Alicia Vikander is dominating movie theaters, billboards and award nominations lately, with a stratospheric rise to fame she calls “completely surreal.” It’s been a fast ride indeed. Since she entered public consciousness with 2012’s A Royal Affair, Vikander has now become one of the most talked-about actresses in town. I can’t really get my head around reading my name or hearing of people asking about me,” she says. “I’m just kind of thrown out for a second. Growing up in Sweden, working even in English language or American films, that was like a far-away dream, almost like a fairytale land.” With Critics’ Choice, SAG and Globe noms for Ex Machina and The Danish Girl, Vikander can take her pick these days. She’s currently shooting the latest Bourne film starring Matt Damon, and has Derek Cianfrance’s The Light Between Oceans poised for release. In Oceans, Vikander and Michael Fassbender play a childless couple who find, and decide to keep, an apparently-orphaned baby. She describes the film as, “like a door opening for you to come into somebody’s life for a short while…I loved how it’s about the morals of life, of not knowing.”

What really grabbed you first about the Ex Machina script?

I’ve always loved that genre, that intelligent kind of sci-fi. I think by far, still I can say, it’s one of the best scripts I think I’ve ever read in my life. I was just blown away by how thrilling, how witty and funny and smart it was. It just kind of sucked me in. I was in the world while reading it. It’s also, with such few characters in really just one little small space, not with physicality or great action, but instead with dialogue and words. I just was in awe of Alex Garland, who I hadn’t yet met or talked to. Then I found out I was going to get a chance to just connect with him and try and go put myself on a tape for him. I mean, I was so intimidated, just because I thought he was one of the most brilliant men, by the time I got to reading his script and hearing him on the YouTube clips. But he’s also one of the most gentle, warm and kind people I’ve worked with.

How do you begin to bring empathy to playing a robot in that way?

It was interesting. I was working in Australia when I read the script. I was shooting, and I couldn’t meet the producers or Alex or anyone. So I did a scene of the film there. You know, I was just dying to start to make that scene even though I didn’t know the role. You always have questions for every role, but I’ve always been able to relate to them as being human, even though all my roles have been very different. Ava was of course, very different. It’s also that thing of knowing by the end of the film, you actually need to know more about Ava than the writer probably, and that was really Alex in the end being so unprecious with the best thing I’ve ever read. The physicality was also something that I enjoyed working with. It was interesting that you didn’t have to use any real sexual female reference to grab Caleb or Nathan’s attention. Then there was the thing of trying to find something almost newborn-like, something doll-like, that you want to take care of, you want to nurture. What I found interesting also was to make her more pristine and more precise and almost perfect in the way she moved.

Alicia Vikander Ex Machina
It was “the thing of trying to find something almost newborn-like, something doll-like, that you want to take care of,” Vikander says of playing the robot Ava in Ex Machina
A24

There’s been a lot of talk about whether you should be in lead or supporting categories this awards season–do you have any thoughts on this?

You know, I’m so grateful, and it’s extremely exciting of course. And it’s not up to me. I’m just grateful that other people have considered me in those groups of names of people that I’ve grown up looking up to.

You’ve played real people before (Testament of Youth), but how did you approach embodying Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl?

I looked up to her so much for the capacity of loving she has. I think I’m a big romantic, and she never seems passive to me. She always had such a force. Sometimes when people are just giving and loving and caring and supporting, people can question not being active, but she always sees a bigger picture, and she knows where she is in that. She sees the real person that she loves and will support that person through anything. I was touched by that reading the script–the kind of immense amount of love between those people, and going through what they did in a time when there was no reference. Of course, that was probably what I was most nervous of, to translate the capacity of unconditional love back to the screen.

How is the Bourne shoot going so far? 

I’m heading to Vegas right now for that. I mean, first of all, just as a fan I was so excited to know that Paul (Greengrass) and Matt (Damon) were going to team up and do another one, because I loved the trilogy. Then, when I heard that I was invited to join them, I was so excited. I love how, above anything, it is a popcorn franchise, and it has action, and it has all that happening, yet, they’re also kind of gritty and able to involve both political and social aspects. You actually kind of believe that Bourne could be part of our universe out there on the street, which I love. I found myself upset the other day, then one of the actors had a line that Paul said comes back every time, and that’s, ‘Jesus Christ, that’s Jason Bourne!’ and I got so excited, I was like, ‘weee! I’m in one of those films!’