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On Movies: Star turns from Vikander, Fassbender, Keitel

Alicia Vikander pulled off a rare coup two Thursdays ago. That's when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced its nominees for the 2016 Golden Globes, and the 27-year-old Swede heard her name - twice. Vikander was nominated in the best actress i

Alicia Vikander stars as Gerda Wegener in Tom Hooper’s THE DANISH GIRL. (Photo: Focus Features)
Alicia Vikander stars as Gerda Wegener in Tom Hooper’s THE DANISH GIRL. (Photo: Focus Features)Read more

Alicia Vikander pulled off a rare coup two Thursdays ago. That's when the Hollywood Foreign Press Association announced its nominees for the 2016 Golden Globes, and the 27-year-old Swede heard her name - twice. Vikander was nominated in the best actress in a drama category for her turn as artist and illustrator Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl. She'll be competing (if you want to call it that) against Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara, both for Carol, Brie Larson for Room, and Saoirse Ronan for Brooklyn.

Vikander also was named in the supporting actress lineup for her eerie and compelling work as a sentient robot in Ex Machina. Her fellow candidates: Jennifer Jason Leigh for The Hateful Eight, Helen Mirren for Trumbo, Kate Winslet for Steve Jobs, and Jane Fonda for Youth.

Not bad for an actress who made her feature debut - in the Swedish drama Pure - just five years ago.

Interviewed in September when she and her leading-man-turned-lady, Eddie Redmayne, debuted The Danish Girl at the Toronto International Film Festival, Vikander obviously couldn't have anticipated the Golden Globes (or a possible repeat when the Academy Award nominations are announced next month).

But she knew she was on to something special.

"With both The Danish Girl and Ex Machina, I feel so incredibly fortunate to have been involved," she said. "Each speaks to something timely and urgent in our culture right now."

In The Danish Girl, the issue is sexual identity. Redmayne plays Einar Wegener, an artist in 1920s Copenhagen who, with the encouragement of his wife, Gerda, begins to explore what he feels is his true nature - female. Einar becomes Lili Elbe, one of the first known recipients of sex-reassignment surgery.

Gerda and Einar, Gerda and Lili, are soul mates, but watching her spouse undergo this epic transformation takes its toll on Vikander's character. She watches as Lili becomes comfortable in her new skin, is courted by men, drifts away.

"I don't know if what Gerda does can be called a sacrifice," Vikander mused. "I truly believe that, deep down, she knows Lili is Lili, that this transformation was inevitable. And when Gerda realizes that this is the truth, she will support that. But that doesn't mean that there isn't pain and the feeling of loss . . . [at] not being included in that person's journey. . . .

"It's realizing that somebody who you love, love more than anything - that you have to be able to let them go."

Fassbender talks 'Macbeth,' 'Jobs' (but not Vikander)

Michael Fassbender has done Shakespeare before. He's done Macbeth before, in fact. When he was 19, attending the Drama Centre London, the acting student from Ireland (by way of Germany) did sections of the famous tragedy about murder and madness as part of his exams.

But the Macbeth playing on area art-house screens right now - with the 38-year-old star as the tortured Scottish thane opposite a terrific Marion Cotillard - is the first time he's gone all-in with the Bard. And it was director Justin Kurzel who gave Fassbender "the key that unlocked it for me": post-traumatic stress disorder.

"PTSD was definitely our approach," the actor said, on the phone from London. "It all makes sense. In the play, Lady Macbeth says that he's suffered from these fits before. . . . He's had this condition before we meet him at the beginning of the play, and then the hallucinations, and then the idea of the witches: Are they there? Are they not there? It was a very clear and usable entry point: The idea that this was a damaged man. . . .

"We've only managed to put a label on it in the last, whatever it is, 30 years - but look at the people that came back from World War I, World War II, many suffered from it. And if you think about what a battlefield back [in Macbeth's time] was, in terms of killing people with your bare hands, what it takes to drive a sword through someone's flesh and bone, and then, if that fails, to take someone's skull and smash it with a rock. . . there has to be a reaction to that. Soldiers must have carried that psychological burden with them through life."

Like his girlfriend, Vikander, Fassbender was a recipient of a Golden Globe best actor (drama) nod for his portrayal of the Apple visionary in Steve Jobs. Although the gossip mills have been churning with reports of a breakup between Fassbender and Vikander - they got together after shooting The Light Between Oceans last year - the actress recently denied the split. As for the famously private Fassbender, I wasn't even going to ask.

I did ask about playing Jobs, and the grand soliloquies that abound in the Danny Boyle-directed film, penned by word demon Aaron Sorkin.

"When I got Sorkin's script, I thought, 'Wow, it is like modern-day Shakespeare.' Sorkin writes these certain cadences, this rhythm, and that rhythm unlocks so much for you as a performer. The same with Shakespeare - the language defines so much of who the character is."

Keitel talks about Michael Caine, aging, and 'Youth'

In Youth, Paolo Sorrentino's sublime follow-up to his Oscar-winning The Great Beauty, Harvey Keitel is a veteran Hollywood director plotting a new film, exploring "the mystery that is art."

He is camped with his young screenwriters in a retreat in the Swiss Alps, and his longtime friend, a composer played by Michael Caine, is there, too. The two men walk and talk and reflect on the past. It's the first time the actors have worked together, but you wouldn't know it.

"Michael and I connected so quickly," Keitel reported. "We attributed it to the fact that he served in the infantry in the British Army and I served in the American Marines. And, also, he's a Cockney and I'm from Brooklyn, so we had a lot of cultural things in common. We have a language that was our own, two old infantry men."

Age - growing old, being old - is very much a theme in Youth. Keitel, who is 76, says he never thinks about such stuff. And then he laughs.

"I think about it a lot. The body deteriorates along the way, and they say the mind does, too, but I'm not so sure about that. Mine hasn't. I'm lucky."

Keitel acknowledges he wasn't Sorrentino's first choice for the role of Mick Boyle in Youth. (He won't say who was.) "So I tortured him on the movie, to make him pay."

Joking aside (we think), Keitel calls Youth, just opened at the Ritz Five, "the perfect picture, to me."

"It's about keeping the mind active and involved, keeping the passion for life. And this friendship is another one of the great streams along this river that Paolo created. That theme of camaraderie and of trust and betrayal and lying and destruction and joy, all these themes that Paolo has written, like a Dostoyevsky would."