Interview: Alicia Vikander
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At first glance, letting a Swedish ballerina turned actor take on the role of Vera Brittain in the big screen adaptation of generation-defining Great War memoir Testament of Youth might seem like an unlikely choice. Luckily the responsibility of such an emotionally loaded and extremely British role was something that wasn’t lost on Alicia Vikander (whose name is likely to become very familiar to you as 2015 progresses) for even a second. The 26-year-old, who first scored critical attention in 2012 with the historical drama A Royal Affair and then alongside Keira Knightley in Anna Karenina, admits that little could be done to quell her nerves at taking on such an important role. “I was nervous,” she says, when asked about the fear, in viewers’ eyes, of whether she could bring this very British character to life. “I totally get that. I was very verbal about it with James (Kent, director.) This was also the first film in my career where I didn’t have to audition, where they actually came to me... Are you kidding me? Why me? “It was weird because I was sitting there fighting to get this part and I just couldn’t not say that.” In Testament of Youth, Vera Brittain goes from an idyllic life in the months before the war to Oxford University, then to the front as a VAD nurse before eventually returning to Oxford – and experiences unmitigated loss along the way. How was it, getting into the head of a young woman a hundred years ago and in an entirely different context? “I don’t think that people’s emotions (change) – I think it’s the context, or the social rules and society,” Alicia says. “Reading the book, her words and her voice, she sounds like a young woman – like us today, like someone I could meet down on the street. And that totally made me connect with her. “And then you read a few more lines and you realise, oh – she can’t even get on the train, she can’t get an education. And you’re shocked, even though it’s information that I knew... maybe that’s why the book become as big as it did, because now it’d also become a history about feminism, to see what kind of female journey we’ve had.” Vera’s defiance of her father and insistence that she be allowed to go to Oxford is well noted, and this level of independence is something that Alicia isn’t a stranger to herself – at the age of 15 she moved from Gothenburg to Stockholm to attend dance school, and in doing so lived alone in an entirely new city. Considering that Testament of Youth was written 15 years after the end of the war, Alicia has been “thinking about that thing, about someone trying to look back on themselves ten years later. 11 years ago I moved to Stockholm by myself. And I look at 15-year-olds now and I think, how did I do that? “But actually when I look back... I knew people who had applied to ballet school in Gothenburg in the years before me, the girls who got in, they did it. So I knew for years that if I tried to do it when I was 15, that if I got in, I was probably going to go. So I was prepared, in a way. “I think young teenagers are more able to do much more than you think.” She adds: “It’s a hard thing for me to say that I was independent, but I guess I was. It’s hard to give credit to yourself sometimes. But I really admire Vera and I hope that I will have her kind of drive, hopefully.” Speaking to Alicia, you get the impression that this drive and determination is something that she and her character share. She tells me, in fact and in an extremely off-hand way, that she “auditioned for theatre school twice and I got into law school. I had a high school diploma but I went whilst I was doing my theatre training. I did some extra maths courses and things.
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