SPOTLIGHT November 2015: Alicia Vikander, Actress and It Girl

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awfjspotlightsmallsmallvikander 1Let 2015 be known as the year of Alicia Vikander. Though the Swedish actress has been around for a while–she got her start on Swedish TV in the early 2000s–over the last few months she’s delivered the quality and quantity that has really made moviegoers around the world sit up and take notice. And with her breakout role in The Danish Girl poised to hit theatres on November 27th, you’re going to start hearing her name a lot more very soon. Read on…

Entering the Big Leagues

A Royal Affair
A Royal Affair
Following her aforementioned small-screen work, Vikander got in some indie film experience–in Ella Lemhagen’s The Crown Jewels (2011), opposite fellow up-and-comer Bill Skarsgård (Netflix’s Hemlock Grove) and Lisa Langseth’s Pure (2009), which earned her a nomination at Sweden’s Guldbagge Awards–before co-starring with Mads Mikkelsen in the historical drama A Royal Affair, about the romantic dalliance bewteen the Queen of Denmark and Norway and her politically progressive court physician. The first of Vikander’s films to get substantial attention outside of Scandinavia, it was nominated for a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar and has, since its release, become a Netflix Instant staple for the costume drama set.

Hollywood came beckoning with fantasy drama Seventh Son, which came out in February 2015 but was actually filmed in 2012. (If you think that doesn’t bode well for its quality, well, you’d be right.) Vikander’s second English-language feature, Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina, was better received; if it didn’t quite have the commercial appeal of a Pride and Prejudice or an Atonement, well, a two-plus hour movie based on a Russian epic was never going to draw in the popcorn crowds, anyway. While Vikander’s role was a supporting one—she played Kitty, acting alongside eventual Ex Machina co-star Domhnall Gleeson—it still garnered her attention.

One Hell of a Year

Testament of Youth
Testament of Youth
A few more lower-profile roles—turns in Bill Condon’s largely forgotten WikiLeaks thriller The Fifth Estate and the Australian western Son of a Gun, plus a reunion with Langseth for the Swedish dark comedy Hotell—brings us up to 2015. All told, by the end of the year Vikander will have had no fewer than seven films hit theatres in the US. One would start to get sick of her if she weren’t so damn good. Next up after the years-old Seventh Son was Testament of Youth, a low-key but affecting and handsomely produced period drama based on the memoirs of World War I nurse and eventual peace activist Vera Brittain. Vikander effortlessly anchored a cast filled with more experienced actors, among them Dominic West, Miranda Richardson, and Emily Watson. Though not as splashy as your typical war drama, Testament of Youth’s examination of the roles women had to play in the Great War makes it well worth a look.

Ex Machina
Ex Machina
Moving swiftly along, we come to Ex Machina, where Vikander played the villainous (…or is she?) cyborg Ava. A hit particularly amongst sci-fi nerds (guilty as charged), it was followed by Guy Ritchie’s The Man from U.N.C.L.E., where Vikander played a West German superspy in the making. Though an utter financial flop for Warner Bros., this writer found the film to be quite enjoyable. It’s by no means a perfect movie, but far worse efforts have made far more money; if it had come out at the beginning of the summer, rather than the end of it, I think it would have found more of an audience. Regardless, Vikander had checked off the “action” box on her filmography.

Next up was a return to straight drama in John Wells’ Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper as a bad-boy chef looking for redemption. Vikander is a small part of a very solid cast that includes Uma Thurman, Emma Thompson, Sienna Miller, Daniel Brühl, and Omar Sy. Given she has a grand total of ten minutes of screen time, max, one gets the sense that the film snagged her before she’d really begun to blow up, though Uma Thurman had a similarly tiny role, so who knows. A fun, zippy drama in the vein of Jon Favreau’s Chef (and oh, the food shots!), Burnt came out on October 30th and is in theatres now. On November 13th, Vikander will hit another genre, documentary, when Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words comes out stateside. Vikander narrates.

The Danish Girl
The Danish Girl
Vikander’s likely Oscar nomination will come a film that isn’t out yet: Tom Hooper’s The Danish Girl, where she plays Gerda Wegener, the wife of transgender artist Lili Elbe. As the film started off on its festival run at September’s Venice Film Festival, many journos had their fingers poised to type the praises of star Eddie Redmayne. A winner at last year’s Oscars—and for another biopic, no less!—he seemed the obvious target for any growing awards buzz. But it’s Vikander who’s been earning the lion’s share of the praise, with many pundits labeling her a sure thing when Oscar nominations are announced. (There’s been some buzz about “category fraud” due to her being put up as a supporting, not lead, actress, but you can lay that one at the door of The Weinstein Company.)

The Years to Come

It’s been a swift rise to the top, and Vikander shows no signs of slowing down. She has two films in the can: Justin Chadwick’s Tulip Fever, based on the best-selling historical novel by Deborah Moggach and adapted by legendary playwright Tom Stoppard, and Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans, where she’ll play opposite Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz. After that, it’s back to action with Paul Greengrass’ yet-untitled fifth Jason Bourne movie. As to which gigantic franchise is going to snap her up first, who knows… but it’s probably going to happen.

Why We Chose Her

awfjspotlightsmallsmallVikander isn’t just our November SPOTLIGHT pick because of her ubiquity. Instead, what caught our eye is her effortless class, no matter what genre she’s in. Whether she’s corseting it up in a costume drama or kicking butt in ‘60s mod gear, she exudes a sort of timeless, Old Hollywood style that’s sadly lacking in a lot of 21st century films. Audiences and filmmakers alike can’t get enough of it, and we’re sure you’ll be seeing a lot more of her in the future.

-Rebecca Pahle

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Rebecca Pahle

Rebecca Pahle is a North Carolina-born, Brooklyn-based entertainment journalist with a particular fondness for science fiction, early film history, and female-directed film. She is the associate editor at Boxoffice, the premier trade magazine for the film exhibition market; other credits include Film Journal International, Syfy, Pajiba, and Vulture. You can reach her on Twitter @RebeccaPahle.