With writer/director Derek Cianfrance’s (Blue Valentine, The Place Beyond the Pines) The Light Between Oceans opening this weekend, I recently landed an exclusive interview with one of the film’s stars Alicia Vikander. During our conversation, she revealed why she wanted to be part of this project, what it was like collaborating with Cianfrance and how he doesn’t use the words “action” or “cut,” if she still has to audition for roles, what’s different about her version of Tomb Raider, other upcoming projects, and a lot more.
If you’re not familiar with The Light Between Oceans, it’s a fantastic adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s novel of the same name. The film stars Michael Fassbender and Vikander as Tom and Isabel Sherbourne, a devoted husband and wife who are faced with the unfortunate reality that they can’t bear a child. When a boat washes up on their local shore with a dead man and a living baby inside, they’re placed in the moral quandary between finally having their wish and doing the right thing (ie turning the baby over to the authorities). Against Tom’s better judgement, they keep and raise the baby, and their decision threatens to tear the couple apart. The film also stars Rachel Weisz.
Unlike a lot of Hollywood movies where they make it easy to say who is good or evil and most decisions are black and white, what I loved about The Light Between Oceans is no person is evil. No one is “bad.” They’re all real people making honest decisions in the moment and the film doesn’t have a typical antagonist. When you combine this kind of intelligent storytelling, fantastic acting, beautiful cinematography, and Cianfrance’s great direction, you’re left with a special film that I hope people turn out to see.
Here’s what Alicia Vikander had to say. If you missed my interview with Michael Fassbender, click here to check it out.
Collider: First of all, let me start by saying how much I enjoyed the movie. It’s just one of those old-school, classic Hollywood films. They’re tough to make nowadays.
ALICIA VIKANDER: Yeah, thank you so much. Yeah, I think Derek and knew, I think we all knew how tough it is to make those films. I’m just a big fan of Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines, so I was just so excited to be part of it. Also the way he worked before I did this film with him.
I definitely want to know what was it about the material, the story that said, “I needed to be a part of this”?
VIKANDER: I think the subject of this film. How it kind of – when I read the script and the nature of the book, it seemed – like you said – an old-fashioned story in a sense, and I think today sometimes stick with stories make you just look out for who the villain or the good guy should be, or what side you should be on of this moral issue. And instead I just found myself reading a story about ordinary people, common people trying to navigate and find their way of living and I found I relate to all of the characters in this story and also the subject matter of wanting to look for love, the longing for a family, the reality of going through loss. It was all things that I think are — you know, it’s moral issues in a bigger world, but it’s still what feels the most close, ‘cause I think it’s saying you can relate. If it’s not within your closed doors, maybe it’s the home next to you, or friends and family that you can relate to, and I think that that’s what really drew me to the film.
One of the things Derek is known for is always trying to be honest in the moment. So talk a little bit about the way he directed you on set, always looking for that honesty.
VIKANDER: I was one of those people who would YouTube his interviews and looked on Blue Valentine and The Place Beyond the Pines before I even knew that this film was even going to be made. Because I was such a fan and I thought it was amazing to see how you go at such intensity with his character. It’s almost like when I see his films, I felt like I was a bit embarrassed in some things, ‘cause I felt like I was in rooms where it shouldn’t be in some situations which are normally behind locked doors. They felt so authentic and I realized when I’m working with him that he likes the very long takes. He doesn’t use the words “action” or “cut”, really, and I guess that makes us able, as actors, to find ourselves in the scene, instead of prepping for it.
Of course, there’s rehearsal and talking about the characters in our prep, but when we got there – what I haven’t done – we still did the scenes that were in the script, but let’s say if it was a scene between Tom and Isabel in the kitchen, we could just say, “Where is Isabel 10 minutes before this?” Maybe she’s out picking carrots in the garden and he’s reading a book in the bedroom and he decided where Adam Arkapaw, our fantastic DOP, where he was and then we just started and then some little time during the scene we would find ourselves in that scene that was on the script. Sometimes it was just to – but you’ll never look at a call sheet and see two lines and think it’ll be an easy day. That normally meant that it was a 40-minute take anyway.
That’s really funny. It’s so interesting to hear about how different directors work. Looking at what you’ve been doing the last few years, I’m wondering, do you sleep or take any days off?
VIKANDER: I’m actually gonna take five days off next week.
I don’t believe you.
VIKANDER: No, it’s gonna be really nice. But yeah, it’s been a lot of work, but when someone like Derek asked me if I want to come and join him, and work with Michael and Rachel, I just couldn’t really say no.
Listen, I totally get it. I think that from the outside perspective and me talking to so many actors. Becoming an actor, it looks like you dream about landing roles like this and then I would imagine when you’re being offered role after role with good dynamic characters, it’s hard to turn them down.
