Alicia Vikander's Lara Croft is a 'lost' girl turned action hero

The Oscar-winning actor plays the video game icon in the new "Tomb Raider" movie as a girl trying to find her father -- and her place in the world.

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Alicia Vikander remembers being "blown away" as a kid when she found out there was a video game with a female action hero at the center of the story.

Now two decades later -- and 15 years after Angelina Jolie first brought Lara Croft to the big screen -- Vikander stars in a fresh cinematic take on the popular video games series "Tomb Raider." The new Tomb Raider movie, which shares the game's name and opens March 16, definitely presents Croft as the kick-ass adventurer fans have known and loved since her 1996 debut. But Vikander says the goal was also to create an origin story audiences in 2018 could relate to: a tale about a smart, vulnerable and "lost" girl trying to figure out who she is and her place in the world.  

That origin story comes from a 2013 reboot of the Tomb Raider video game created by Crystal Dynamics and is based on the father-daughter relationship that's at the heart at understanding how Lara Croft to to be, well Lara Croft.

"Trying to adapt a video game or any other story is the fact that you want to give people what they want about the character and the world that they so well loved. But we also wanted to surprise them and give them something new," the Oscar-winning actor said in an interview at CNET's San Francisco headquarters last month.   

"She has all the common traits that she is so well known to have. But she is also not afraid of showing her vulnerability. She's human," Vikander adds. "We get to be with her and then root for her while she's going step-by-step to becoming this action hero." 


"She is...not afraid of showing her vulnerability. She's human," says actor Alicia Vikander on playing Lara Croft in the new "Tomb Raider" movie. "And this very much adds to her becoming the action hero we so well know her to be."

James Martin/CNET

Vikander, who won an Academy Award for her role in "The Danish Girl," and who played an AI robot in the 2014 sci-fi thriller "Ex Machina," spoke with me about playing video games, helping start the #TimesUp movement to combat sexual harassment and about having a "Tomb Raider Barbie" modeled after her character in the new film. Here's an edited transcript of our conversation.

Q: I've heard you tell stories about playing the Lara Croft video games when you were around 10. Can you tell us about your first meeting with her?
I remember I did not have a PlayStation in my house. I was very sad and jealous of other peoples'. I went to my friend's house and it was the first time I had seen a video game with a female protagonist. I was just so curious and blown away.

I mostly spent my time, to be honest, in [Croft] Manor practicing, because some of the ... early sequences in the game just freaked me out.

But that was my introduction to video games in general. I continue to play quite a lot of adventure games, mostly computer games and point-and-click games and stuff like that.

As a kid, playing those games, what did you want to be when you grew up?
My God, I wanted to be everything, from a florist to a dancer and an actress. I wanted to be a singer or a dancer, and it was not until -- it was actually a clip that was found of me on Swedish television not long ago that I don't have any memory of. But apparently in this interview at 7 years old, I said that I wanted to be an actress. I actually had no clue I wanted to do that.

Is it true you're a big fan of '80s and '90s movies like "The Mummy," "Indiana Jones" and, one of my favorites, "Fifth Element"?
Yes, yes! Bruce Willis was my first crush. I was like 11 [laughs]. I love that kind of film. And adventure films -- Indiana Jones. I was a big fan of The Mummy series in my early teens as well.

When they asked me to be part of an adventure like this, it was just a thrill. Like I said, I [was attracted] to those kinds of computer games when I was a kid. And ... I read a lot of books when I was a child and I had, like, seven volumes of the Ramses books. I loved Egyptian mythology and historical dramas, and that is very much related to these kinds of worlds.

Now playing: Watch this: 'Tomb Raider' shows us Lara Croft's softer side

Do you still play video games? You're married to actor Michael Fassbender, who starred in "Assassin's Creed," so I wonder if game night at your house is just Assassin's Creed and Tomb Raider all the time?
Yeah [laughs].  I wish I had the time. I went back and played the rebooted [Tomb Raider] games now, before making this film, and I was really excited. I guess it's because I hadn't been [playing] in a long time, but suddenly I looked down and eight hours had passed. And I was freaking out! I was like, 'I don't have eight hours.'  

