Alicia Vikander talks Bake Off, emotions and her interior design obsession

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Helen Bownass
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The breakout star of 2015, Alicia Vikander has certainly made good on her promise, with an Oscar and her own production company already under her belt. Stylist meets the actress to find out more

Words: Helen Bownass

Alicia Vikander has one of those faces. And I don’t mean beautiful (because I hardly need to point that out). Rather, her face is utterly expressive. It’s like every emotion she’s feeling is millimetres away from exploding out of her. It means watching the 28-year-old on screen is a mix of both pleasure and pain. In person she is equally as evocative and vivid – whether she’s delighting over the bag of clichéd Swedish cinnamon buns, still pulsing with warmth, that I picked up on the way to meet her or talking candidly about miscarriage and how isolating life in London can be.

It’s been a good year for Vikander’s face and the woman it belongs to. If 2015 was the year she was heralded as The Next Big Thing/The One to Watch/Hollywood’s Golden Girl, then 2016 is the year she proved she was more than just a slew of banners. And it doesn’t get more legitimate than winning an Oscar, awarded to her in February for Best Supporting Actress in recognition of her work alongside Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl.

There has also been a pace change as she joined one of the globe’s biggest franchises, playing a glass ceiling-smashing CIA agent in Jason Bourne and has just finished filming Euphoria, the first offering from her own production company Vikarious, which also stars Charlotte Rampling, Eva Green and Charles Dance. And then there’s the film that has brought us here today. The Light Between Oceans is a melodrama as imagined by the director of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond The Pines, Derek Cianfrance.

Based on the 2012 debut novel of the same name by ML Stedman, it tells the post-WWI story of lighthouse keeper Tom (Michael Fassbender) and his wife Isabel (Vikander) who, after losing two babies through miscarriage, discover a boat washed up on their remote island containing a dead man and a baby, and decide to raise the little girl as their own. But the baby’s mother (Rachel Weisz) is still alive and it’s an exercise in heartache (for both characters and the audience) as the impact of their decision unravels.

It was on the New Zealand set that Vikander and Fassbender became a real life couple – and he is sat just round the corner from us in London’s Ham Yard Hotel where we’re chatting. While she is private about their relationship, I do spot a flush of pride when we talk about his acting prowess.

Although Vikander now lives in north London – or at least has a home there, which she isn’t at very often in due to her career commitments – she was born in Gothenburg, Sweden. After training as a ballet dancer for many years, she moved into acting aged 16, starting out in Swedish TV shows. When roles weren’t easy to find, she applied for law school but was then cast as the female protagonist in Pure (2009), for which she was awarded Best Actress in the Guldbagge Awards, Sweden’s equivalent of the Oscars.

It wasn’t long before she moved to London – where she lived with Swedish singers Tove Lo and Icona Pop – and was cast in 2012’s Anna Karenina, her first big acting role in English. Then 2014’s war memoir Testament Of Youth put her firmly on the map but it was her role in last year’s Ex Machina as a sentient robot that proved she is a 25-carat movie star.

Charming, quick and astute, Vikander is great company. And although some previous interviewers have suggested that she is icy or guarded, I see no evidence of that. Perhaps it’s because she is a little older and a whole lot more successful and has relaxed into this new world order of hers. Despite English being her third language (she also speaks Danish), she never has to pause to find the right word; they trip from her tongue, with the occasional charming little idiosyncrasy. And so with a bite of cinnamon bun, she kicks off her shoes under the table and gets ready to open up to Stylist.

While watching The Light Between Oceans, I kept wondering if I could live somewhere isolated for love. Is that something you could do?
For Isabel and Tom, the isolation is initially Eden, but then they go through so much trauma. To not have anyone else to get distance from what’s happening turns out to be bad. When I went into therapy for the first time and had someone to express my own thoughts to, it was a really healthy thing. I think being alone can be quite terrifying. I moved to Stockholm when I was 15 and then I moved to London and I thought, ‘I will never not be a city girl,’ but over the last two years, I haven’t been off for more than a week in a row so I’ve enjoyed time going away to remote places. I couldn’t have done that before. Now I can enjoy knowing that I feel a bit bored.

Does London feel like home now?
It is only the seventh day I’ve been in London this year. But I’ve been back for 24 hours now and I feel like I’m home. It took me about two years for it to feel like home though… I had a very hard time living here at first. I think it had a lot to do with being such a big city. It is so spread out, and it’s tough when you have no money. It’s a very expensive city, just getting on the tube for £6 was crazy. I’ve lived in the West, in Chelsea, in the North, in Hackney – after living in all those different areas I started to think, ‘OK, I know this town.’ I feel very affiliated to north London now. I know a lot of Brits but a lot of Swedes live here which opened up doors, which was helpful.

Which is why we have places like the Nordic Bakery in Soho, where I just bought your cinnamon buns. I also need to tell you that I spotted Mel Giedroyc from The Great British Bake Off there…
I love that she’s out in a bakery. I love Bake Off and MasterChef. It’s on at the perfect time for when you come home from work.

Do you ever get emotional during a show like Bake Off?
Growing up I used to say, “Ugh, Mum, don’t cry again!” But I’ve become more like her. When someone wins Bake Off or when someone makes a beautiful cake and has a story about how they were taught by their grandmother, I’ll probably cry. For me it’s when someone does something really kind or when something is really beautiful. The world’s horrors have affected me more and more, so kindness gets to me more. Sometimes when things are hard though, I’m not as good at letting that out.

