Alicia Vikander: I found it empowering to play Lara Croft in reboot of Tomb Raider

As one of the most famous action heroes of all time, Alicia Vikander relished the chance to step into the shoes of Lara Croft. Georgia Humphreys hears how the star, who's married to Irish actor Michael Fassbender, embraced the intense physical side of the role

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander plays Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider
Swedish actress Alicia Vikander plays Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider

ALICIA Vikander knew she would have to change her body to play Lara Croft. In the new Tomb Raider film, we see the fierce adventurer boxing, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, swinging from arm to arm at crazy heights – and, of course, there's plenty of archery-fuelled action.

And the petite Swedish actress, who wasn't even able to lift her own weight when she read the script, threw herself into the training for all of her character's different skills.

"I looked at female athletes and stunt women in my industry and I thought, 'I need to have that kind of physique for it to be plausible'," she confides, admitting that she put on around 10-12 pounds of muscle.

The 29-year-old, who is married to Irish actor Michael Fassbender – himself no stranger to beefing up for action-hero roles – adds proudly: "I don't know when in life I would have been exposed to try so many new things, if it weren't for this role. I found it very empowering."

Some of the stunts in the film are so mind-blowing, you wonder how on earth Lara makes it out alive.

And while she did have a stunt double for some sequences, director Roar Uthaug confirms that Vikander filmed the terrifying shipwreck scene – in which she's seen crawling up out of the ocean – herself.

"She was there in just her tank top and she was soaked in water and it got really cold and she turned almost blue," he says. "And that was unfortunately the night her parents came to set."

But being the epicentre of the action was hugely appealing for Vikander, who – since winning Best Supporting Actress at the 2016 Oscars for her role in The Danish Girl – has become one of the most in-demand stars in Hollywood.

"Angelina Jolie, when she stepped into the shoes of Lara Croft, it was the first time I had seen a woman being the centrepiece of this kind of action story," she notes.

"I've grown up loving these kinds of films and I've always wondered what it's like to create these big stunts, sequences and action adventures. So, I really was intrigued to do the physical part of stepping into this role."

Seventeen years since Jolie first brought the video-game heroine to life, Vikander, who used to play the Lara Croft games with her friends as a kid, explains the reboot is an "origin story".

"We get to see her go on the first journey of becoming this warrior, and it's not an easy one and it's really a struggle – and it's also truly traumatic what she goes through in the beginning," she elaborates.

"But that is also what shapes her as she becomes this action hero that we so well know her to be."

When we first meet Lara at the start of the film, she's a regular 21-year-old girl, working as a bike courier in east London – though, from her spars with her friends at an MMA gym, it's clear she's up for a challenge.

Her dad – an eccentric adventurer played by Dominic West – went missing when she was a teenager, and after deciding to head to the last destination he was seen in, she is really pushed to the limits.

Lara's mission takes her to a fabled tomb on a mythical island off the coast of Japan – and the brave and sassy young woman has to overcome deadly obstacles, battle against enemies and the elements, and solve mysterious puzzles.

"She's not on top of things when we meet her at the beginning of the film, and that, I think, is what is admirable about her, because she's a woman who doesn't take the easy road," explains Vikander of her character's journey in the film.

"We know that she has all the riches in the world, but she wants to make her own destiny – she wants to find who she is, and she's not afraid of being outspoken."

She adds with a smile: "And also, when she falls flat on her face, she has this certain amount of wit and cleverness about her, which I really liked."

Vikander, who secretly married Fassbender in Ibiza last year (they met on the set of drama The Light Between Oceans), is notoriously private. But we do stray slightly off the topic of Tomb Raider to discuss this year's Oscars.

She didn't attend the 90th Academy Awards, held the night before we meet in London, but Vikander has since caught up on the speech given by Frances McDormand, who won Best Actress for her role in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

After an awards season in which feminist campaigns like Me Too and Time's Up have dominated the conversation, the American star championed her female co-stars and all of the women in the room at the ceremony by asking them all to stand.

Asked if she felt empowered watching McDormand, Vikander says: "Of course. To see someone go up and honour all the women in our industry really means a lot.

"It's been a year when it's really been wonderful... you know, I've united with so many of my female co-stars and I've made more female friends over the last few months than I've made during my career so far.

"I think it was a wonderful speech."

:: Tomb Raider is in cinemas now.