That shows what a world it is. I kind of forgot about time. I really love it.

A lot of people have seen the Lara Croft films with Angelina Jolie -- Tomb Raider and The Cradle of Life. But there was a reboot of the game in 2013 with a new origin story that reset the Tomb Raider legend. This film is based on that. Can you talk about the journey you're on with Lara Croft?
I think trying to adapt a video game or any other story is the fact that you want to give people what they want about the character and the world that they so well loved. But we also wanted to surprise them and give them something new.

I came on board quite early on and knew that it was going to be inspired by the 2013 rebooted games and that it was going to be an origin story. When I chatted with Roar Uthaug, the director, and the producers, we realized that there's truly a grounded story to be told.

It's set in a reality close to today, and she has all the common traits that she is so well known to have. But she is also not afraid of showing her vulnerability. She's human. And this very much adds to her becoming the action hero we so well know her to be. I love that it was grounded in trying to find, maybe, a physicality. She is a very physical person, so it would be plausible for her to go into this first adventure ... She doesn't have any experience in the beginning of the film. So, hopefully, we get to be with her and then root for her while she's going step-by-step to becoming this action hero. 

Your character actually starts out as a smart, but normal, girl living in London.
Yeah, lost like most young people -- myself included. That was something that I liked, that I wanted to cherish. 

Her dad had disappeared for seven years, and she hasn't really been able to properly mourn him due to not knowing what happened. They want her to take over from him and move back into the manor, but she just feels like she needs to find her own footing in the world and feels the pressure of not knowing what to do or what to become. But she's headstrong and she's clever. And so when she's thrown out on this adventure, she not only gets to learn more about her past and who she maybe is, but she also finds courage to embrace who she is.


"If someone would have told me that I would play Lara Croft one day or be a Barbie," I would just roll my eyes," says Alicia Vikander of Tomb Raider Barbie.


Lara Croft is fairly kick-ass, and there are a lot of very physical moves in the movie that match the action in the game. You did a lot of your own stunts, didn't you?
Yeah, I tried to do [laughs] -- as many of them as I could. And then you have an incredible team. I just stood there watching some of these stunt women that we had who, of course, kind of made sure that we can run all those stunts over and over again. But I always did try first and they helped me. It was important for me to really try and get up to a physical level so I would be able to do it. 

There's a scene with you riding a bicycle on a chase through London that seems pretty demanding.
That's probably where I got my most wounds. My god, it's tricky. It was actually me who had found this video -- YouTube clip -- of bicycle messengers in London. I brought this up in the beginning, because when I moved to London, I tried to bike. It's dangerous. I mean, you can die. And that's when I said to them there should definitely be an action sequence about this. It's scary.

Lara Croft is a cultural icon who's been praised as a catalyst for getting people to rethink video game heroines. But she's also been criticized for being a sexualized version of what an action adventure warrior should be. What did you want young girls seeing this film to think about her?
Yes, she's really become an icon. She's been a character that has been with us now for 22 years. And what I find interesting is that the essence of Lara has kind of stayed the same. I think it's a wonderful thing just looking at [game maker] Crystal Dynamics, who created this reboot in 2013. They knew that this is a character that has kind of changed the rules in society, so I think they did right trying to just bring her into our time.

It's interesting that the view of a woman or sexuality [has changed]. If you were to go out on the street today and ask what men and women find attractive, it is just a very different answer that you would get today than you got 20 years ago. That makes me happy, and I know that I wanted to be part of making a girl someone that a 2018 audience would be able to relate to. 

I loved that you're running and jumping and doing all these stunts in clothes that women would actually wear.
I think she should at least have a long-sleeve sweater. I prayed for that quite a few times.