How do you tend to react in those tough situations?
I might be emotional and maybe it’s because I’m afraid of drowning and letting that go I’d rather take a step forward instead. I spoke to my dad, a psychiatrist and he said sometimes people go through traumas and decide to do the dishes; it’s a personality thing. I think I’m one of those people. If something happens I’d rather continue life and hopefully get some perspective, be able to reflect and take care of whatever baggage I have. I’m probably more practical in tough situations. I don’t cry when I’m sad but I do when I’m happy.

Motherhood is a major theme in the film – and how it can derail someone when they’re unable to have a child. Is it a topic society talks about enough?
It’s a taboo subject. But in the film it’s It’s a taboo subject. But in the film it’s being confronted and I’ve discovered that friends, people that I know, people that I meet, have been in similar positions. A lot of people don’t know [infertility] is as common as it is. When I read the book there was a strong sense of shame for not being a ‘proper woman’. I think that’s a very common feeling. I haven’t been pregnant and a part of me wonders will it work one day? If you do have a dream, which I’ve had since I was a teenager, about having a family, you just don’t know if it will happen.

And there is still often judgement around women who don’t have children…
There are a lot of people who choose not to. The problem comes if you want to and are not able. I’m one of the first IVF babies in Sweden you know. It’s sad that even though there’s a lot of help and a lot of people go through [infertility], people are still afraid of opening up. I have girlfriends who have been through it without me knowing. I did a film called Hotel in 2012 about postnatal depression – two male friends have partners who suffered from it and they said that they felt like they were the only ones.

What is the best thing you learned from working with Michael?
I think I’ve seen all of Michael’s films and he’s one of the best actors out there. It’s about letting go and daring to fall flat on your face. I was impressed when I saw his acting, how he goes for it. There’s something about being brave enough to do those roles, and I thought, ‘I’d better not be afraid now’. I definitely was [laughs].

Where do you keep your Oscar?
I haven’t seen him. I’ve been renovating. It’s sad because I’m not in the house, so my friend is taking care of it.

What scale of renovation are you doing?
I’ve had someone help me with the structure and engineering drawing, but I’ve designed it all. Before this I had a small one-bedroom flat that I did up, I drew the kitchen and bathroom. I love that kind of thing.

What’s your interiors aesthetic?
It’s a mix of British countryside with mid-century Scandinavian and lots of antiques – I like pieces from the Thirties to the Sixties. I grew up in a small studio flat with my mum; we didn’t have much space or lots of things. Then from the age of 15 until about three years ago I had only lived in one place for a maximum of three months. The lack of having a home made me dream a lot about having a space. I remember once I wanted to buy a magazine in an airport shop and was thinking, ‘This is silly, I’ve bought every one of the 18 different interior design magazines here because I’ve been flying so much’. I was trying to create this home that I don’t have [laughs]. If the producing and the acting don’t work, I might go into interior design. My mum has just started an antique course, which I think I am going to join her on. I’m really excited about it.

You’ve travelled a lot, what’s the most life-changing trip you’ve ever made?
I got my first Ryanair ticket at 15 – I saved up and went to Turkey because it was the cheapest place, but I’ve always wanted to go to Japan and now I’m about to go. I’m going to Tokyo and then taking the new bullet train, which goes up north and travels at 620km/hr, which is nuts. I’m excited to see the north and the Geisha districts. And I’m going to go to a robot show in Tokyo and eat so much.

Are you a planner or do you prefer to freestyle your trips?
I always have my reservations and ideas of where I’m going to go and then you hear of the perfect ramen place around the corner and you drop the reservation and go there. A travel agent would be my other choice of career.

Your favourite film is Some Like It Hot – what did you learn from Marilyn Monroe growing up?
I’ve watched it 30-40 times. I thought she was pretty and I loved that she played the ukulele, but I think it’s about the classic glamorous image of Hollywood. I read Blonde by Joyce Carole Oates and it was extraordinary. I felt like I didn’t really know Marilyn before that.

Are you much of a reader?
As a teenager I ate books, then when I started to work I didn’t have much time. I love reading. It’s a sad thing. Now with my production company, I’ve started reading more again.

How is the production company going?
I started it last year with my partner Charles Collier and my first film, Euphoria, finished two days ago. Lisa Langseth is directing, who took a chance on me in Pure – it is her first English language film.

What was it like calling the shots?
I would look at Lisa and be like, “We talked about this and made it happen.” There is something powerful about knowing you can have dreams, talk about them and actually make them happen. We’d probably had about three glasses of rosé the day we decided to do it [laughs].

Was it important for you to be particularly encouraging towards women in the industry?
I’ve hardly had any scenes with women in the films I’ve made. The female characters I’m playing are strong and diverse, but I don’t act with other women, which is crazy. It’s such a revelation that there are three women in this film. It’s about making sure that women get opportunities to get into the room and prove themselves for their jobs. As a woman you need to remind yourself what is diversity on all levels. A few times I have been given opportunities for a female role and I’ve thought, ‘Ugh that’s such a cliché,’ but people would tell me how much those roles were sought after. Your feelings are the only thing you can listen to in the end.

The Light Between Oceans is in cinemas nationwide from 1 November

Photography: Rex Features