TheWrap’s Screening Series: After 15 years in development, Tom Hooper‘s transgender drama arrives amid headlines about Caitlyn Jenner, “Transparent” and big Oscar buzz
“I’ve pinched my arm a few times over the last couple years,” Alicia Vikander told moderator Sharon Waxman at TheWrap’s Award Screening of Tom Hooper‘s “The Danish Girl” at the Landmark Theater in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
The Swedish actress who shot to fame in 2012’s “A Royal Affair” is having the kind of year Jessica Chastain experienced in 2011: Vikander’s five 2015 U.S. releases include the critical indie smash “Ex Machina” and Hooper’s amazingly timely love story about the world’s first transgender surgery patient (played by last year’s Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne) and his/her astoundingly supportive wife (Vikander). The actress’ films have grossed more than $288 million worldwide this year, and the forthcoming Bourne sequel could make her more bankable yet.
All in all, it’s a good thing Vikander didn’t quit acting in 2009.
“I tried out for the Royal Theater School in Stockholm but didn’t make it, both times,” she told Waxman, TheWrap’s founder and editor in chief. “I was about to go to law school.”
Instead, this week, she joined co-star Eddie Redmayne and others from “The Danish Girl” at the White House for the Champions of Change event for LGBT artists. “That was cool,” said Vikander. “I was incredibly moved to see people who never in their lifetime thought they’d be able to be themselves, and now the White House honors them.”
In making the film, she said, “Eddie and I had an immense amount of support in the transgender community — friends, loved ones, people transitioning.”
There has been Oscar buzz for both Redmayne’s performance as painter Einar Wegener (who became the flirtatiously fetching Lili Elbe) as well as Vikander’s equally prominent turn as Gerda Wegener, an artist in her own right whose work is on display at Paris’ Centre Georges Pompidou and Denmark’s Arken Museum.
“It was one of those scripts I’d heard about,” Vikander said of the project that producer Gail Mutrux had been developing the project for 15 years. “But I was blown away, because I didn’t know that Gerda was also involved, that at the heart of the story is an extremely powerful love story. Lucinda [Coxon], our wonderful writer, had made her extremely unselfish, giving, brave, able to sacrifice things for the person she loves more than anything.
“In the end that doesn’t make her passive, it makes her very strong. She was a very ahead-of-her-time woman, not only an artist but a working woman.”
Facing a society full of thugs who beat him up and doctors who try to lock him in a madhouse, Einer/Lili needs a sympathetic spouse. “I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time thinking about gender, and I realized it’s extremely fluid,” Vikander said. “Because we had a lot of time [to rehearse], we experimented. People read me as female, but Tom and Eddie and I tried [scenes where] I played everything as male as I could — whatever that is! Gerda has a certain kind of strength to her, and it’s quite empowering, quite forward, and a lot of energy.”
Vikander also loved the film’s remarkable period costumes and design, particularly in the Paris scenes shot in Brussels. “Art Nouveau, that post-World War I era, was a time when the feminine aspect of fashion and architecture kind of exploded,” she said. “To have this film set in that world made a big difference.”
Though the real Mr. and Mrs. Wegener were a bit older than Redmayne and Vikander, and his many surgeries got condensed to a just a few, their story closely hews to their real life story, right down to historical details.
The couple’s beloved dog, played by a pooch named Pixie, actually resembles the Wegeners’ real pet. “We had some amazing takes where we were doing some amazingly intense [emotional] scenes, and the dog would be licking my face,” producer Mutrux said. “We cut out the takes Pixie stole.”
When an audience member asked what sex Pixie is, Vikander quipped, “It’s very fluid.”