Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Rise of Alicia Vikander [Contributor: Megan Mann]

2015 was another year spent at the movie theater for me. I saw reboots and remakes, animated and action, comedy and horror, big spectacles and tiny gems. One of the most underrated movies I saw in 2015 was the stunning Ex Machina. It’s a story about Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb, a young programmer, who wins a contest to visit the compound of his company’s egotistical and reclusive CEO, played incredibly by Oscar Isaac. Caleb discovers that not only has Nathan discovered the key to building artificial intelligence, but he’s running tests on his AI and needs Caleb’s help. This is where Alicia Vikander’s magical presence comes in.

Rewind to 2013 for a second. I love the Oscars simply because it gives me a list of films to view if I haven’t already done so. That year, a Danish film, A Royal Affair, was nominated in the Best Foreign Language Film category. I saw it not long after at the library and decided to rent it. When I was watching, I saw a young girl float across the screen with both the grace of a royal and the carefree attitude of youth. She also filled the screen with intensity as an affair unfurled and her life unraveled.

It was in that film that I saw a true star in the making. I had hoped that Alicia Vikander would take her talent from her native Scandinavia and bring it to either British or American soil and stun us all. When I saw her in that first trailer for Ex Machina, I immediately looked her up to make sure it was the same girl. With her in the cast, I was ready to see the film immediately. I could only imagine what she was going to bring to the screen.

And I wasn’t wrong in my excitement. In fact, I was even underestimating it. When she first walked slow and calculated onto the screen, half robot and half “human,” tilting her head and assessing Caleb as a machine would, I knew that I was seeing something truly spectacular. As the film progressed and Ava developed, you knew that without the nuances Vikander brought to her, she wouldn’t have been nearly as believable.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association agreed and nominated her this year in the Best Supporting Actress category at the Golden Globes, the only sci-fi film in the category. She also received Best Actress in a Motion Picture - Drama for The Danish Girl, a film detailing the life of Lili Elbe, the first woman to get gender confirmation surgery in the 1930s.

Vikander plays Lili’s wife Gerda, an artist who occasionally painted her then-husband Einar as a woman, an identity that Einar started adopting more and more frequently away from Gerda’s canvas. The story navigates Lili’s transition as well as the changes in the couple’s relationship shifted from man and wife to close and fierce confidantes. Vikander’s role required acting nuances between lightness and darkness, with her love and support for Lili often shining through beneath her confusion and anger.

As the HFPA saw, she performed on opposite ends of the spectrum but was believable in her humanity. It’s that believability that makes her a treasure to watch, even as she takes on vastly different film roles. In 2014’s Seventh Son, she played a witch who fought for and against both her family and her coven. You didn’t know whether you were on her side or wanted her to go away. In Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E., her character bridged the gap between the two agents, Solo and Kuryakin, but also gave life to otherwise silly, stylized lines.

Given Vikander’s ubiquity in film over the past year or so, comparisons have been drawn to Jessica Chastain, who similarly skyrocketed to fame with the release of multiple films in 2011. Hopefully if Vikander follows a similar path, 2016 will cement her as a bona fide star. She’s got a packed schedule, with the releases of Tulip Fever, a story about a 17th century Dutch artist who falls for a married woman when he paints her portrait, and The Light Between Oceans, where she stars with her real life boyfriend Michael Fassbender as a couple who find a baby adrift in a rowboat. She’s also currently filming the new Bourne installment opposite the original Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon.

Despite being relatively new on the scene, in terms of Hollywood timelines, Vikander is making waves that most actresses wait years for. Though her big break came quicker than most, she’s spent years honing her skills. She began doing theater around her native Sweden, and directors and co-stars have commended the levels of focus she brings to every take, whether it be the first or the 30th, which certainly comes from that stage background. After a three-year run in a play from the writers of Mamma Mia!, Vikander attended the Royal Swedish Ballet School in Stockholm. Her precision and perfection were sharpened, and that intensity in her performances is what makes her so captivating to watch.

With every performance, Vikander manages to achieve something new and different that stands out from her co-stars, and even her previous roles. Whatever persona she’s meant to put on, or accent she’s tasked to master, she manages to breathe life into the script and create a compelling, realistic character. The most exciting part of watching her is knowing that the best is yet to come. Every project she takes on requires something new from her, and with so many opportunities to show different aspects of her abilities, I have no doubt that her career will remain steady over the next few years, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.


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