Q&A: 'Anna Karenina' up-and-comer Alicia Vikander on Keira Knightley, corsets, Denmark's 'A Royal Affair'

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Image Credit: Laurie Sparham

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander has everything going for her as an up-and-coming ingenue: a softly beautiful face that gleams pink-cheeked innocence, solid acting chops, and a modest, European approach to Hollywood far more wise than her 24 years.

In Joe Wright’s film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s late 19th century Russia-set novel Anna Karenina, out in theaters Friday, she stars as 18-year-old Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Alexandrovna Shcherbatskaya (ok, it’s easier to say “Kitty), betrayed by Keira Knightley’s dark-haired adulterer Anna Karenina when the older beauty sets her aristocratic eagle eyes on the object of Kitty’s affection, Count Alexei Kirillovich Vronsky, played by blonde, pucker-lipped Aaron Taylor-Johnson.

EW talked to Vikander about working with Knightley and Taylor-Johnson, wearing those amazingly cinched-in and ornate corseted dresses in the film, and starring in another period drama as different kind of royalty, the Danish queen Caroline Matilda, alongside Mads Mikkelsen (aka the villain in 2006 James Bond romp Casino Royale), in A Royal Affair, Denmark’s official foreign film entry for next year’s Oscars.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What was it like working with Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Anna Karenina? There’s so much complicated dancing and betrayal, and betrayal while dancing, in the movie.
ALICIA VIKANDER: That’s something in the entire film, that Joe wanted to bring out, the movement, the choreography. We rehearsed the choreographed and blocked scenes for three weeks. Keira and Aaron are just brilliant, intelligent actors, and I was fortunate to work with them. It’s a very emotional scene, that dance scene. It was hard to learn all that choreography. Everything kind of flows.

What was it like filming the movie as both a play set within a play, and those lush exteriors? It’s interesting, Joe Wright deciding to set part of the film on a set.
There’s an aura that hits you when you step on a stage. The feeling to be on a stage is different. I remember the first time I was on set was so grand. I admired the vision to put the whole thing on stage.

You play Kitty, who is so innocent at first in the movie, then goes through rejection, betrayal, and eventually matures.
I love that line I say, “I was so silly back then.” And it’s only been a couple of months. The rejection, but also the humiliation of that time, the social rules. To get that rejection in front of everyone’s eyes. She was so young. Through that rejection, she became more humble and able to mature through that. As a young girl, she still matured. I remember from the age of 17 — and I’m 24 now — that your experiences color you. You grow up in just a few years. She’s just an 18-year-old girl.

How was it playing a woman bound by 19th century conventions versus modern day womanhood?
We’ve come a long way now, but even if the social rules are different, they still exist. It’s obvious that women don’t have the same positions in jobs or are able to express themselves as much. We’re not really there yet.

What about wearing those amazing corseted, petticoated dresses? Costume designer Jacqueline Durran had such a particular vision.
To have Jacqueline come in every week, and do a new fitting on me. It felt like Cinderella. I loved that from the beginning they really invited us actors to discuss details on the costumes. Together we decided to make Kitty’s dresses a bit shorter in the beginning, a sign of younger girls at that time. I was able to run on my tiptoes. With more foundation, later, we made the skirts down to the floor.

How was it playing a queen in Danish Oscar foreign film entry A Royal Affair? Mads Mikkelsen, who’s so well respected, plays your lover, a physician.
First of all, the story is what captured me. Even though the story is Danish, it’s a novel written by one of my favorite Swedish authors. A love story. Just the fact that it’s true. To have Mads, I think I’ve seen most of his films before. Nikolaj [director Nikolaj Arcel] is a fantastic director. For him to do this grand film with no budget at all. He’s an emotionally intelligent director.

In Scandinavian culture, there’s a concept, “Jante’s Law,” about being modest, almost to a fault. You’ve been touted as an up-and-coming actress. What’s it like, to get that attention in Hollywood?
It’s the biggest compliment ever. I’m very happy. Being out here, maybe I imagine people to be a certain way. People I’ve been surrounded with here, Focus Features, Working Title, everyone has the passion of making great films. I’ve been very well taken care of, and have read some fantastic scripts. I would love to continue working here, and also be back in Europe. Being humble, what I love about this industry, you go into a new production and a new story. You’re afraid all the time that you won’t get work. It keeps you humble.

What other directors would you love to work with?
I would love to work with Lars Von Trier, Terrence Malick, Tarantino. I would love to find new filmmakers that inspire me. Our profession is so much about passion. Much of the time you look around and get emotional and get inspired by people around you.

For more film news

Read more:
MOVIE REVIEW Anna Karenina (2012)
Keira Knightley in ‘Allure': ‘I don’t mind exposing my [breasts] because they’re so small’

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