San Sebastián: Alicia Vikander on ‘Submergence,’ Modern Love and Women in Cinema

Vikander, Wim Wenders present 'Submergence' at its European premiere in San Sebastián

Alicia Vikander TIFF
Michelle Quance/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

In an early flashback in “Submergence,” Wim Wenders’ latest film starring Alicia Vikander and James McAvoy, McAvoy’s James More, a British spy, jogs manfully past Vikander’s Danielle Flinders on a romantic Atlantic beach in France.

He suggests lunch. And that is about the last time in their courtship and seduction that he, a prototype man of action, really makes the moves. It’s Danny who keeps him waiting for lunch, because of her work, moves their table conversation from professional to personal, squeals “chicken!” when she has opened her hotel bedroom door and he doesn’t react, pulls him gracefully into her bedroom; and leads in their foreplay.

That, Vikander said presenting the film at San Sebastian with Wenders, was however par for the course for modern love. “Maybe for a young generation that is reality in the sense that it can be both ways. It’s about personality not gender.”

At Friday’s press conference, dressed immaculately in a white top and high-waisted black trousers, Vikander came across as lively, charming, and multi-lingual – in the film she plays a half-Swedish half-Australian marine biologist with a touch of English ancestry. About the first thing she said at San Sebastián that she knew some Spanish.

Vikander will soon star in the newest iteration of the video-game property “Tomb Raider,” which should take her far greater global stardom. But, at San Sebastian, Spanish journalists were as interested in grilling her about her opinions on women in cinema as her Hollywood fame. When asked how women’s presence in cinema had changed, she delivered a carefully measured view.

“I remember when ‘The Hunger Games,’ came out and you saw a female actress take center stage and prove it could be a good film, but also a huge commercial success.”

She went on: “Over the last few years, the awareness of the lack of balance has made people think differently and open their eyes to look for opportunity for everyone. Like with all these big subjects, I’m positive. I think there is progress and that it continues.”

Although Vikander has been on screens large and small since 2002, Vikander first gained major international recognition in 2014-15 with a hat trick of critically lauded films, “Testament of Youth,” “Ex Machina,” and “The Danish Girl.” Since that time the actress has pursued a conscientious mix of indie/art-house and big budget blockbusters. That diversity of roles may not have been open to an actress in the past, Wenders observed Friday at a San Sebastián Festival press conference.

For her supporting role in the 2016 trans-drama “The Danish Girl,” Vikander received her first Academy Award nomination and win.  As for having the phrase “Oscar-winning actress” now pinned before her name, Vikander stayed humble saying: “It still feels very new to me to hear those words. I grew up in a small town in Sweden and watched the Oscars at 2am with mom every year, it was a window to a different universe.”

“Submergence” is produced by American A Lila 9th Productions, France’s Backup Media, Germany’s Neue Road Movies, Spain’s Morena Films and international film group Umedia, and opens the 65th San Sebastián Film Festival Friday night. It’s the highest-profile festival in the Spanish-speaking world, has a significant industry presence. But that didn’t faze Wenders.

“The pressure of the opening film doesn’t really concern me,” the director said before further dismissing any concerns over criticisms of his films. “I beg your pardon but I don’t read my reviews. I read reviews of other people’s films but with mine I just ask my wife.” He said that while good reviews can over-inflate your ego, bad ones “make you feel like s***t, and I think it’s best not to feel either.”

In addition to her upcoming turn as the iconic Lara Croft, Vikander will feature alongside Bill Skarsgård in the Finnish/Polish animated co-production “Moomins and the Winter Wonderland.” The movie is based on a series of Swedish children’s books written by Tove Jansson in the 1940’s. In a statement, the actress reminisced that, “Growing up, Moomins was my favorite book.”

As for her next live action role, Vikander will feature in Ben Wheatley’s upcoming fantasy feature “Freak Shift,” where she will work along side fellow “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” alum Armie Hammer, and “American Honey” star, Sasha Lane.