Back in 2011, he same red-haired woman seemed to be in every movie you saw. That was Jessica Chastain who by year's end had racked up six roles on her resume — “Coriolanus,” “The Help," “Take Shelter,” “Texas Killing Fields.” “The Tree of Life” and “Wilde Salome,” The buzz was so hot for her that she landed a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for “The Help." She may have lost that race to co-star Octavia Spencer, but a star was born nonetheless. This year another fresh-faced ingenue has arrived in town by the name of Alicia Vikander.
Over the past several years, this Swedish import has been slowly building her profile with small roles in “A Royal Wedding” (2012), “Anna Karenina” (2012), and “The Fifth Estate” (2013). This year, she’s been just about everywhere, with credits as wide-ranging: fantasy film “The Seventh Son,” sci-fi flick “Ex Machina,” action movie “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” and biopic “The Danish Girl.”
In the latter, a film by Oscar champ Tom Hooper ("The King's Speech"), she plays Gerda Wegener, the loyal wife of the first man (Eddie Redmayne) to undergo a sex-change operation. She is currently ranked in second place by our Oscar experts with odds of 5/1, behind Cannes Best Actress winner Rooney Mara in “Carol” (odds of 19/10).
Vikander is following a path that bears a striking similarity to that of Chastain. After a significant role in John Madden’s “The Debt” (2010), that classically trained actress had a half dozen films in theaters in 2011. While all of them may not have been up the academy’s alley, they did showcase her wide range. Undoubtedly this helped secure her the nomination for “The Help.”
The same strategy could work for Vikander. While films like “Ex Machina” or “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” may not generate Oscar talk, they will serve as a reminder of what a breakout year she's had.
Awards buzz for Chastain began with a key win from the New York Film Critics Circle for three of those six films: “The Help,” “The Tree of Life,” and “Take Shelter.” Critics groups love to reward actors who’ve had busy years, and a win for Vikander for any or all of her roles this year could start her on the right path.
In both cases, the narrative of the Hollywood “it girl” is just too juicy to ignore. Every year has one, and oftentimes Oscar shines upon them as a welcome into the industry. Is Vikander the next one? It’s certainly shaping up that way.
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PHOTO: Alicia Vikander in "The Danish Girl" (Focus Features)