'Filming Anna Karenina was one of the most fantastic adventures I've ever had'
Alicia Vikander, who plays Kitty in Joe Wright's adaptation of Anna Karenina, talks about her location shoot in wintry Russia
Sunday 2 September 2012 00.05 BST
"It was 40 below, we didn't have hot water for five days and slept in a cabin, on a bench," Vikander recalls. "On our call sheets it actually said: 'Beware of wolves. They are known to attack lone humans.' We saw a wolf one time, and a bear, but there were some very tough Russian security guys who came along."
Yet Vikander seems to have found the experience amusing more than terrifying. "It was one of the most fantastic adventures I've ever had in my life," she giggles. "But I don't need to do it twice."
Vikander is big on first experiences at the moment and Anna Karenina marks her debut in English-language cinema. She trained as a dancer with the Royal Swedish Ballet and only turned to acting in her late teens after suffering from niggles in her feet and back. Her first lead role, as a stalker in 2010's Pure, won her a Golden Beetle (better known in Sweden as a prestigious Guldbagge award).t was this performance – which is wild and wonderfully unhinged – that brought her to the attention of Anna Karenina's casting department. They suggested that Vikander might like to meet director Joe Wright for lunch some time to talk about the film. "I booked a ticket for two days later," Vikander says, smiling. "Then I called them and said, 'Oh, now I'm in London we can have that lunch.'"
Wright decided that Vikander would be perfect for Kitty, who is initially besotted with Count Vronsky (Aaron Johnson) before slowly, after some public humiliation, coming round to the dependable charms of Levin (Gleeson). The director's only concern was whether Vikander could nail the British accent – he needn't have worried. The actress gives a moving and deftly economical portrayal that calls to mind the breakthrough roles of previous Wright muses Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan.
A bigger challenge for Vikander was reassessing a book about which she had mixed feelings when she first studied it, aged 15. "I was very judgmental about the women characters, particularly Anna and Kitty," she says. "I looked down on Anna because of all the wrong things she did, and I thought Kitty was this young, naïve girl who didn't stand up for herself. I had to have more experience in life and now I understand every decision and the things they gave up or fought for."
One final peal of laughter: "I thought I knew everything when I was 15 and I probably didn't."