By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Alicia Vikander is no stranger to the action genre, having co-starred alongside Matt Damon in “Jason Bourne” and opposite Henry Cavill in “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” The Oscar-winning actress (“The Danish Girl”) now gets her own platform in the rebooted “Tomb Raider,” based on the popular action-packed videogame with a female heroine.
The 29-year-old Swede isn’t the first to play adventurous archeologist/tomb raider Lara Croft on the big screen. She follows on the heels of Angelina Jolie, who starred in two successful action films based on the game in the 2000s.
In this new era of female empowerment movies, the producers were compelled to revisit the popular franchise and give it a new spin.
Vikander plays Lara, the independent-minded daughter of a renowned archeologist who vanished seven years earlier and is presumed dead. When she is old enough to inherit his vast corporate empire, she refuses to accept it and instead embarks on a mission to find her father, whom she believes is still alive. She ventures off to his last known destination, a mythical island off the coast of Japan that contains a mysterious tomb. The treacherous journey to the island is only the beginning of Lara’s adventure as it harbors secrets and an enemy that could cost her her life. The spunky, martial arts-trained bicycle courier endures numerous death-defying obstacles on her quest to uncover the truth. The action adventure is directed by Norwegian filmmaker Roar Uthaug (2015’s “The Wave”) from a script by Geneva Robertson-Dworet and Alastair Siddons.
The dark-eyed actress spoke about taking on the action hero role, working alongside her co-stars Dominic West, Walton Goggins, Daniel Wu and Oscar nominee Kristin Scott Thomas and stepping into the shoes of the iconic videogame and big screen heroine.
Q: The film has several touchstones from the 2013 “Tomb Raider” edition of the game. Were those little nods important to you to have to have in the film?
Vikander: Yeah. We have a lot of fun making sure that we had little Easter eggs to the film. It’s daunting. I’ve played quite a few of both fictional and real people on screen and it’s that type of thing of really gathering as much information and making sure to kind of have all of the traditional traits of Lara and feel like you have all of the elements that made her become such an iconic character for 22 years. Then, it’s the transition of making sure that she becomes real. She’s such a bold, kind of curious, bad*** being, so I had a lot of fun trying to find the core of her and her personality.
Q: This film is an origins story, more personal than pyrotechnic. The audience finds out more about what makes Lara Croft tick. How did you feel about that?
Vikander: Yeah, it is a coming of age story. That was our inspiration, because this film is based a lot more on the 2013 rebooted game (than the previous franchise). She is a normal girl in the beginning. I found it really interesting. We’ve seen it a lot in these kind of big both superhero and action movies. If you have the origin story, then that’s a way for us to get to know our character, to feel for them, to relate to them on a more human level.
I thought it was wonderful that I could play a young woman who’s still trying to find her footing in the world and also has a story with her dad who has been lost for seven years, but she hasn’t really been able to mourn him because she never knew what happened to him.
It’s a story where she goes out in the world with all the kinds of traits and skills that she has within her and is forced to be pulled out due to the adventure that she goes on and the challenges that she’s put through. I wanted to have every single step of the way being portrayed from the beginning until the end for her to become, in the end, the action hero that we so well know her to be.
It’s also very empowering when you get to be there in the end, because if you have all the struggles and you feel for her being this real girl, that makes you be with her emotionally, then you root for her even more.
Q: Were you familiar with the “Tomb Raider” films starring Angelina Jolie and what did you think of them a gamer yourself?
Vikander: Yes. Angelina Jolie made her into an icon. That is one of the first times we got to see a female action hero on screen too. This character has been away for about 22 years. It’s interesting. I was at Crystal Dynamics, the game’s company, yesterday. It was so cool. I got to see all these different versions of Lara that has kind of been throughout history now. She has inspired a lot of young girls and boys around the world for so many years, but she’s also morphed into a personality or a different version of her persona of herself due to what time she’s in. It’s interesting in terms of what times we are now. This is the kind of girl you could relate to in 2018. If you were to go out on the street and talk to young guys and girls and ask them what they would find cool and attractive, it’s a very different answer that you would get now than in the mid-‘90s.
Q: It’s admirable that although there’s a lot of gun play in this film, your character relies on her skills as an archer, MMA artist and her wits to get out of bad situations. Was that appealing to you?
