VENICE — Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender, one of the world’s most fashionable couples, hit the Lido Thursday and insisted on talking, of all things, about the subject of their press conference: Derek Cianfrance’s “The Light Between Oceans,” in which they star and which world premieres at the Venice Festival.
Shot in 2014 on Cape Campbell, a tiny, wind-buffeted peninsula in New Zealand, “The Light Between the Oceans” was the film where the actors met, fell in love and have remained a couple ever since.
Fassbender and Vikander were keen to talk about their onscreen characters in “The Light Between Oceans,” an adaptation of M.L. Stedman’s bestseller of the same title. In it, they play an upstanding but shell-shocked WWI vet-turned-lighthouse keeper and his young wife, who is desperate to have a child after two miscarriages and after losing her two brothers in WWI. She and her husband have both, in a sense, been traumatised by death, by WWI.
One bright day, a rowing boat washes up on the beach right outside the lighthouse with on board a dead man and a live two-month baby girl, which they decide to pass it off as their new-born daughter. That decision leaves huge hostages to fortune.
But Fassbender and Vikander were less keen to talk about their private life together, despite some good-humored prompting..
“I have a question for Mr. Fassbender because I would like him to look into my eyes,” a bubbly Italian journalist started off the press conferences questions to laughter. She continued: “I think this is the very first role in which you play a family man. Is this a rehearsal?”
“Everything is a rehearsal,” Fassbender answered, but didn’t answer the more private question.
That said, they were candid about the challenges and pleasures of the film. The one biggest challenge of playing Isabel, Vikander said, was that she wasn’t a mother, She realised that acting wasn-t playing characters that were not herself. But though Isabel’s yearning was so “profound” that she could understand it, though she felt under pressure when playing the role that “half the audience” would think she was playing emotions she hadn’t experienced.
“I loved Tom, his moral compass, his strength. It’s a love story, but really a story about life. WWI was such a horrific war, though all wars are horrific. So we-re started with a place where war and death is coming with us. Isabel’s character is so full of life, future.
“If there was one thing to take away from the film it is forgiveness,” he added. Another, Fassbender said, about the question of parenting in a film where it is such a large issue, is: ”What you can offer the child, as opposed to what the child can offer you.”
“I knew I had to come in and work with these guys and give it my very best. But I was up for the game, but I was very nervous. I got people that picked me up when I fell and who pushed me. One of the first things Derek told me when I got into the room was: ‘I expect my actors to fail and I expect them to surprise me,’” Vikander recalled.
She continued: “Michael’s support in those scenes were a big part of me daring to go all the way, which was needed for the role of Isabel.”
Fassbender admitted of Vikander, who had yet to win her Best Supporting Actress Academy Award when she played Isabel, that “I was kind of scared when Alicia came. She was so fierce and hungry. It was something that it’s always a great thing to see in an actor who is coming on, getting an opportunity who hasn’t been well known yet.”
He went on: “I remember that from when I was starting, that hunger when really fresh actors come on the scene makes more established actors up their game.” he said. “I really felt like I had to get my shit together and just be there and be as present as she was and Derek is somebody who demands more and more and more.”
Cianfrance called “The Light Between Oceans” a “battle between truth and love.”
In Cianfrance’s third feature after he broke out with “Blue Valentine, then followed up with “The Place Beyond the Pines,” the ocean stands as a multiple metaphor, for forces beyond the star-crossed lovers control, a primal force and larger immensity, the director argued.
“This is a primal landscape where human nature and mother nature are one. There was a passage in the book that really devastated me, where Tom, the lighthouse keeper was holding his daughter’s hand and looking out into the ocean and seeing rocks that had been beaten by the ocean for hundreds of thousands of years,” Cianofrance said.
“Nothing that came before, in the eternity of time, or would come after, was more important to him than his daughter at that moment. Such moments may be insignificant over the course of time, but when you are living them they are momentous. I wanted to try and create that juxtaposition of scale.”
“I’ve taken it as my mission to tell human, family stories,” Cianfrance said at the press conference.
He had already talked eloquently to Variety about how he set out with “The Light Between Oceans,” a “addict of documentaries,” to become a documentarian of fiction. Cianfrance shot 209 hours of footage for the film, searching as he shot for a revelatory moment of truth.
He commented: “I have a real problem with fakery. When I work with my actors even the greatest actors in the world like Fassbender, Rachel Weiss, and Vikander, I’m looking for the acting to stop and life to begin.