Replacing Angelina: Alicia Vikander's toughest role yet

Alicia Vikander on redefining Lara Croft in a post-#TimesUp era
We really wouldn't mess with her
We really wouldn't mess with her

Fiercely independent, bold, intelligent, and with a penchant for adventure, Lara Croft exploded onto our screens back in 2001. Now, almost two decades later, it’s time for a reboot. Cue Oscar-winning Swedish actress Alicia Vikander. Having won critical acclaim for her roles in Ex Machina and The Danish Girl, she is set to bring the iconic video game heroine made famous by Angelina Jolie to new global audiences this month. 

What was your reaction when you were first approached about taking on the iconic role of Lara Croft? 
I was certainly familiar with Lara Croft, having played the Tomb Raider game both as a kid and as an adult. Since this project draws its inspiration from the 2013 version of the game, which is quite different from the editions I was familiar with, I played that version and really liked its more contemporary feel. So I met with the director, Roar Uthaug, and the producers, who provided some intriguing insights about how they wanted to bring the world of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft to life – and into our time – in an exciting new way that would be compelling, human and relevant to this generation.  

What can you tell us about the Lara Croft we meet in Tomb Raider, and what drew you to the character?
Lara has a feistiness, intelligence and wit about her that I love, as well as a passion for adventure. Since this is an origin story, we meet Lara as she’s still trying to figure out what she’s going to do with her life and find her place in the world.  Although she was born into privilege, I really liked the fact that instead of embracing a glamorous life, Lara stands up for herself; she wants to figure out who she is on her own terms, which I think is something that anyone can relate to. Young people don’t always know the journey that lies ahead for them. Lara has a wounded relationship with her missing dad, whom she hasn’t even been able to mourn because he had disappeared when she was 13. When we meet her, she’s a bit cynical about the fantasies and stories her father told her as a child.  But, as her journey unfolds, she opens up and dares to believe again. I like that about her.

You’ve done big movies before, but Tomb Raider takes to it to a whole new level. Was embarking on a production of this scale its own adventure for you?
My mother, who is an actress, introduced me to the world of theatre and film. I loved independent, arthouse films, but, like most people, I also loved being drawn into big adventure films, like the Indiana Jones movies. So, with Tomb Raider, I had the chance to work on something that’s very different from my previous work, but which has long been close to my heart: a big action and adventure film. Along with that came the opportunity to explore my physical side on a film. I come from a dancing background, so when I learned that playing Lara would involve three or four months to get in shape – well, that kind of preparation and the chance to create a new physique are gifts. I found the training and muscle-building to be empowering.

You mentioned Lara’s relationship with her father, Richard Croft, played in the film by Dominic West. What does Dominic brings to the role?
Dominic was the first person I thought of for the role when I read the script. He had actually played my dad before, in the film Testament of Youth. He can be extremely playful and down-to-earth and has a wonderful energy that really worked for the character, especially in the way Richard expresses his passion for mythology and artifacts. You understand why Lara, who has been introduced to these stories by her dad, eventually falls in love with those mythologies. Dominic was perfect for the role.

How does your director, Roar Uthaug, balance the demands of orchestrating a production of this size with the more intimate, character-driven moments, and how did you find the experience of working with him?
It was wonderful to work with Roar because he always balanced story and character with the big action set pieces. For Roar, it was always about telling a good dramatic story in the context of a huge action-adventure. It’s the best of both worlds. I had seen his film, The Wave, a Norwegian drama. It has the scope and scale you’d expect from that kind of film, but it broadens the genre in ways that really surprised me. Even though it’s this big disaster movie, I found myself relating to and rooting for the characters, and the relationships and emotions felt completely authentic.

Did you have a favourite scene to play in the film, or a moment off-set that was especially fun or memorable for you or a resounding highlight from the filming period?
It’s difficult to single out one moment, because there were so many big things on this film that I’ve never done before as an actor. Working on the big action sequences was tremendous because most of the sets were practical and the action was real. It goes back to how I fell in love with adventure films when I was a child. Walton Goggins, who plays the villain Mathias in the film, shared that obsession.  When we started work on the film, we got to walk into the tomb set and saw an enormous pagoda and a sarcophagus and all kinds of amazing details. We were like two children running around. I loved working on those sets, which were massive. It was magical. 

• Alicia Vikander stars in Tomb Raider released on 15 March in cinemas across the UAE

Photo: Ilze Kitshoff