles. I think there are a lot more adult dramas on television now because the audience that go to cinemas tend to be young people that are going for an experience. A big movie rather than a drama, which I think is a shame because I love cinemas. But I think what you're noticing is that a lot of adult developed dramas are now been given the chance to be distributed on TV, because that's how we watch dramas nowadays, we watch it at home. We travel, we have our Apple TV, so I think it's because the way of distributing content is now different.
You're right. Interesting observation. With Lara Croft, it's an incredible privilege to play such an iconic character. But I also remember when I saw Hunger Games a few years ago, I was like, "Wow!" It showed that a commercial film could be a success with a female lead in it.
Going back to jewellery, would you rather receive it as a gift or buy it for yourself? Can I say, give it others?
Oh good one! That is fun! The best thing is to give gifts to others.
And for the reaction you get... It's always nerve-racking, you can't ever be completely sure if it's going to be right, but you have a feeling. And when it works, it's fun.
Can you share a time when you've given a piece of jewellery to someone you love? I gave my mom a beautiful dress. It's not a piece of jewellery, but it had a lot of sparkle on it. She wore it to the Oscars, and she looked... stunning.
What is the most sentimental or meaningful piece of jewellery you own? My mom's parents sadly passed away when she was very young, so I never got the chance to meet them. But she had an aunt, a great aunt that kind of became my substitute grandparent, and she was 95 when she died a few years ago. She was Finnish and she escaped the war, and she had this bracelet that was made out of old coins and pennies — more than a hundred years old — and they're put together in a very specific pattern. It's not about the value of the stones and materials, but it's the memories and the great story behind it that makes it valuable to me.
Do you have any traditions with jewellery to commemorate various milestones in your life? I haven't done it for the last few roles, only because I have been so busy, but I have bought pieces of jewellery or things for my home for a lot of films that I did when I started to work in cinema.
What kind of roles are you looking for now? Tulip Fever is coming out soon? I filmed that four years ago! [Laughs] It's finally coming out. I had seven films released in 2015, and they had all been made over three-and-a-half years. It's so strange. You never know when a film is going to come out. It's very different for each film — they plan it, there's post-production, and sometimes it comes out quickly, and other times it takes a few years.
"I think there are a lot more adult dramas on television now because the audience that go to cinemas tend to be young people that are going for an experience. A big movie rather than a drama, which I think is a shame because I love cinemas."
What are your plans after Singapore? I'm going to the Toronto Film Festival. The production company that I started last year [Vikarious Productions] produced our first film [Euphoria] and it will be premiered in Toronto, which is extremely exciting. I worked with a director that I've done two films with in Sweden [Lisa Langseth] and this will be her first English language film.
Do you notice a trend in the scripts that you're attracted to or the films that you're looking to produce in the future through Vikarious Productions? I think I would have never been able to predict any of the films I've ended up doing. It's a feeling. You read it and you're drawn to either the character or story itself. More and more, it comes down to the filmmaker. The visionary behind it, because it's all...
About the execution of the story? Very much about the execution. And also down to the actors. Filmmaking is such a collaborative thing. For me, it's always about, "Wow, I haven't stepped into this role before."
Finally, what could you do 24/7? Sleep! I love sleeping. It's great.
[Laughs] Anything else you could do all day, every day? Eat. [laughs]
What's your favourite food? Oh, pizza. Pasta. Bread.
Anything carbs basically. [Laughs] Yes! A good piece of sourdough bread with butter is the best.