The Girl from Sweden
Hollywood's latest It girl Alicia Vikander lands plum role in The Man From U.N.C.L.E. after Skype chat with director Guy Ritchie
One of Hollywood's hot new commodities burst onto the scene with her Oscar-nominated historical drama A Royal Affair just three years ago.
Now Alicia Vikander has starred in one of this year's best-reviewed movies, Ex Machina, is shooting the new Jason Bourne flick opposite Matt Damon and just wrapped The Danish Girl, Eddie Redmayne's follow-up to his Best Actor Oscar win for The Theory Of Everything.
Her latest and most mainstream offering so far is The Man From U.N.C.L.E., which opens here tomorrow.
In the spy adventure based on the 60s TV show set against the Cold War, CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and his KGB counterpart (Armie Hammer) are forced to collaborate to save the world from nuclear disaster.
Vikander plays Gaby Teller, an East German auto mechanic who is used as bait to flush out her father. He is Hitler's favourite scientist and his weaponised invention is what the bad guys are after.
At the Claridge's hotel in London, the 26-year-old Swedish actress is tiny in person, poised and elegant, dressed in - no surprise - Louis Vuitton, for whom she is the French fashion house's latest muse.
How did you get this role?
I was shooting a film in Australia and my agents called me and said, (The Man From U.N.C.L.E. director) Guy (Ritchie) wants to Skype with you tomorrow.
I got quite nervous, but Guy is just the most easy guy ever. He was like "oh, is that a boat behind you?"
Because I was sitting close to the harbour and I was like "yeah".
And he was like "oh, is that a cat in your room?"
So I had 15 minutes talking to Guy and mostly about boats and cats.
I was like, "I'm prepared, I really want to talk about the part."
And he was like "no, we don't need to talk about the film."
And then he actually flew me over for 20 hours to Los Angeles and I met him and Tom Cruise, who was attached to the film then.
My agent called and I was like, "so when am I doing my audition tape?"
And he said they just called and I apparently had the part. I had never just done a meeting in my life and gotten a part.
How did you get on with your male co-stars Cavill and Hammer?
They're the most down-to-earth and lovely guys. We all became very good friends.
We shot a lot of film in Italy. Already in the mornings, we just discussed where to go for dinner every night.
We went on Vespas in Rome and we went to Pompeii when we were in Naples.
Between takes we wanted to hang out, so Armie taught Guy the ukulele and guitar while we were shooting the film. We had country songs going on that we learnt between takes and I was like, "I can't play the guitar, but I also want to be part of the band."
So they brought a little triangle for me and I was part of the band in the end.
Tell us more about the car chase scene.
I did not tell Guy that I didn't have a driver's licence until I got the part.
I got to drive those quite amazing vintage cars in this film and I had a lot of lessons on the studio lot. The stunt drivers I worked with had all come off Fast And Furious 4, 5, 6, 7.
The first day of shooting was the actual car chase. I said, 'What is that?'
And they all kind of laughed and said, "Eell, that is your car." It was one of those old Trabants and they had built (what looked) almost like a wrestling cage put on the car.
And then they had apparently pulled all the wires through so we had this little man sitting with his knees up and helmet and driving the car on top of me.
So I actually was able to sit in it and it felt like I was on the biggest roller coaster.
I was in it and he did all of the 180s in these tiny little alleys.
I hadn't really thought about the fact that it might be dangerous. I really just enjoyed it because I don't even drive.
What do you like to do when you are not working?
I love to travel. Meeting up with my family and friends.
I love to cook so I normally try to host dinner parties for my friends. I think it's easiest to do things that you can make for a lot of people so a big moussaka, chili or pasta. Things that you can make in big bowls.
How director Guy Ritchie casts the net
With his signature directorial style of snappy dialogue, fast action, sharp camera movements and a driving score, Guy Ritchie is the ideal man for the big-screen remake of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
The movie is filled with glamorous locations (thanks to a 10-day shoot in Naples), vintage cars, mod costumes and a gorgeous cast.
On leaving such a distinctive mark on his body of work, the 46-year-old Englishman told M during an interview at Claridge's hotel: "Film-making to me has to be both made by a committee, and at the same you need a despot in the room."
His credits include Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels (1998), Snatch (2000) and the two Sherlock Holmes movies in 2009 and 2011.
"I just do what I do because I am comfortable doing it and my instincts take me that way. But I would like to think that there is an accent."
Even his casting process follows a certain pattern. He said: "Most auditions consist of me having a conversation with actors and very rarely is it about the film, but it's mostly to do with, is that actor on the same page as myself?
"So with Alicia (Vikander), I think we had several Skype sessions over a month or so. And she kept popping up at different beaches around Australia.
"But I saw her in A Royal Affair and I thought she was divine in that, so I was just very keen to do something with her."
And he certainly went with the flow even over US actor Armie Hammer's Russian accent, which the latter mostly picked up from YouTube.
Ritchie said: "Armie's grandfather was Russian and that was enough credibility for me. His attempt to speak in a Russian accent during the screen test, he just went with it, and was very convincing to me."
Lastly, how did he manage to find all those vintage cars showcased in The Man From U.N.C.L.E.?
"Car enthusiasts," he said.
"All you need to do is put an ad in the paper for a particular type of car and before you know it, you have got US$23m (S$32.5m) worth of cars.
"One we used (on loan) was worth US$35m or something. It was a Ferrari GTO and people got terribly excited about it.
"We bought tons of other Ferraris and Jaguars, by the way. We must have had 50 mechanics working full-time to make sure those cars worked."
Sweden isn't just responsible for Volvo and Ikea, but also Alicia Vikander and these other exports.
Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (2015)
Child 44 (2015)
Run All Night (2015)
Avengers: Age Of Ultron (2015)
The Expendables 3 (2014)
The Giver (2014)
Rock Of Ages (2012)