Calling Alicia Vikander the year’s big-screen “It Girl” is to understate the case.
Since January, the 26-year-old Swede has been seen in a big-budget fantasy (Seventh Son), an Australian noir (Son of a Gun), as World War I-era English pacifist Vera Brittain (Testament of Youth) and in her most unique role, Ex Machina’s semi-see-through android Ava.
Later this year we’ll see Vikander catch 17th-century Tulip Fever, star opposite real-life boyfriend Michael Fassbender in The Light Between Oceans and as artist Gerda Wegener in the true-life period piece The Danish Girl. It’s based on the story of Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), one of the first people to go through gender reassignment surgery, and Gerda was his pre-transformation wife.
If you’re still not impressed, check out The Man from U.N.C.L.E. this month. A period-set spy thriller based on the 1960s TV show, director Guy Ritchie’s movie stars big-screen Superman Henry Cavill as American agent Napoleon Solo and Armie Hammer as his Russian partner Illya Kuryakin — roles originated by Robert Vaughn and David McCallum, respectively.
Vikander won’t blow her cover and admit she’s a Girl from U.N.C.L.E. (the name of a 1966 spinoff series starring Stefanie Powers, by the way). But she will cop to her character, Gaby Teller, being someone who is perhaps even more dangerous.
“I play a car mechanic, which for me was something very new,” Vikander says excitedly over the phone from New York. “I don’t even have a driver’s license! I only told that to them after I got the part, though. That was kind of a big fib! ‘Sure, I can play a car mechanic. Do you know that I can’t drive?’ That’s the thing; in the movie you see me lead this car chase.”
Believe it or not, the young Vikander — who trained at the Royal Swedish Ballet School before injuries encouraged her to follow her mother’s career path into acting — was quite familiar with the Bond Age exploits of Napoleon and Illya long before landing the movie job.
“We actually grew up with it in Sweden,” she says of the reruns. “It normally runs every weekday during the afternoons. I watched it for many years growing up, with my dad.
“I don’t know if I’d call it a dream come true to be in the movie, but I really enjoyed shooting that film. It’s a good ride watching it and that’s kind of the same experience I had shooting it.”
Vikander’s professional ride has been no less remarkable since she landed her first big international lead in the 2012 Danish period piece A Royal Affair.
“I’ve worked with directors and actors that I’d never thought I was going to,” she says with a little awe. “I grew up in Sweden, and I thought it was the wildest experience when I got my first lead in a film back home there. I never thought it even existed, being able to work in English-speaking films or abroad. So, that someone took a shot and gave me a chance meant the world.
“I’m really very humbled by the thought that I’ve been given the chances to work, or even just getting into the room, with some of the people that I’ve worked with now. It’s really been amazing.”
And it almost didn’t happen. When dancing failed to pan out, Vikander dabbled in acting, but really had a much more practical game plan in mind.
“I got into law school,” she reveals. “I wanted to produce, and I figured that would be the best education for something like that. Right before classes started, though, I got a lead in a film. I decided to start school the next term, but then got another acting job…
“That would have been something else,” she muses about what could have been, or, more importantly, what could have been missed.
Bob Strauss lives in L.A. where he writes about movies and filmmakers.