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Compelling, human and relevant to this generation — Alicia Vikander is Lara Croft in Tomb Raider

Alicia Vikander as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, releasing today
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Alicia Vikander takes over from Angelina Jolie to kick ass as Lara Croft in Tomb Raider, the latest edition in the videogame-to-film franchise, that releases today. A chat with Vikander, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2015 for Danish Girl and who we have loved in films as diverse as The Man from U.N.C.L.E and The Light Between Oceans…  

What was your reaction when you were first approached to take 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 the film they wanted to make. I realised that 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 to 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 (Richard Croft, played by Dominic West) whom she hasn’t even been able to mourn because he had disappeared when Lara 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.

For Roar (Uthaug, director), it was always about telling a good dramatic story in the context of a huge action-adventure. It’s the best of both worlds. He always balanced story and character with the big action set pieces
 

You’ve done big movies before, but Tomb Raider takes it to a whole new level. Was embarking on a production of this scale an adventure in itself?

My mother (Maria Fahl Vikander), who’s an actress, introduced me to the world of theatre and film. I loved independent, art house 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 in a film. I come from a dancing background, and playing Lara involved 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. What can you tell us about the character and the qualities Dominic West brings to that role?

Dominic was the first person I thought of for the role when I read the script. In fact, I think I might have first come up with the idea of casting him as Richard Croft because he had played my dad before, in the film Testament of Youth. Dominic 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 artefacts. You understand why Lara, who has been introduced to these stories by her dad, eventually falls in love with those mythologies. So, Dominic was perfect for Richard. 

How did you find working with Daniel Wu (who plays Lu Ren, the boat captain who becomes Lara’s ally in her quest to solve the mystery behind her father’s disappearance)?

I think Daniel is a standout actor and a wonderful addition to the film. I was also impressed by all the stunt work Daniel has done on his television series Into the Badlands. It was inspiring as I prepared to do my stunts in Tomb Raider. I had a great time working with him. Daniel’s Lu Ren reminds me of a young Han Solo in the way things just seem to fall into place for him. Lu Ren is an outspoken, no-fluff kind of hero. 
 
 

It goes back to how I fell in love with adventure films when I was a child. Walton Goggins (who plays antagonist Mathias Vogel) 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. It was magical
 

Lara has a very different dynamic with Mathias Vogel, portrayed by Walton Goggins. What was it like playing that and working opposite Walton?

Walton makes Mathias feel very modern and not just pure evil. His performance makes you really understand Mathias’s motivations and feelings about Lara and his assignment. While Mathias is a definite threat to Lara, they have an unexpected connection, despite being on opposite sides. They both have doubts about the mythic tomb of Queen Himiko that has brought them both to this island, and Lara can connect with him on that level. But while exploring, she begins to question if she has done the right thing, and wonder if her dad might have been right all along that the tomb was cursed.

How does your director Roar Uthaug balance the demands of orchestrating a production of this size with the more intimate, character-driven moments?

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. 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 in the film, or a moment off-set that was especially fun or memorable?

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 shared that obsession!

[Laughs] 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.

BECOMING LARA CROFT 

Alicia sweats it out in the gym to get the Lara Croft body
 

Alicia Vikander trained for months and added 10 pounds of extra muscle on her petite frame for Tomb Raider. The former ballet dancer worked out six days a week with Swedish health and wellness expert Magnus Lygdback, who advised the actress to cut back on her usual regimen of running, yoga and Pilates and replaced it with sessions of weightlifting and HIIT (High-intensity interval training), lots of mixed martial arts fighting and climbing. Vikander had to eat five meals a day just to stay fuelled — “It’s probably more food than I’ve ever eaten in my life!” she says — but discovered that the regimen left her ready and able for the running, climbing and jumping the role demanded. 

“I’ve had some of the stunt guys tell me recently, ‘Wow, you do everything yourself!” laughs Vikander. “I was like, ‘Well they told me to. I didn’t have to?!’ I mean, everything’s safe, but I’ve been learning a lot of new moves. I’ve really enjoyed being up on those wires. You get to run and jump on these big massive mattresses and you fly seven metres up in the air. It’s the elevated version of jumping on your parents’ bed!” 

Says director Roar Uthaug: “I wanted Alicia to do as many stunts as possible. She does a lot of the fighting, and the jumps. She’s been a real trouper. I’ve dragged her through cold water in the middle of the night, but she’s not a quitter.”

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