Definition of a woman: Alicia Vikander from ‘The Danish Girl’

The double Golden Globe nominee talks about womanhood

By T.T. Stern-Enzi

Photo: Eddie Redmayne and Alicia Vikander in “The Danish Girl”

One of the undeniable benefits of covering film—far outstripping the idea of watching hundreds of movies per year—is having the chance to engage in conversations with film professionals. It is an honor I refuse to take lightly, which means when the opportunity arises to grab a few minutes with, say, Alicia Vikander, the newly minted Golden Globe nominee—Best Actress for “The Danish Girl” and Best Supporting Actress for “Ex Machina”—I will not waste time with fluffy questions. I’m more intrigued with sparking a discussion that delves deeply into a theme from a recent film or imitates the improvisational call and response of jazz, dancing and swinging through a multitude of references and topics.

Vikander’s films provided a singular motif, an examination of womanhood, its definition and fluidity, as seen through lenses both from the past and speculatively, from the future. So, we faithfully remained focuses on the topic during our all-too brief chat.

I’m starting off with a weird, broad question. Define womanhood and how you see yourself as a woman.

Alicia Vikander: It is interesting that when making the film “The Danish Girl,” I thought and talked more about gender than I’ve ever done. I guess I’ve never questioned it. So, in one way it means that I define myself in being a woman, by being female. It is interesting though because does it mean in my body or my mind. Also, I found out that gender is such a spectrum. And suddenly I see gender as something much more fluid. What is considered, in manners [socially], to be male and female? And why can’t you be both?

In the context of “The Danish Girl,” there are two distinct conversations about womanhood that are taking place. There is Eddie Redmayne’s character (Einer Wegener/Lili Elbe) and that question of what it means to be a woman and then Gerda (Vikander’s character—the wife of Einer Wegener) also begins to think about womanhood and femininity for herself, maybe for the first time as well (once her husband starts to explore and question his gender identity).

AV: Yes, that’s true.

So how involved were you with the process and discussion as Eddie was trying to figure out his approach to the character?

AV: The discussions started when we met for the first reading and all the weeks of rehearsal and throughout the film. We also had a lot of contact with people from the transgender community, and for me, people who were friends and family and partners of those in transition. [We explored] how do you define relationship, if relationship can change? What are the foundations of a marriage or a friendship? Passion, love, friendship, connection, being soul mates, all of those kinds of things. It was such a journey. How can you be yourself?

Questions of womanhood (and humanity on a larger scale) also factor into “Ex Machina,” so how did you approach them in that film?

AV: It was interesting because I was trying to do something quite pure—a figure, a robot, an android that could still be a robot and be seen as such (thanks to exposed circuitry), but then give her features that would make you question your thoughts about her having consciousness or not. In rehearsals, I found people “cared” the most about Ava when she was innocent. People wanted to protect that and were willing to give up a lot of trust. By making her very, almost perfect in the way she moved, it made me not see her as perfect. It made me question her ability to be human because humans are kind of flawed and inconsistent.

Reach DCP film critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at and visit his blog for additional film reviews at

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T.T. Stern-Enzi
Reach DCP Film Critic T.T. Stern-Enzi at and visit his blog for additional film reviews at You can also follow him on Twitter at @ttsternenzi.

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