To understand cyber character Lara Croft is to have a grasp on exactly who she was before Angelina Jolie made her a sexed-up, masked marauder-fighting icon in a Cambodian temple in the 2001 phenomenally successful film Tomb Raider. And to understand 29-year-old Oscar-winning actress Alicia Vikander’s 2018 version of Croft is to forget everything you already know. “This is a different interpretation, we’re focused on the reboot of the game which came out a few years ago,” Vikander assures GRAZIA. “It’s the origin story [of Croft], we’re not trying to copy or reinvent what Angelina did.”
The comparisons to Jolie, however, have made for relentless internet fodder – some harsh, some favourable at fever pitch – and while Swedish actress Vikander gives a stellar and fierce performance, she has been at the mercy of those resolutely loyal to Jolie’s Croft identity. Playing one of the most enduring female actions heroines in pop culture consciousness – the one with the Joan-Of Arc willpower and now the Katniss Everdeen bow and arrow – will do that. But Vikander presses again: this isn’t a Jolie-reprisal attempt. “I could never compete with what Angelina did. She’s perfect,” Vikander says, smiling. “She made her into an icon because she is an icon.”
Upon first meeting Vikander in a plush hotel in Sydney just last year, there’s a stillness to her in person; delicate features, her expressions in repose, a fragile ingénue. But as she begins to speak about an important relationship in her life – no, not her husband Michael Fassbender, she remains steadfastly rooted in her desire to keep married life under wraps –Vikander lights up. Lively and personable, she jokes about how whatever impression we have of the fashion industry being a certain way (read: self-important) that she and good friend Louis Vuitton designer Nicholas Ghesquiére are definitely the opposite. And just like that, someone you had pinned as a serious actress perennially parcelled in period costume is actually a sparkly and charismatic delight.
In the same way Jessica Chastain released six films in 2011 that shot the otherwise obscure actress into superstardom, in a short 12 months Vikander starred in a cluster of movies; Ex Machina, The Man From UNCLE, The Danish Girl (which earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress), The Light Between Oceans and Tulip Fever. Although filmed over a series of years, as they released so closely together Vikander’s star rose, and she’s been a darling to every designer since.
In a quirk of timing though, Tomb Raider is releasing as actresses in Hollywood rally for stronger leading female roles. As was the case for Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman – a movie Vikander took herself off to the cinema to see in between shooting – social commentary dragged Gadot for not being sexy enough, not feminist enough, not like Lynda Carter. But to understand the current social climate in film is to give a nod to the fact the world looks very different to these character predecessors’ eras. And for this reason, we think even the original crusader-braid-wielding Jolie would approve of a reinvented Croft.
GRAZIA: Lara Croft is one of the first feminist icons in a video game-turned-Hollywood film, what drew you to playing her?
VIKANDER: “I played the games on a friend’s PlayStation and then grew up watching Angelina in the movies. You know, we know that video games are a very male dominated world so to have a female protagonist in this way was so intriguing to me.”
Were you concerned or are you still concerned by the comparisons with Angelina Jolie?
“When I heard they were going to make a new Tomb Raider, I thought Angelina was the one and only Lara Croft, and she would be difficult to replace. But a new version of the video game came out in 2013 and our film will give a different vision of the character and we want to be able to put our own stamp on it. It’s always going to be a challenge t take on a character like this, especially one that Angelina turned into an icon.”
The film takes on Croft’s gritty and grounded backstory, an untapped chapter of her life beginning in East London…
“Based on the reboot game which came out four years ago, it’s an examination of how Lara becomes who she was to become, how she morphs into the Tomb Raider, so we’re seeing Lara at a very different part of her life. At this moment, she’s trying to understand who she is and what path to take and you get to learn how and why she goes on to become this icon. She’s the action hero or she will become this action hero, but also a very relatable young girl who’s ordinary in so many ways. She’s living in East London at the beginning, living her life and just trying to find her place on her way to her destiny. She’s still has the same fire and drive and spirit but without all the experience under her belt [laughs].”
Did you have any hesitations about playing this role?
“You know, I was skeptical when they first spoke to me about it because why would you want to tinker with something already done? It’s done. Even when I told my mum about the movie, she immediately said, ‘Oh that’s the Angelina Jolie movie, yeah she was great.’”
What changed your mind?
“I met Roar [Uthaug, the director] and the producers and got a very concrete sense of what they were after and what they planned to do based on the new game which I had never played before, I had only played the older version. And getting to play the newer game, I realised there was this untold story to tell which separates it from the previous movies and that spoke to me. And that was it really.”
