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May 2015
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Public Appearances > Events from 2015 > April 28: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)

NEW YORK TIMES – With her dainty features eerily detached from her silicone skull, Alicia Vikander, as Ava, the alluring fembot in the sci-fi fantasy Ex Machina, is a wonder of radical engineering. So it may have been apt, if not downright predictable, that during her stay in New York last week she would visit an exhibition of experimental design at the Museum of Modern Art.

Whether the MoMA show, “This Is for Everyone,” was in fact her choice or that of her ever-present handlers, who seemed intent on positioning Ms. Vikander as a thinking-man’s Blake Lively, it brought out a ruminative streak.

Ms. Vikander, a 26-year-old Swedish-born actress, nimbly slipped into character. “I’m all about interior design,” she said in the British-accented English she picked up in London, where she lives. Her fawn eyes swept the exhibition space, settling moments later on “Imaginary Being” (“Arachne”), a shiny winged breastplate with a latticework of “veins.” The actress didn’t linger. “It reminds me of all the roles I played in corsets,” she explained with a perceptible shudder.

For sure, she’s spent plenty of time in period costume, having taken on roles including that of Kitty in “Anna Karenina” and playing opposite Eddie Redmayne in the forthcoming “The Danish Girl,” about the first woman to have had gender reassignment surgery in the 1920s.

But Ms. Vikander herself is emphatically of the here and now, willowy in her tissue-y Isabel Marant T-shirt and white blazer, her wrists encircled by Louis Vuitton bangles. Small wonder the style world has embraced her.

She appears on the cover of the April edition of W in a frothy white lace Vuitton confection not unlike the dress she wears during her exit scene in Ex Machina. She will be squired to the Met Gala this month by her latest champion, the designer Nicolas Ghesquière.

Her dancer’s frame (she studied ballet as a teenager) and a glance that can, in an instant, turn guilelessly doll-like or coolly remote, may well have prompted Mr. Ghesquière to cast Ms. Vikander as the new face of Louis Vuitton, a move that the company has yet to confirm.

Nor does it hurt that she’s been linked romantically with the actor and rake about town Michael Fassbender, a relationship she firmly declined to discuss.

Ignoring nosy questions, she approached an intricately assembled lacy black cocktail dress in the show that reminded her of a childhood project. “When I was in kindergarten in Gothenburg, we had these little clips that we could make forms out of,” she said. “I didn’t make a dress. But that’s what this looks like.”

In reality, that laser-cut garment was made from a computer scan, as was Ava’s body in the film. “But they constructed the rest of her parts the old-fashioned way,” Ms. Vikander said. “They built my forehead on top of my skull,” which took four hours each day.

When she would turn up in costume at the studio canteen, necks craned. “The first week, people gave me funny looks,” she said. “There I was in a sweatshirt that covered my working parts, showing my real face, and, on top of that my built-on skull.”

Sealed into a prison of clear silicone and mesh, through which blue diodes wink, Ava conforms to men’s more timorous erotic fantasies. “She is doelike,” Ms. Vikander observed after her tour as she sipped a Diet Coke at the museum cafe. “It’s easier to seduce someone if you can push this doelike being instead of a more sexualized one. People want to take care of her. They don’t see her as a threat.”

In fact, Ava suggests nothing so much as a futuristic sex doll or one of those store dummies encased in fishnets and harnesses, strategically placed in the windows of pornography shops.

Ms. Vikander wasn’t going there. “The film objectifies women, because Nathan does,” she said, referring to Ava’s creator, portrayed by Oscar Isaac with a chilling mix of menace and brolike good cheer. “All the sexualization in the film is from Nathan’s point of view.”

She knows, of course, that young girls on the cusp of self-discovery can do a pretty fair job of objectifying themselves. “I remember being 10 or 12, and I really had that feeling of becoming a woman,” she said. “I thought of movie stars and other role models, wondering who I would be like.”

“It’s the same thing with Ava,” she added. “She’s not sure what she is. She has that kind of tentative spirit you have before you become comfortable in your skin.”

So wrapped up was she in her thoughts that Ms. Vikander had to catch herself seconds before absently pouring cream into her Coke.

She looked up impishly. “It’s the Swedish way,” she said. “That’s how we do it.”

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