Vikander: I love that. That was something we discussed in one of the first meetings—the fact she doesn’t use a gun in this film. I loved the fact that everything that she uses, even if it’s down to an ice pick, she needs to be innovative. She needs to use what she has around her and if she doesn’t have the size or the same strength, she needs to use her wit and intelligence, instead. So definitely that was something that attracted me to the role in the beginning.
Q: What were the challenges of getting in shape to do this? Also, what you think of Lara Croft in terms of where she starts from internally? Is it the absence of her father that affects her entire life, then?
Vikander: I mean that’s her life, but in any film you need to narrow down and decide what story within that life you’re telling, and like Roar (Uthaug, the director) mentioned, we wanted to find an emotional way to connect with her. One of them is the relationship with her father. We kind of know this character, too. She has the love for history, mythology, artifacts and all of that, but I thought it was an interesting thing, like a lot of young people do, you have your dad telling you stories when you were a kid, but because of the pain that he just took off, she never really knew what happened.
Maybe he just abandoned her. She kind of has closed that door. It’s not until she finds a secret chamber and she also realizes there was more to his work. There’s actually a reason for why I have a lot of these things, and that’s his discovery and also an acceptance of who she is, and that is something that any young person can relate to. Also, the fact that she has a lot of people like Kirstin’s character, who are telling her what to do, and asking her, “What are you going to do with your life and is it good enough?”
Q: And what about the physicality of the role?
Vikander: I started training about four months before we started to shoot. What I loved was when I met with both Roar and Graham (King, the producer), we wanted the action sequences to be such a big part of this film to set in the reality. Would you buy that this girl can beat this bigger, stronger man? We then, story-wise, integrated that she’s a physical being, and she trains in MMA and she’s a bicycle courier. I wanted her to be a strong girl for it to be plausible that she could do what she does later on in the film.
Q: Were there any injuries?
Vikander: Yeah. I’m actually covering up. I still have little wounds on my legs, but no real injuries. We had an incredible stunt team that made sure everything went well.
Q: I would imagine that dealing with the fight choreography in rehearsal is slightly different than dealing with it in on set, where you have some elements like dirt and brick to get in the way of maybe hitting your marks. I’m wondering if you could you talk about the challenges in that?
Vikander: It’s kind of a natural progression. You start normally in a room and you just have mats, and that’s very much choreography, even when it looks as gritty and dirty hopefully by the end, it is choreography. Then you take the next step and you come to a set which might not be completely done yet, and then you start to actually practice in there because normally like you said, it feels different to be on a set. But then you do have rehearsal time there, so you feel comfortable by the time you start shooting.
Q: Was there something that you thought was particularly daunting that you were like, “I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get there, or to pull this off” and, if so, how did you push through that?
Vikander: There’s so many different answers to that, because physically it was something completely different. I had never taken on a character and a role in a film like this. I was a dancer before (I became an actress) and to try and pretend that I can do an MMA fight was really daunting to do that in front of people. I was almost like, “Just don’t look.” But then we worked so hard and we met up in the mornings and we worked on script. It’s daunting to make these big studio films, these big adventures, which I’ve loved since I was a kid.
I’ve done a lot of art house films, and to make a film like this and the films that I look up to in this kind of genre, is when you’re able to mix these big spectacles with heart and find something that is grounded, and make an artful, interesting story commercial and big and loud as it should be. That was the biggest challenge, and I realized very early on that it was also something about giving it a lot of energy and force throughout the shoot.
Q: When were you introduced to “Tomb Raider,” the videogame?
Vikander: I was probably around nine and 10 years old when I walked into a room at a friend’s house; I sadly didn’t have a Playstation at my house. I hadn’t seen a girl, a female protagonist computer game, and I was so curious. I stood behind and asked those older boys if I was allowed to play and they didn’t let me so I had to wait until it was just me in that room sneaking down and I did play it then. Back then I was more into computer games, so I played actually the anniversary version of the first game around my mid-teens.
Q : Early in the film, your character is eluding police on your bicycle through the busy streets of East London. What was that like?
Vikander : I lived in East London when I was 20 with my girlfriends, and I used to have a bike because it’s so crazy and intense to get on the Tube. But I almost got killed. So, I know that (riding a bike) is life-threatening in London, so that makes for a really good action scene.
Q: You live in Portugal now. Why Portugal?
Vikander: Yes. My husband (actor Michael Fassbender) introduced me to that place three and a half years ago. He’s also a big surfer and then Brexit happened too, and I want to be in Europe and felt like I wanted to be there. I love that place.