2012 was a life-changing year for Swedish born actress Alicia Vikander. First she scooped the role of Kitty alongside Keira Knightley in Joe Wright's lavish adaptation of Anna Karenina and then she followed up the triumph with a role in Warner Bros blockbuster The Seventh Son. With another major film in the works this year - Julian Assange drama The Fifth Estate - and a nomination for the Bafta Rising Star Award under her belt, the future's looking bright for the 24-year-old, who originally trained as a ballet dancer before making the transition over to acting.
When Stylist speaks to Alicia, she's en-route to Paris for another round of publicity and still sounds slightly stunned at her success; "happy" and "overwhelmed" are words that crop up often. She what she has to say about the delights and drawbacks of wearing a corset and what it was like filming in a frozen Russian wilderness, below.
Anna Karenina is your first English language film. How did you feel when you found out you had won the role of Kitty?
I remember it so well. I was walking the streets of New York. It was a long audition process and I had kind of just thought, ‘no, it’s not going to happen.’ I was happy that I was in the mix but I didn’t expect at all that I would get it. It was so great that they trusted me with it and trusted me to command the accent.
And you’re nominated for the Bafta Rising Star Award…
I was so happy and overwhelmed when I heard. As a foreigner, I didn’t imagine I could be on that list. It was a big surprise, I was very happy.
What was it like working alongside Keira Knightley?
Keira Knightley is another young actress that I can relate to and I looked up to her, I think she’s a very intelligent actress. She’s made some great choices along the way, which is what I hope to do. I just hoped for more scenes together because our characters are quite parallel in the film, but we met a lot in rehearsals.
Did your background in ballet help when it came to shooting the lavish ballroom scenes?
I didn’t know about the dancing when I got the part. It was a bonus when I was told by Joe (Wright, the director). Movement is so much a part of the film. I think that dancing is not that far away from acting, so my knowledge of ballet and my sense of movement is something I always use when I create new characters. I don’t take classes anymore, but it helps.
What was it like filming in Russia?
It was cold. We went to St Petersburg and then we went on a night train north and a five-hour bus journey and then one hour by hovercraft. We were six hours away from civilisation! I feel kind of like I’m back there now because I’ve been in Stockholm for the past few days and it’s 15 below zero. And I’m trying to remember Russia because that was 40 below. I’m thinking to myself now, ‘this is fine, this is warm!’
The costumes were incredible. Did it take a long time to get ready every day?
Yes - I don’t think people imagine how much time it does take. You need three hours’ preparation every day. To don the wig each morning is one hour and then they need to dress the wig. And then they wanted my skin to look as pale as it could, so I used spray make-up each morning. A lot of mornings I came in and the costume department would show me what they had done overnight with tweaks and changes, and that was quite incredible.
Were the corsets painful?
I was glad that I had come straight from filming another period drama (Danish film A Royal Affair), so I was quite used to wearing corsets. It’s hard because you can’t breathe as you normally do and it gets quite warm, especially if you’re trying to relax and get into your role.
After Anna Karenina, you took on the role of a half-witch, half-human character (Alice) in fantasy drama The Seventh Son. Which film was more challenging?
Anna Karenina was my first English speaking film and for me, doing an English accent was further away than doing an American one, so that was big. And also to take on a classic novel that everyone has their own view on and still do your own thing and make it something that everyone can relate to, that was a challenge. But it’s hard to compare because they’re such different films.
The Seventh Son was my first big Hollywood studio film. It was quite amazing to enter that epic fantasy world and once again be included with such great cast. I had seen Sergey Bodrov’s previous films and I think he’s really a visual director. I really enjoying working with him.
What do you look for in an ideal film role?
So far I’ve been lucky enough to find parts where I have to fight to take on the project. I love that. I always get butterflies in my stomach and it feels like I fall in love. I fight to get the part and then when I finally get it, I usually freak out and I’m like, ‘Ok, now it’s up to me to do the job and it’s actually quite a challenge.’ I want to do as many different parts as possible and get as far away from whatever me is.
I’m so grateful to be where I am. You’re aware that this profession has its extreme highs and extreme lows. I’m still afraid that it’s just all going to end.
Anna Karenina is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 4 February. The Anna Karenina Costume Exhibition at Ham House is open for guided tours now nationaltrust.com
Alicia is nominated for the EE Rising Star award at this year's BAFTAs. Click here to vote