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A young Swedish actress takes charge of her career

'Determined' is the word for Alicia Vikander, according to Joe Wright, who directed her in 'Anna Karenina.' The same moxie landed her in 'A Royal Affair.'

November 08, 2012|By Susan King, Los Angeles Times
  • Swedish actress Alicia Vikander stars in the Danish film "A Royal Affair" and plays Kitty in "Anna Karenina."
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander stars in the Danish film "A Royal… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander is homeless these days. And that's fine with her.

"I live out of my suitcase," she said. "It's only hotels and friends' couches. But if there is any time in life when it's OK to be rootless, it is probably now."

It's the 24-year-old actress' burgeoning film career that has lead to her vagabond existence. In the last two years, she's traveled to Denmark to star in the historical drama "A Royal Affair," which opens Friday, England for Joe Wright's expressionistic take on Leo Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," hitting theaters on Nov. 16, Vancouver for the 2013 fantasy adventure "The Seventh Son," and back to Sweden for the independent drama "Hotell."

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FOR THE RECORD:
Alicia Vikander: In the Nov. 8 Calendar section, a photo caption accompanying an article about Swedish actress Alicia Vikander said that she learned to speak Dutch for a role. She learned to speak fluent Danish.

The only problem she seems to have with her nomadic lifestyle is the overflowing suitcase. "I take out things all the time and I still can't close it," she said with a shrug of her shoulders.

The "Royal Affair" and "Anna Karenina" releases have brought Vikander to Los Angeles this fall. "I am going to stay here for a few weeks and hopefully track down [my next job] for the beginning of next year," she said.

The first thing you notice about the lithe former ballerina during a recent interview at a Beverly Hills hotel is her self-assuredness — a poise and maturity that belie her age. Both Wright and "Royal Affair" director Nikolaj Arcel agree that she is an old soul — and perhaps not surprisingly, both films are set in the past.

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"Terrifyingly so," Wright said. "I think it may come from her ballet training."

Arcel's take on her was similar: "She's a fun person, but she's extremely strong. She was our team leader when we were not shooting. She was always bossing us around. She would always have all of these plans laid out for us. So she was a bit of a queen on the set."

"She is incredibly determined," Wright added. "Nothing is going to stop Alicia."

Vikander is so determined, she went to Copenhagen two months before shooting began on "A Royal Affair" so that she could speak Danish fluently.

"I said to her, if you get this part, you have to promise me that you will not only to be able to speak this language, you will have to learn the language," Arcel said. "She worked incredibly hard. Even when I see her now she is still speaking Danish to us."

"A Royal Affair," which is Denmark's entry into the Oscar foreign film category, is set during the 18th century and revolves around the ill-fated Caroline Mathilde, the daughter of the Prince of Wales, who is sent as a teenager to marry the mentally unbalanced Danish King Christian VII. Mads Mikkelsen plays progressive German physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, who is hired as Christian's personal physician and becomes Caroline's lover.

Because Caroline Mathilde is so famous in Denmark, practically every actress in the age range wanted the role. But none, said Arcel, had the regal quality needed to play Caroline. "I didn't believe any of these actresses were royalty. They were street."

So he cast his net to Norway and Sweden. It was love at first sight when he saw Vikander on an audition. "She said, 'My name is Alicia.' I said, oh my God, there she is."

Vikander said that once she got the role, "I read quite a lot of books about the times. But the greatest treasure I found were letters she wrote her own family in England. I found a very mature woman in those letters. She was only 16 and she was prepared for the tasks, but in a subtle way, she seemed to be keen on telling her family, she was all right."

Wright saw Vikander in the 2010 Swedish film "Pure," for which she won the best actress Guldbagge Award, Sweden's equivalent of the Oscar, as a troubled young woman who becomes obsessed with classical musical. Wright saw qualities in her performance he thought might be perfect for "Anna Karenina" as Kitty, a flirtatious young woman who believes the dashing Count Vronsky is her Prince Charming, only to find love with a kind-hearted farmer named Levin.

Again, Vikander's determination helped her land the role. She recalled getting a call from the film's casting agent, telling her, "If you ever happen to be in London, Joe Wright would like to sit down and have lunch with you.'''

Two days later, Vikander said with a grin: "I happened to be in London."

Born in Gothenburg, the second-largest city in Sweden, Vikander watched her actress mother perform on stage. Vikander began ballet training at a young age and also acted on stage at the opera house in Gothenburg. At 15, she left home and went to Stockholm to complete her final year of ballet.

"I quit dancing when I was 18," she said. "I love dancing, but I realized my passion lay somewhere else. I wanted to bring words to my work as well."

She failed three times to get into theater schools. "That was tough," she said. "I actually got into law school. I have always loved being in school. Then I got the role in 'Pure.'"

Vikander said she learned the passion for the craft from her mother. "You learn to enjoy the fact that there are extreme highs and lows," she said. "But when you find scripts or people you admire and want to work with, it is fantastic. My mom said the other day she was proud of me. That was the one thing that made me the most happy."

susan.king@latimes.com

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