|Ex Machina, Interviews, Movies − By Lora 0 Comments|
WIRED – EVERYTHING POSITIVE YOU have read about Alicia Vikander’s performance in Ex Machina is true. And if you’ve read something negative, the source clearly cannot be trusted and you should delete them from your bookmarks immediately.
By now, you probably know what Ex Machina is. (In case you don’t, here’s a cheat sheet: It’s a movie, written and directed by Alex Garland, about a genius who wants to put his new AI android through an elaborate Turing test.) But unless you’re a Swedish cinema buff or you’ve been keeping up on your period pieces, you probably don’t know Vikander. That’s about to change in a hurry. With six movies slated for this year, and a collection of co-stars including Oscar Issac (Ex Machina), Michael Fassbender (The Light Between Oceans), Eddie Redmayne (The Danish Girl), Henry Cavill (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.), and Christoph Waltz (Tulip Fever), Vikander is all but guaranteed to be standing in or adjacent to Oscar’s glow (both the statue and the man) come next awards season. Basically, if there was a fast track to “It Girl” status, Vikander just sped onto it.
But we’re getting carried away. The point here is Ava, the aforementioned AI in Ex Machina, which Vikander executes so elegantly and with such nuance you’ll forget they cast a human to play the part. The Hollywood Reporter praised Vikander as “the heart of the film,” while Grantland said, “she gives the role a shocking, visceral sensuality.” Vikander, however, would never say these things about herself. She deftly deflects effusive compliments in conversation—I get that way sometimes—and retrains the focus onto the collective achievements of her film’s cast and crew.
“It’s wonderful when you get on a project and you just feel like everyone is quite excited about the film,” Vikander says. “Everyone believes in it. The gaffers and runners and set builders and everyone just wanted to bring their little thing to this film and it was a very good experience. That’s when filmmaking is the best, when everything moves like little machinery.”
Whether it’s because she’s been talking about robots a lot lately or because she just genuinely feels that way, Vikander referencing machine-like precision as her ideal work environment is hilariously appropriate (because Ava is a machine, after all). As a former ballerina, the lithe Vikander has an uncanny awareness of how her body moves, allowing her to infuse Ava with an awkward precision that is disarming. She is at once alien and more human than human. Imagine a toddler aping the grownups around them, but who is also orders of magnitude more intelligent than all the adults. Vikander recognized this collision of circumstances—an evolutionary next step with zero emotional development—and built Ava around them. “I had to figure out and try to find whoever or whatever this Ava is,” she says. “This is something that aims to be human, and I wanted to make something quite young, something quite girlish, innocent and quite pure. But when I tried to find something quite perfect, it made me a bit more robotic. The perfection made her more inhuman.”
Vikander rightly points out that flaws are part of the human experience, even if it is funny to hear the beautiful Swede talk about “imperfections.” (LOL.) But obvious aesthetic bonuses aside, Ava comes to life most of all in Vikander’s eyes. The actress gave the effects team a wonderful palate to work with, and from her physicality they built a breathtaking machine. Her shell by itself is a work of modern art (think of the ““Bodies: The Exhibition” in like 100 years). But it’s everything happening from the neck up that forces viewers to wonder if Ava really does have a soul, and credibly bringing that debate to life is where Vikander shines. Slight shifts in vocal tone and tilts of the head ring your empathy bells. Some viewers will start to care for her as they would a human, but Vikander says it was important to her and the filmmakers that audiences get to make up their own minds about Ava.
“You have to decide in your own head if you believe this thing has consciousness or not,” she says. “And where does that come from? And where did it start? Was it pre-programmed? What is nature? What is context?”
And what side of the sentience debate you land on matters a lot. “It’s very different in the way people see this film. You especially realize that when people talk about the ending, because if you do believe Ava has a conscience or if you don’t believe she has one changes a lot,” Vikander says. “Do you see something that consciously tries to manipulate others, or do you see a girl being locked up in a box? That changes the entire film for you as a viewer, and I love that. I started reading the script and had different views of all those three characters each time I read it.”
Those three characters are Vikander as Ava; Oscar Isaac as Nathan, the megalomaniacal genius/tech billionaire who created her; and Domhnall Gleeson as Caleb, Nathan’s employee and the eager human component in his Turing test. If that trio isn’t blowing your mind, it definitely should. Gleeson worked with Vikander previously in Anna Karenina (you may also recognize him from the woefully underappreciated Alex Garland-penned Dredd), and he’s about to enter a whole new level of fame when Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens later this year, which he stars in alongside Isaac.
But as good as the trifecta is together—and their chemistry is fantastic—Ex Machina truly comes to life through Vikander. While Isaac and Gleeson had the luxury of being humans, the sub-genre that Ava exists in is really hard to play effectively. When you’re a person playing a machine playing a person (see also: David, Six, Cameron the Terminator, and so on) you’re playing multiple characters layered on top of one another, and you’re starting the character from scratch.
“Normally, I would be able to relate to the fact that I will play a human, but I had kind of this blank sheet,” says Vikander. “You ask yourself: Where does this come from? What does my character relate to? What is my history? And this can all just start with, do I even know what I’m doing? Do I have an instinct? Is anything programmed? Can I read this thing from the other person?”
This is not a review of Ex Machina. I think you should love it, but taste (or lack thereof) is subjective. And this isn’t a discussion of gender roles in sci-fi (though you can find a compelling one here). This is about an actress on the cusp of stardom that we are telling you to put money on as The Next Big Thing. She is, onscreen and offscreen, one to watch. As Anthony Lane put it in The New Yorker, “In the end, Ex Machina lives and dies by Alicia Vikander. The film clicks on when she first appears, and it dims every time she goes away. She will be much in evidence this year, with six movies set for release, but Ava may be hard to beat.”
This is true. Ava will be hard to beat. But the depth of commitment Vikander showed to understanding her unconventional character in Ex Machina, paired with an obvious wealth of on-camera instincts, gives us a really strong feeling this girl has got the stuff to keep impressing us across the board. So in a few months when you’re suggesting movies to your friends and they say “Is that the new one with Alicia Vikander?” tell them WIRED—OK, and W magazine—totally called it.