Did you meet with Angelina?
“I haven’t but I’m an admirer of both her and her career. I’m inspired what she has achieved and if I could do half of what she’s done, I would be so happy. Her path, she did a lot of varied, really complex character studies in these fantastic independents and moved on to these big blockbusters and is now making her own movies, producing and directing, she’s an inspiration to me and so many working in this industry.”
You’ve just produced the beautifully haunting Euphoria – an indie film under Vikarious Productions that brings to light the contentious issue of euthanasia – are you planning on directing?
“I don’t know, I like the idea of it, but the reality is entirely different, and it really would have to be the right story that I felt passionately connected to.”
What obstacles did you encounter while producing?
“Producing Euphoria was such a daunting challenge, but I was surprised how natural and quickly it came to me, I felt very comfortable in that role and I also liked being involved from the ground floor up. Sometimes as an actor, you can come onto a movie a week before they start shooting and you’re very detached and removed from the inception whereas here, I was there from the beginning, witness to this birth of a wonderful project. The entire journey was an education. Each task as a producer was a first for me and there were the inevitable bumps along the way, it’s a learning curve that you appreciate and assimilate.”
Did you ever dream that one day, you’d be headlining a huge action tent pole blockbuster like this?
“I love going to the movies, it’s one of my passions, actually going to the movies and staring up at the screen. There’s a magic to it. And much of that enchantment comes from movies like Indiana Jones and The Mummy, real cavalier hero adventures. I must have seen The Mummy twenty times by now, and just dreaming one day being that hero, I’ve always wanted to be that.”
The training. How grueling was it?
“Not awful at all [laughs]. I learned more about physicality then I ever realised and I’m shocked how my body reacted to this training and lifestyle. There was a lot of weights, lots of lifting. A combination of boxing, MMA, climbing and lots of high interval training.”
Have you kept up the regime?
“No, it’s slipped a little by the wayside. Six days a week in the gym, couple of hours a day, that is very grueling and rigorous. Without my amazing trainer, Magnus, I don’t have the discipline to do it on my own. But you’re quite used to it from your days as a dancer.”
Did your training as a ballerina help at all?
“It’s a different world. But that’s a big reason why I wanted to do something like this, I’ve been after a role with high endurance physicality and it doesn’t get more physical than Lara.”
And you can lift your own weight now, can’t you?
“I never ever thought that would be possible. I’m not sure if I can do it now but that was a very empowering moment. I told my trainer I wanted to look like Alexander [Skarsgard] in Tarzan. He was my end goal.”
Wonder Woman was the biggest hit of the year and a huge step for women in the industry…
“I went to see that while we were shooting, and I think to see the opening sequence with all women in this amazing fight scene, I was blown away by the idea that I don’t think I had ever seen that before. Which I was sort of taken aback by that revelation.”
How do you view the evolution taking over Hollywood?
“Society is changing for the better, and as long as the conversation continues and continues to continue, positive change will come from that. We cannot accept the norm for what it’s perceived to be. Diversity is the key to telling all stories and where is diversity without women also telling those stories. And I want to actively be involved and do whatever I can in my power to working with incredible talented women, propelling this shift.”
It’s nearly two years since you won your Oscar but we know you left it behind in LA the day after. Firstly, how could you do that and have you been reunited?
“Well yes, it’s nice, we’re reunited now after a long-distance relationship. It’s tough [laughs]. Because I was working so much, I envisioned it getting lost with all the travel and it’s also really heavy, there’s no way I could drag it around. So I thought it was a safer option to leave it with my friend’s daughter who I knew would be so careful and caring of him. She was always sending me updates and messages, lots of Facetiming, letting me know he was OK so that was sweet.”
So it’s with you in London now. Is it on the mantelpiece?
“I still haven’t decided where he’s going to go. He’s quite eye-catching, you need the right spot.”
You mention Facetiming but I know you’re not a fan of social media. Has that changed?
“No, not at all. I’m not interested in it, I stay in touch with my friends and family so I fail to see the need, at least in my life.”
Did you ever have any accounts?
“I did have Facebook which I used for a while but my interest sort of waned. And I did have Instagram but I didn’t like the idea of posting pictures every day, there’s a pressure there to post good ones [laughs] and I lost interest. I’m just not good with it. And I like privacy, I like keeping things to myself.”
Tomb Raider is in Australian cinemas March 15.