VIKANDER: Yeah, and this is almost two years ago now. Over two years ago, I met him at my first audition and like I said, Derek had been a director that I hadn’t told my agent I thought he was one of the young American new directors and Michael, I saw his work from Hunger and Fishtank back home in Stockholm, this tiny little indie cinema, and was just blown away. I thought it was one of the most brave and real actors I’d seen in a long time.
Yeah, Michael’s what we call talented.
VIKANDER: [Laughs] yeah.
Jumping back into the film, one of the things I really appreciated about the film, and you sort of touched on it, was the lack of the typical antagonist that might exist in most movies. You know, the twirling villain, or the one you’re rooting against. Instead, this is a film about good people, you know. Could you sort of talk about that aspect of the film a little bit more.
VIKANDER: It’s interesting, because if you actually put the moral dilemma in front of you, we all know what’s right. But the thing is, when you get closer to these characters and see – ‘cause you realize there’s gray zones. And it’s when you get to the heart of Isobel. We all knew that – when I read the book – the only way to tell this to an audience is if you’re with her and Tom in their loss that they go through. And it’s Isabel trying to portray someone who I thought had her heart on her sleeve in that way and she’s a very – I admire her for her lifeforce and energy. I mean she’s, like everyone during this time, had loss. She’s lost her two brothers, her whole generation is wiped out. She of course knows that this man has seen the war through his own eyes and gone through that trauma but she still has this endless source of life pouring out of her. And then not being able to produce life I think for her is her biggest shame and what gets to her and I think that you see that she never – she sometimes acts and says things before she thinks, but it always comes out from pure heart and with intention of pure goodness. So I think if you’re able to find that, you hopefully get the origins on this tormented journey between all these characters and their journey of trying to find their – navigate their way of life and of course realize what consequences happen and how to move on.
I’m curious after the last few years and the dynamic roles you’ve done, have you reached the roles now where you no longer audition?
VIKANDER: Yes…and no. It actually depends. I would be up for auditioning – I have had now situations where I haven’t had that, and it feels very unusual, because that was never the case for many years, but then it still… I think as an actor you want to know that the director feels like you are the right decision for their film and their vision, so I’m normally up to also feel the ground to make sure that the director knows that their relationship and they seem to be on the same page – that that essence is there. Because that’s so important. With Derek, when I met him for my audition it was actually — the casting director had to wait outside the door and had to come in four times, and he always said, “just another fifteen minutes.” They ended up just chatting for an hour. We had never met and had quite a deep conversation about life. Derek has that effect on people.
I’ve spoken to Derek a few times and he’s a really smart guy and he really gets it.
VIKANDER: Yeah, yeah he does. He’s extremely emotional and intelligent.
Totally. I definitely have to ask you something that I’m very curious to see, is this new version of Tomb Raider. It’s a big movie. So for you, were you a little bit nervous to sign onto something like that or were you sort of relishing the chance to be the lead in one of these Hollywood blockbusters?
VIKANDER: I think it’s – you know, with these big films – you just want to just – for me it’s really all about the filmmaker, and then of course the character and the story. I find that — big blockbuster movies, I grew up with, and some of them I love, and I think the thrill of being part of making one myself would be extraordinary. But it also comes down to, I met Roar [Uthaug] and I’d seen The Wave and a few of his other Norwegian films and it’s with the kind of chance to make this story now, based on the rebooted game which is more of an origin story. You could intervene hopefully a great story and a great arc and then within that, have a very entertaining adventure film, which I loved those growing up. And I played the game when I was a kid [laughs]. Anyways, it was a really the real first protagonist I had seen in a video game at that point. And of course Angelina Jolie made her into an icon. So it’s cool to try to step into the shoes and we’re hoping to make something that will hopefully will be fresh and new.
Listen, I’m all in favor for more films with strong female protagonists, and so I’m all in on this. How might this version be different than the Angelina Jolie movies?
VIKANDER: I hadn’t played the new rebooted game when I met – and now I have and now it’s quite different. The kind of rebooted the game and it visually looks quite different and it’s like I said, it’s more of an origin story. You’re following this girl who, on her way to becoming what we all know her for, Tomb Raider, Lara Croft.
Can I ask when you’re actually filming it?
VIKANDER: Well I know they released the release date a few weeks ago. But I’m wrapping up in three days, I have to finish a film with Wim Wenders I’m starting on this film I’ve been developing for two years in August. So it’s going to be off of that. So I think it’s going to be later, by the end of this year.
What film are you filming later this year?
VIKANDER: The one I’m doing in August?
VIKANDER: It’s called Euphoria, it’s the first film that goes into production for my own production company, Vikarious.
And you also have a really good cast with that.
VIKANDER: Yeah, we’re extremely lucky, we have an extraordinary cast and we have Rob Hardy, the DOP, who I did Ex Machina with. And Lisa Langseth, who I had already done two films with, and I’m so thrilled to bring her stories and films to a bigger audience now in the English language.
The Light Between Oceans is in theaters this weekend.