Newspaper article International New York Times

Alicia Vikander Enjoys Her Moment ; the Swedish Actress Is Suddenly the Film World's New Big Thing

Newspaper article International New York Times

Alicia Vikander Enjoys Her Moment ; the Swedish Actress Is Suddenly the Film World's New Big Thing

Article excerpt

The Swedish actress is suddenly the film world's new big thing.

"I could stop traffic," Alicia Vikander said, sliding out of a banquette at Koi in the Trump SoHo New York as a roomful of diners collectively paused, forks aloft, and gaped.

The Swedish actress was commenting on the safety-orange Victoria Beckham trousers adorning her whisper-thin physique. But the unintentional reference to her own ravishing physicality -- the gamin bone structure, that sullen pout, those velvety fawn eyes -- would not be lost on moviegoers in thrall to one of her latest creations, be it Ava, the exquisite embodiment of artificial intelligence in "Ex Machina"; Gaby Teller, the Courreges-mod '60s spy in "The Man From U.N.C.L.E.," due in August; or Vera Brittain, the protofeminist British pacifist in "Testament of Youth," which was released in Britain in January and is opening in June in the United States.

Ms. Vikander, 26, is enjoying what they call a Moment. Designers want to dress her, as witnessed by the Nicolas Ghesquiere couture she wore at the Cannes Film Festival and the Met Gala as the new face of Louis Vuitton. Women want to look like her, tracking down the European beauty brands (Hudsalva skin ointment, anyone?) said to heighten her honeyed glow.

And filmmakers want to partner her with their most bankable leading men. In her expanding list of dreamy on-screen swains: Dane DeHaan and Christoph Waltz in "Tulip Fever," about a 17th-century Dutch love triangle; Eddie Redmayne in "The Danish Girl," about the first man to undergo sex reassignment surgery; and Michael Fassbender (the beau whose existence she refused to confirm despite abundant circumstantial photographic evidence) in "The Light Between Oceans," about a lighthouse-dwelling Australian couple who rescue a baby from a drifting rowboat.

How does it feel being a sensation?

"Things don't happen overnight," she said, leveling her fluttery gaze. Ms. Vikander's restrained warmth can freeze over in a nanosecond when questions get uncomfortable. "It's been three years since I've done some of those films, and I'm just happy that they're going to get an audience."

Opening in the Edwardian spring of 1914, "Testament of Youth," adapted from Brittain's canonical memoirs, recounts her coming-of- age amid the specter of World War I as she prepares for the Oxford entrance exam against her parents' wishes. Sulking in upper-middle- class comfort in sylvan Derbyshire, she is doted on by a triumvirate of strapping boys -- her brother, Edward (played by Taron Egerton), and his friends Victor Richardson (Colin Morgan) and Roland Leighton (Kit Harington) -- eager to test their manhood on the front lines.

Vera supports them at first. But when Roland -- their love unfurling in resplendent poetry and clandestine kisses on chaperoned outings -- goes to France, she abandons her studies and volunteers as a nurse. The seeds of Vera's pacifism are sown while confronting a loss of such staggering magnitude that had she been writing a novel, her editor might have suggested toning it down.

"Even though I knew of the special revolution of women that happened very quickly because of the First World War, to read this young woman's own words and to feel so connected -- you know, she felt so modern," Ms. Vikander said in a throaty British accent -- one part, dialect coaches; the other, London living. During filming she carried a copy of the last letter Roland wrote to Vera. "She felt like a girl I could have a coffee with, with the same kind of ideas and thoughts that I have nowadays."

The producer Rosie Alison, the film's driving force, and its director, James Kent, had imagined their Vera as outspoken, candid and unapologetically romantic, and after meeting Ms. Vikander, the role was essentially hers.

"She has this wonderful determination and willfulness, and a passionate, fierce intelligence," Ms. …

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