THE DANISH GIRL, directed by Tom Hooper, could not be timelier. Based on an incredible true story, the film centers on Einar (later Lili) Wegener (Eddie Redmayne), the first transgender person to receive gender reassignment surgery. Gerda Wegener (Alicia Vikander) is supportive of Einar’s transition to Lili, and stays by Lili’s side throughout the entire ordeal, acting as her support system even after their marriage is over. A story of strength and acceptance, THE DANISH GIRL seems ripped from today’s headlines.
This film has been hanging in production limbo for over a decade; at one point Gwyneth Paltrow and Nicole Kidman were attached to play Gerda and Einar, respectively. But it took a time such as this, where the movement for social change and acceptance of the transgender community is at its peak, for the movie to finally get produced.
Eddie Redmayne, of course, gives a multi-dimensional, powerhouse performance. It’s amazing how he transitioned from his Oscar-winning role as Stephen Hawking in last year’s THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING to playing Lili Wegener within a matter of months. But Vikander is the emotional center of the film, acting as a representative for the audience, allowing us to see the events through her eyes. Many times, I found myself asking and hoping that I would be as supportive as her character, Gerda. I would argue that the title, THE DANISH GIRL, could just as easily be referring to Gerda as it is Lili.
As you can tell from the interview below, Lauren V and I are HUGE fans of Alicia Vikander. Since first seeing her in A ROYAL AFFAIR, and more recently in EX-MACHINA, my favorite film of the year, she has become one of my favorite actresses working today. And now even more so after having such a fantastic interview with her. She is having an incredible year, with hit movie after hit movie. Not only that, she is getting major award buzz for her role in THE DANISH GIRL and EX-MACHINA. So far, she has been nominated for a SAG Award, double Golden Globes, and won a WAFCA award, the critic association of which I am a member, for Best Supporting Actress (EX-MACHINA).
Check out our interview below, where we talk about how important and timely THE DANISH GIRL is in support of the transgender community, how she first met Eddie Redmayne, and, of course, her performance in EX-MACHINA!
Lauren B. (Cloture Club): Nice to meet you, Alicia! We are so excited to talk to you! Actually, three years ago, when Lauren [Veneziani} and I first met… in one of our first conversations, she was like, “There’s this actress named Alicia Vikander, and she is so awesome!”
Lauren B: Yes, and she even gave me A ROYAL AFFAIR on Blu-Ray for Christmas last year. So as you can see, we are big fans and are excited to get to talk to you.
Alicia: That means so much! Thank you so much.
Lauren V: Congratulations on this movie! It’s such a great role for you, with many emotional scenes. Are there any scenes in particular that took a toll on you more than others?
Alicia: There were several, but it was so helpful to have someone like Eddie [Redmayne]. He was always pushing me to new directions. It was also fine to fail with him and Tom [Hooper]. That is when you start doing interesting things because you dare to push yourself further. When I read the script for the first time, one scene in particular affected me. That makes you treasure it. And we did it a few weeks after we started. You build up nerves because you want to get the right level of emotionality so that audiences have a similar reaction to what you had when you read it. It’s when Gerda comes back, in Paris, after the gallery… the immense love and support she has for the person she loves. It’s a scene where [she portrays] the fear of actually losing the person she loves, but it’s also the scene that shows the fear of losing the closeness to the person she loves. I think listening to the line – because she is so supportive and unselfish and I really think she is quite extraordinary – and the line where she says, “I need my husband back.” It was a lot to play with in a sense that she is putting things to words that she knows doesn’t exist. She has been the greatest supporter of knowing who Lili truly is, but it’s also the fear of realizing the change in this relationship. They need to find their new ground in this journey now. That is a big fear.
Lauren B: Building off of what you said about Eddie, had you two met before filming? And if not, what bonding activities did you do before filming?
Alicia: Have you met him?
Lauren B: Yes! We actually got the chance to interview him for THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING.
Alicia: He’s the sweetest guy ever! So we met… I was going to present an award at the BAFTAs. I love being in front of a camera, but as soon as I have to do public speaking… I’m like [makes a freaking out noise]. I only had to learn one line! So I was paired with Eddie Redmayne, and we have some common friends who were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s okay! He’s the coolest guy. He’s the best’ I walked in and I was SO nervous. I turned around and Eddie was like, “Are you nervous?!” That was the first time we had met, and I was like, “Thank God, me too!” We took hands and it was a bit of an icebreaker. We walked out and just laughed over the fact we were so nervous. We even had them throw our lines on the teleprompter. We didn’t know we were going to meet a few months later for [THE DANISH GIRL] reading. He’s a very, very open person and so generous as a person and an actor.
Of course, there are situations when you make a film and are put next to someone the first day and are supposed to be best friends or lovers and you, of course, have to play that because you don’t know each other. But with Eddie, I really enjoyed working with him from the first day. It’s nice when it’s like that because I immediately had a chemistry with him that not only makes it easier, but more fun, too. He’s such a hardworking person, and when you are in there and doing the scene, of course you give it your all and let everything else go. But he’s like me; as soon as the take is over you can go have a coffee and have a chat about what you did over the weekend. Also because your social life goes away when you make a film like this since you don’t have any time off, it’s nice when you have someone that you can be relaxed with and leave your character for a while.
