It’s been a decade since Alicia Vikander burst onto the international scene thanks to her turn as an (almost) reformist Danish queen in the 2012 Berlinale winner and Oscar nominee A Royal Affair.
During those years, the Swedish actress has won an Oscar (for 2015’s The Danish Girl), joined one major franchise (2016’s Jason Bourne), put on Angelina Jolie’s dusty vest for another (2018’s Tomb Raider reboot), married Magneto/Steve Jobs/Macbeth (Michael Fassbender, in 2017) and, in early 2021, had a son.
This year, she returns to Cannes — with her 1-year-old in tow — with Irma Vep, Olivier Assayas’ miniseries remake for A24 of his own 1996 cult film, which is itself about a director trying to remake a film (Louis Feuillade’s silent classic Les Vampires). As she admits, it’s a “very meta” project that marks her return to the small screen after having made a name for herself in Swedish soap operas.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter from the U.K. set of period drama Firebrand (she plays Catherine Parr, the sixth and final wife of Henry VIII, alongside Jude Law), Vikander, who now resides with her family in Lisbon, discusses her first Cannes visit (and her first couture gown), explains why she’s not like the disillusioned movie star she plays in Irma Vep (no assistant, for starters) and looks back fondly on the past 10 years.
You’ve been to Cannes a few times. Do you have any favorite memories?
I think my biggest moment was probably the first time. I may have been to the Berlin Film Festival before that, but there’s something about Cannes. I still find it’s the festival where I experience the illusion of it — there’s something about the rosé and the Croisette. I think the first time I got to go, I had just finished A Royal Affair, and we were doing press there. I was invited to the Valentino Suite and I got dressed in a couture gown, and I had never touched a couture gown in my life. It freaked me out. But it was pretty cool.
Irma Vep is your first TV project in well over a decade. What’s it like returning to the small screen after such a long time?
I’ve actually longed to do this format for quite a while, because I think it’s proven itself over the past few years with incredible filmmakers, and especially the miniseries format. I like that it has an end. But you get the chance to be with characters and see your story develop from different angles and perspectives. I’ve been watching a lot of good TV series at the moment. I enjoy a lot of them, so I’ve been waiting for the right project to appear.
So how did this one come your way?
I met Olivier about six or seven years ago, and we created a natural friendship and saw each other when we were in the same town. At one of these lunches, he brought up the idea that he had been approached, I think by A24, about remaking Irma Vep. I was kind of surprised at first, but then it was just so interesting to hear him talk about it. He was like, “I’d love to revisit it, and I feel like I can continue and also find an end to this journey for a film that has been with me for a long time.” So we continued to develop it during the pandemic. Most of the people Olivier works with are friends of his, and he said he just wanted to have a good time and enjoy filmmaking and make something that honors what he loved, and I felt the same.
The original Irma Vep is about a disillusioned movie star. You’re not playing a fictional version of yourself, are you?
Ha, no! I actually found it quite interesting, as I’m very different. Obviously, we’re in the same world, and there are a lot of things I recognize. But I very much go to work and then want to have my private life. I’ve never had an assistant that follows me around and makes coffee. I’ve seen it a lot, and part of me has always been intrigued by it. At the same time, [my character] is at a crossroads in her life, where work has been everything for her — and I can relate to that. But she’s become something of a lone wolf, and I’ve always been afraid of that. I still have my closest friends and family from back home. And most of the people surrounding me in my private life are not in the film industry — except my husband, of course.
In the original, Maggie Cheung plays a character called Maggie Cheung. There was no temptation to call your character Alicia?
No, but I thought that was very interesting, as it’s just so very meta. We were talking while Olivier was writing it, and I was like, they’re probably going to comment on the fact that I’m taking over an actress’ part, but then my character Mira is freaking out because in the series she’s doing a remake of a film where a Chinese actress has already played this role, which [the fictitious director] René did earlier in his career.
You mentioned A Royal Affair earlier. Looking back now, almost 10 years later, how do you view the industry?
I think, if anything, I feel like the industry has become smaller, but in a nice way. There’s a certain kind of familiarity. Even in the beginning, I was sometimes quite down in the last week on set, because you have this very close contact with people, share an experience, and then you leave and everyone goes to another place. It’s a bit of that magic that I hope we can capture, and that’s what I love about what we do. And it’s the same even with journalists. You recognize faces, and you sit down in another hotel room and have another chat about something else. And I really like that. And even now, I’m working with Jude [Law], and he was in my first English-speaking film, Anna Karenina, and then 10 years later we get to meet again, and it’s another journey. I think that’s my favorite thing about it.
Has your career taken the path you expected or wanted?
Definitely not as I expected! I didn’t expect to be here today and still get the feeling I have just being on set. Today was a really fun day, and a lot of us were saying, “Oh wow, this is our day job.” And that’s how I felt working with Olivier. As I said, now I’m working with people who I thought I would never meet again. I think more and more it’s about the people and the connections and the relationships you create over the years. And that’s what I hope to continue. Olivier was the one who kind of said it, that I just want to have a good time.
You launched Vikarious Productions a few years ago and are executive producing Irma Vep. Has producing helped you take more control over your acting roles and enabled you to choose those where you expect to have a good time?
I think that was kind of a natural thing. There was a project that I’ve been involved in, and directors and producers saw my hunger to develop and let me be a part of it. So it kind of came out of a very natural state of where I was in my career.
Are you producing anything else at the moment?
COVID put a lot of things on pause. But yes, I have about three or four scripts developing.
Sorry for the personal question, but how is motherhood treating you?
It’s the best project! It’s great. It’s pretty extraordinary.
And has becoming a parent changed your attitude toward work at all?
I think it’s probably a very classic thing. I’ve found a joy in the sense that I can narrow down why I want to do something. A child, I think, does that, and your priorities become very clear. And it’s just made me happier.