Lara Croft has been a force in pop culture for decades now. The character had already made the adventurous leap to the big screen in two movies headlined by Angelina Jolie in the early years of the 2000s, which earned a decent haul at the box office while being savaged by critics. As times changed, so did Lara Croft with the character recently getting a video game reboot in 2013. That reboot inspired the movie reboot which lands in theaters this Friday. Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander steps into the role of Lara Croft in director Roar Uthaug’s Tomb Raider. At a recent press conference in Los Angeles, Vikander and Uthaug were joined by Walton Goggins, who plays the film’s villain Vogel, and producer Graham King to discuss the film.
“Well of course it was really important to honor the fans of the franchise. It has such a huge following all over the world and that of course makes it a bit of a daunting task,” Roar Uthaug, the Norwegian director of The Wave making his first American blockbuster said. “Then it’s just about making the best movie version of this, expanding it onto the big screen and creating the emotional connection to the character that you really need in a movie like this.”
“Out of all the films I’ve been involved with and made, I’ve never seen anyone with so much dedication, put so much energy, so much excitement. I remember in the early days sitting in the office and she’d play out scenes running around the office, so much passion to play Lara,” the producer Graham King said of Vikander’s enthusiasm for the part.
“I have to say,” King continued, “these kind of films are not the kind of films I usually make and we bought the rights for Tomb Raider, I think it was 2010 or something, then waited for the game to come out and saw the game and saw how we can follow that story. It really was like Alicia said, the father-daughter story, the emotional beats that the story covered and also to see the transformation of a normal girl in London, a semi-normal girl, she’s a bike messenger, she’s not winning at everything she’s doing and then see her go off onto this journey and gradually turn into a hero.”
Stepping into a big budget action franchise didn’t scare Alicia Vikander who formed a bond with her character through the film’s emotional content in the relationship between Lara Croft and her father (played by Dominic West).
“It is a coming-of-age story. That was our inspiration because this film was based a lot on the 2013 rebooted game and there she is, a normal girl in the beginning,” Vikander said. “I find it really interesting. I think we’ve seen it a lot in these big budget superhero and action movies. If you have the origin story that’s a way to get to know our character, to feel for them, to relate to them on a more human level. I thought it was wonderful that I could play a young woman who is still trying to find her footing in the world.”
For Vikander, the film being an origin story helps add depth to her take on the iconic video game character. “It’s also very empowering when you get to be there in the end because I think when you have all the struggles and you feel for her being this real girl that makes you be with her emotionally and you root for her even more,” the Oscar-winning actress said.
Even though he’s playing the film’s villain, Walton Goggins found himself rooting for his on screen opponent. “I guess part of her journey that I enjoyed so much was the kind of analog nature of Lara Croft’s evolution. You know, it’s not rooted in some kind of special power and there’s a place for that, obviously, and they’re everywhere. It’s extraordinary to watch those experiences,” Goggins said.
“This is a very strong young woman who uses her brain, it’s her wit and physical prowess that allows her to transform into the person that she is to become, and that was really interesting to me because it wasn’t trickery. It wasn’t the visual image or blue screen that got us through the experience. It was a bow and arrow, and a young woman overcoming extraordinary obstacles,” he continued.
Though Goggins has made a name for himself playing villains, the veteran actor doesn’t fear being typecast as the perpetual baddie. “I did The Hateful Eight with Bruce Dern and talked to him about his career and I said, ‘Bruce, when did it change for you?’ He said, ‘When I decided to stop playing a villain,’” Goggins recalled with a laugh. “Look, I don’t have a face that will launch a thousand ships. I have a face that will hijack a thousand ships.”
What everyone comes to a Tomb Raider movie for is the action, and everyone was committed to the physicality required by such a film. “You can see, I still have little wounds on my legs. But no real injuries. We have an incredible stunt team that makes sure that everything goes – is safe. It’s just tough,” Alicia Vikander said.
It was practicing the fight choreography with her fellow cast members that gave the star of Tomb Raider the confidence to keep her version of Lara Croft swinging. “You start normally in a room and you have mats. It’s very much choreography, even when it looks as gritty and dirty at the end it is choreography. Then you take the next step and come to a set that might not be completely done yet and then you start to actually practice in there. Normally it feels different to be on a set, but you do have rehearsal time there so you feel comfortable when you start shooting,” Vikander elaborated.
“It changed a couple of times,” Goggins said of the fight choreography. “There were a couple incarnations that Roar and Graham, or what any great filmmaker allowed themselves the opportunity to do and that is to improvise and kind of play jazz with it. How does this story – it is a living organism – and how does it change? So when it got ot that part of the story for both Alicia and I, we were tired and emotionally kind of where they are in the context of this story. This isn’t Terms of Endearment.”
Goggins continued, “I think I speak for all of us when I say we measured our success based on how tired we were at the end of the day and we were tired most days and we said as we left set, ‘Good job today. I’ll see you tomorrow.’”
It was the approach to the action sequences that got Alicia Vikander in making Tomb Raider. “What I loved was when I met Roar and Graham and the producers was the fact that we wanted the action sequences that are going to be such a big part of this film to kind of be set in reality. Would you buy that this young girl could beat this bigger, stronger man? Story-wise we integrated that she’s this physical being, she trains MMA and she’s bicycle courier. So I wanted her to be a strong girl so it could be plausible for her to do what she does later in the film,” Vikander said.
“We wanted this to feel really authentic and gritty, the whole movie, and it was really important to do as much practical as possible on set,” Roar Uthaug said. “So we really put our actors through a lot on set in this movie. I think my favorite was the Endurance, the boat, which was built on this giant gimbal so we could rock it around and we hit with water cannons and rain towers and wind machines, and Alicia was in the middle of that. The rest of us were on solid ground, dry and then we looked up and Alicia was there in her tank top and getting pummeled with all this water, which was a lot of fun to me. I really think it pays of in the movie as well, that you feel that you’re in middle of it and I think that’s the most important thing about these action sequences was to make it immersive and make the audience feel like they’re in the middle of it with Lara and the characters. I think the way Alicia handled is just incredible, trying to act in the middle of all that stuff was really impressive to see.”
“It’s still grounded and yet it has this tiny window opened up in the belief of magic and the belief of the things that maybe not know yet what it is, which I think is a nice little balance in addition to the more grounded end,” Vikander said of that delicate balance between fantasy and reality that exists at the heart of Tomb Raider’s action.
Tomb Raider opens in theaters on March 16, 2018.