Everyone is different, and I love being in character, but I also need to get a bit of distance and let it go.
Lauren V: Can you talk about the timeliness of this movie? What do you think is the importance of this film for the transgender community?
Alicia: It’s interesting because now that we have done press, there are a lot of journalists that have brought this up. Gail, our producer has worked, I think, 14-15 years to try to get this film made. It has been tough to raise money because of the subject. Tom read it maybe seven years ago. Eddie has been on it maybe four years. I’m the newbie; I’ve only been on it for less than two years. It’s interesting that even when I came on, this was not a film that was of the time. To know that there has been a bit of a media and social change has been extremely wonderful to see. This film has been so above all with the amount of immense generosity Eddie and I have found from the transgender community, or friends and family I met while preparing for Gerda has been amazing. It has been so educational for me knowing that a lot of the issues Gerda and Lili go through in our film are sadly very present to people in the community now, even a hundred years later. Knowing that there is a conversation that has started and awareness…. to be at The White House today is a huge honor. There will be a lot of people there that have put years into raising awareness on the subject and if our film can be part of bringing awareness, that is of course wonderful.
I think we need to spread more information and awareness and to start conversations about [transgender issues]. I have also noticed with journalists I meet, just a few months ago, they were like, ‘I don’t know how to put this to words.’ Already now, I don’t meet that as much. I went on the same journey. I look at gender in a new way, myself. I see it as something that isn’t a straight line, it is fluid. I love that I question my own femininity and masculinity. I don’t know what side of the spectrum I am. There are a lot of films that are special to me, but this one, with the amount of connection to people that have gone through their own personal experiences… what I learned is something I will really take with me.
Lauren B: I really liked that this film focused on a family member of a transgender person. A lot of times films and stories focus on the transgendered person, and rightfully so. But, a lot of times their family members are left out. When you were talking to family members in your research, how did the individuals respond?
Alicia: That was a big thing. What you realize is every single story is completely different because they are human beings. But all of the people I met… they all wanted me to understand and tell me that it was tough and they are happy to see that with this film. They, of course, are the biggest support and love for the person transitioning. Like you said, rightfully so, but sometimes it got lonely because people forgot they were transitioning too, they were going through a change. So it meant a lot to know this story could tell their story too.
Lauren V: For BURNT, I read that Harvey Weinstein saw one of your films and said he had to have you in one of his films. So that part was written for you and wasn’t originally in the script. Is that true?
Alicia: I think he had seen A ROYAL AFFAIR or something, but then I had done a film called TULIP FEVER before BURNT, which he is a producer on. I had finished that and was about to start THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS, Derek Cianfrance’s film. I had met John Wells, the director, and I sat down because I am a big foodie… I talked about food for like an hour. I was so jealous because he had been around just eating for two months, finding “inspiration.” I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is my new favorite [job]!’ Sadly, I just snuck around. I had two days.
Lauren V: You didn’t even have scenes where you had food, did you?
Alicia: No, I was walking backstage like, ‘Look at these pans!’ I got really into the pans. I had been introduced to John because he did a film six months before that. He did a screening and I went to the screening and met him. It was wonderful because they called and asked me if I wanted to come in. I have heard that too, but I’m not aware because when I read the script it had that scene.
Lauren B: EX-MACHINA is my favorite movie of the year. I LOVE that movie. I interviewed Alex Garland and he was really cool to talk to…
Alicia: He is probably the most intelligent man I’ve ever met, and the coolest. I actually had dinner with him last weekend because we are almost neighbors. He’s the sweetest teddy bear when you get to know him.
Lauren B: He gave you a really great compliment because I asked him whether he thought Ava ever loved Caleb. He said he doesn’t think Ava ever did love Caleb, but said you think otherwise and have a really intelligent answer for that.
Alicia: Really? The thing is, we talked so much… As an actor, I want to ask as many questions to get answers. It’s wonderful to work with an auteur; I mean, [Alex] wrote and directed it. You want to make sure you [are his vision]. But, of course, in the end I need to be the one knowing more about the character. That’s the transition with the script. The actor needs to be the one that knows the most about the character in the end. You take that on and by the end we let it go. I think by the end we never decided.
It’s such an interesting film. You can find new things all the time. I kind of did, myself, while acting it… changing what I felt and thought. Also working with Domhnall [Gleeson] was great. I love that Ava opens up for him. But if you truly believe she could have a consciousness, she’s also a girl trapped in a box. That changes things. If you see a film about a girl trapped in a box and being looked at, your moral views change a lot from that perspective. That is what I played with a lot. It was hilarious doing interviews for that film because very single journalist that came in would have different points of view on Ava. It made it really fun to do press.
Lauren V: I read the new Bourne sequel is filming a bit in DC.
Alicia: It’s funny because this is my first day in DC ever. I will come back to film for five days. It’s going to be cold!
Lauren B: Thanks so much for talking to us today, Alicia!