We know Alicia Vikander’s dark skin and fine features, the couple she forms with Michael Fassbender and her role as the face of a major luxury brand. But her career as a Nordic, English-perfect actress had an elusive side so far. First destined for a career as a ballerina, the Swede finally followed in the footsteps of her mother, a famous theater actress. For the past fifteen years, the 33-year-old young woman has followed a path in the form of a paradox, between independent cinema (Pure, Blue Bayou) and successful franchises (Tomb Raider, Jason Bourne).
But at a time when French cinema is torn apart by the uncertain future of theaters in the face of competition from platforms, it is an auteur series produced by a powerful pay-TV channel, HBO, which offers Alicia Vikander perhaps his most interesting role to date. And since we are no longer close to a paradox, it is at the Cannes Film Festival that the first episodes of the serial version of Irma Vep – the story of the complicated filming of a remake of The Vampires, the serial of Louis Feuillade released in 1915 of which Irma Vep is one of the main characters – were screened.
Mira Harberg, the young star whom Alicia Vikander interprets in the series that Olivier Assayas took from his own film released in 1996, inevitably recalls the imagination of the celebrity carried away by the characters of Kristen Stewart in Sils Maria (2014) and Director’s Personal Shopper (2016). When we meet her in an impersonal suite of the Majestic, the actress in promotion, frozen in the luxury of her clothes and the coldness of the moment, merges strangely with her character. It will take her a little time to let her guard down and it is obviously by talking about cinema that she warms up.
The young woman had met the French filmmaker when he was preparing Personal Shopper. The two had hit it off over conversations about Bergman, and when they reunited for lunch some time later, the director broached the idea of adapting Irma Vep into a longer format. “I knew about the movie because my mom showed it to me when I was a teenager. Olivier asked me to be part of the project when he hadn’t started writing it, of course I said yes”, recalls the actress, who quotes L’Heure d’été (2008) and Sils Maria as important sources of inspiration.
“I harbored a certain guilt for not having hired Alicia on Personal Shopper, remembers the director, back in Paris where he is finishing the last episodes of the series. To redo Irma Vep, I needed to rely on the total commitment of an actress. A commitment that stems from this game of mirrors that involves shooting a film within the film and putting actors in the shoes of actors. “Because of her experience in theater and dance, Alicia has a very wide palette,” he adds. It can be lots of things. I knew she would be very fair in this role, which is a bit special. “There is indeed a kind of evidence in seeing her put on the black jumpsuit of the criminal of the Vampires and use the dance – the choreographies are signed Angelin Preljocaj – to better slip into her skin.
“As I was involved in the project from the beginning, the character of Mira [the American actress who takes over the role of Irma Vep] came quite naturally to me, underlines Alicia Vikander. I read the episodes one by one, as they were being written, and we talked a lot with Olivier. At the same time close and distant from Mira, a star frustrated by her love life and her career choices, Alicia Vikander has fun with the mise en abyme that forms the DNA of Irma Vep, the film and the series. “Mira and I are actors, we move in the same medium, but we are two different people and this is where the meta side of the series becomes interesting. Mira dresses in clothes and shoes that I also own – Nicolas Ghesquière, artistic director of the Louis Vuitton brand, of which Alicia Vikander is one of the faces, created the costumes for the character –, but she is American and I am a European who pretends to be lost in European culture…”
“Obviously, it’s a work of fiction that forces the line, she adds, but all the characters who participate in the filming of Vampires will draw on the neuroses of cinema. His eyes finally sparkle. “That’s what I love, Olivier is a very auteur French filmmaker, but he manages to make fun of both French cinema and cinema in general. »
Parachuted for five months among French stars whom she did not know before arriving on the set, the polyglot and polymorphous actress feels rather comfortable in this era when international productions, in search of exportability and profitability, allow it to play in any language – not just English (“People have finally learned to read subtitles!”). Irma Vep or The Stormbird (2019) in which she plays in Japanese, prove it. Moreover, a few hours before the Cannes screening, where the whole team is preparing to walk the red carpet, she is stamping her feet. “It’s so difficult to make films and series that when it’s going well, it’s quite magical. »