There's a lot of discussion about how women are portrayed in video games, and Lara Croft stands out as one of the more notable exceptions to cliche roles for women. But there are lots of people who think critics of how video games depict women are being too politically correct. What's your take on how women should be portrayed in video games?
I think we're all storytellers and we're all artists, and what we need to do is make sure that stories of all kinds are able to be told. I think there's a change just over the last few months. I feel that it's kind of a creative boon of stories of women coming together and female stories bubbling up to the surface. I really think that those people who say that it's equal or that there's already enough female characters out there, I don't think they've opened up their eyes enough, sadly. 

You're one of the people behind #TimesUp with Reese Witherspoon, Natalie Portman and others, and I've heard you say you've seen a lot of positive change.
Yeah. Like I've said, I actually think that I've made more female friends in this industry over the past four months ... I grew up in a social structure and a society where I thought growing up that, well, there is only place for one girl. And then you end up in a position as a woman where you think you're going have to push your way through and be competitive and that's not really emotionally what you had wanted. You just thought that that was the case, and you kind of just sadly accepted that.

Over the last few months I've been on phone calls with women, talking to people that I looked up to, that kind of inspired me to wanting to do what I do. But sadly, because of my working situation, I never ended up being in a situation where I actually worked with them. And suddenly now [they're] my friends. That is a huge change in such a small amount of time. 

Lara Croft is known, in part, for wearing two guns on her hips. In the movie, you use a variety of weapons -- a bow and arrow, an ice pick and even a rock. But there are no guns. Why?
I'm just happy to know that she doesn't use any guns. I love that. It shows much more personality. It shows that she is clever and that she's innovative and she's a survivor. She doesn't go out to kill. She goes out there to create a change or to fight for a better cause.

Are you good with a bow and arrow now?
I'm better [laughter]. It was pretty hard.

Mattel just announced a new Barbie: Tomb Raider Barbie. What's it like to be an action figure? You're a Barbie. Is that weird or what?
It's so strange ... If someone would have told me that I would play Lara Croft one day or be a Barbie, I would just roll my eyes.

Let me ask you about "Ex Machina." Director Alex Garland was just here two weeks ago and talked about the role you played: the robot Ava, an AI. It's a story about exploring the boundaries between robot and human. When you read that script for the first time, what went through your mind?
It's maybe the best script I've read in my career. When I see the film now, I still wonder over the fact that we didn't change one line. [Garland] is truly one of the most intelligent people that I know, and he managed to bring up a subject that was just about to be in the air. It felt like it was just before anyone really talked about AI. We shot this film -- what is it, five years ago now or something?

The subject interested me, and then of course getting the chance to play a character. It's very brilliant in the script -- [Ava] doesn't have any description. The only description is about the brain -- it's kind of moving around and it's like the most beautiful thing you've seen, the machine. But it was like a blank page trying to figure out how she moved, what she was like. It was just a feast to take on that part. 

What do you think about AI? Do you use an AI assistant? Alexa or Siri -- do you talk to them?
I guess I'm controlled by them. I carry my phone with me everywhere. I mean, yeah, it's the way we live. It's part of our world at the moment.  

You mentioned you're moving into a new house -- is it going to be a smart house?
[Laughs] No, it's a little cabin out in the woods.

What's your favorite gadget?
Google Maps. I live by it. I travel. I'm a big foodie, so I kind of always come to a new a place, look up [a restaurant I want to try], and I put it in.  

And then I also love the fact you can actually get lost. That's a nice thing. When you come to a new city, normally you kind of are always afraid that you're not going to know where you are. [With Google Maps], you can just wander and then you know you'll be able to find your way back to the hotel, hopefully.

What piece of tech do you wish had never been invented?
Well, bombs I guess.  

What tech would you like to have invented for yourself?
I've heard about drone copters and things like that. I would like to fly. I would like to maybe have just a little backpack.

A jetpack?
Yeah, like a little backpack and be able to fly off.  

What's the best review of this movie for you?
I grew up in Sweden and Europe and I have a mom who's an actress and I was introduced to heavy-handed, European art house cinema. But I [liked going to] the cinema because I loved to just leave the world behind and go enjoy myself and dream, throw myself into an adventure. If people have that coming out from seeing this film, then I'm thrilled.  

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