Alicia Vikander On The Danish Girl: ‘Eddie Was Extraordinary’
The Debrief: We speak to the Swedish actress, who stars alongside Eddie Redmayne in the biopic about LIli Elbe – one of the first people to go through gender reassignment surgery.
If you are up and about on New Years’ Day (and we know, the chances are slim), then you could find much, much worse ways to start off the year than catching The Danish Girl at your local soulless multiplex.
You’ve been seeing the pictures of Eddie Redmayne playing the role of transgender woman Lili Elbe all over the internet for a long old time now. And, in the film, Eddie brings Lili to life beautifully; awkwardly and unsure as first before becoming more comfortable and confident towards the end when Lili becomes one of the first ever people to undergo gender reassignment surgery starting in 1930. It's a triumph of a film that deserves quite rightly to be bombarded with all the usual awards and accolades over the next few months.
Lili was born Einar Wegener in 1882 and, when she was 26, still identifying as male, she married Gerda Gottlieb, a fellow artist. In The Danish Girl (based on David Ebershoff's 2000 novel that's 'inspired loosely' by Lili's real story) Gerda is played by Alicia Vikander and, whilst the film has been touted as being Lili’s story, it is in fact, very much about both of them. Gerda struggles to come to terms with something that society, and even herself to an extent don't yet understand, all the while fiercely trying to protect Lili from the hurt and pain others can try to cause her. While Eddie as Lili is the thing everyone will be talking about, for me it was Alicia as Gerda, assuming the role of protector to the vulnerable Lili that really hit hardest.
The real Gerda, by all accounts, was a progressive and was supportive of Lili through her transition. ‘I was really struck by the force and willpower she showed in supporting the person she loved.’ Said Alicia when we spoke to her about the film. ‘She was a woman ahead of her time – especially in the 20s and 30s when just being a woman who was an artist and a working woman was quite radical!’
Originally from a clergy family in a small provincial town in Denmark, Gerda grew up to become an artist whose erotic paintings would both fascinate and scandalize society. In fact, it was in getting Lili (then still identifying as Einar) to pose in stockings and heels as a subsititue for one of Gerda's models that first introduced Lili to wearing women’s clothing.
‘Yes,’ Agrees Alicia when I say how strange it is for Gerda to have come from such a conservative background only to grow up so progressive. ‘I wish I had gone back and tried to find out more about her family because for both those people [Gerda and Lili] to come from that sort of background and grow up and have that kind of open mindedness, they must have come from a supporting family.’
Eddie Redmayne’s transformation is already – quite rightly - starting Oscar rumours. So what was it like to watch Eddie become Lili on set? ‘Extraordinary’, says Alicia. ‘I was already so struck by it when I came to the first reading. I just thought I was so lucky to get a call back and then get a chance to meet Tom and Eddie together and do the scene…. This was eight months before we even started to shoot the film and already the hard work that Eddie had put in to creating such a sensitive role was amazing.’
There has been some backlash against the film’s creators for choosing a cisgendered male such as Eddie to play the part of a transgender woman when there are many other working transgender actresses out there. One such actress; who actually auditioned for the part of Lili, is Rebecca Root – who finds herself in the film cast as a cisgendered female – one of Lili’s nurses. ‘To have Rebecca there and to have her playing a cisgender female in our film… just to have her support was wonderful.’ Says Alicia of Rebecca.
Alica goes on to say that it was important that they seek advice and support from other members of the transgender community too.‘For someone to decide to sit down next to you who wants to share and to open up about their personal story is just so humbling.’ Alicia says. ‘It meant so much because, in the end, we wanted to bring as much authenticity to the characters as we could.’
The Danish Girl is in cinemas nationwide January 1st
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