There was a time, around 21 years ago, when Lara Croft was everywhere. Following the release of the first Tomb Raider game in 1996, the lead, playable character in it became a household name. Models dressed as her, her poster was on teenage boys’ bedroom walls, and the all-action archaeologist was portrayed by a slew of British models and actresses including Keeley Hawes, Nell McAndrew and Rhona Mitra. There have been action figures, more than 1,000 magazine covers and university studies conducted about Croft’s cultural impact. Not bad for a load of pixels.
In 2001, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was released, starring Angelina Jolie. A critical flop, it proved a huge box-office success and two years later, a sequel, Tomb Raider: Cradle of Life hit the big screens. It received a better critical reception but didn’t fare quite as well as the original when it came to ticket sales. Movie chiefs put its relative failure down to the poor performance of the most recent video game at that time, Tomb Raider: The Angel of Darkness.
Since then, the game series has been rebooted twice, most recently in 2013. There have been two offerings since then, the first, simply titled Tomb Raider, was a Lara Croft origin story and its follow-up Rise of the Tomb Raider moved Croft’s story on.
Fast-forward to 2018 and the release of the latest Lara Croft movie, Tomb Raider. Based on the 2013 game, it’s directed by Norwegian Roar Uthaug and stars Alicia Vikander, who won Best Supporting Actress at the 2016 Oscars for The Danish Girl.
With movies based on video games much more commonplace than in 2001, Hollywood bosses hope the new version will be a hit. We catch up with Vikander, her co-star Walton Goggins (Justified), Uthaug and producer Graham King to discuss the release.
How do you balance making an original movie and honouring the video game?
Roar Uthaug: It was important for us to honour the fans of the franchise, which has such a huge global following. It was a daunting challenge but we decided the best way to do that was to create an emotional connection with Lara Croft, which Alicia does so well.
Alicia, in the movie, you have scratches on your face that Croft has in the games. Was that a touch you asked for?
Alicia Vikander: It’s sweet you noticed that. We had a lot of fun making sure that we placed little Easter eggs in the film. I wanted to gather as much information about Lara Croft as possible, and make sure my Lara had the elements that have made her such an iconic character. She’s been with us for 22 years. So, I had a lot of fun trying to find those core traits.
Why is this film an origin story?
Alicia Vikander: It’s inspired by the 2013 rebooted version of the game, in which Lara is introduced before she became the Tomb Raider. The origin story lets the audience get to know the character, and relate to her on a more human level.
It was wonderful to play a young woman who’s still trying to find her footing in the world, while dealing with her father’s disappearance. Through Lara’s adventure to uncover that mystery, she begins to access the traits that ultimately come to define her as an action hero.
Lara’s challenges and struggles also make her relatable, so you root for her even more. By the end of her journey in this story, you celebrate and look up to her.
How does the absence of her father help define Lara’s journey?
Alicia Vikander: As Roar mentioned, we wanted to find an emotional way into the character. One way to do that is through Lara’s relationship with her father. It also helps explain her love for history and mythology. Lara begins to discover and accept who she is, which is something most people can relate to.
How did you prepare to play Lara?
Alicia Vikander: We introduce Lara as a physical being – she trains in mixed martial arts and works as a bicycle courier. I began training about four months before starting production. Roar, Graham and I wanted the action sequences to be a big part of this film, and to be believable. You need to know how this young woman could defeat a bigger, stronger man.
What was it like to experience that transformation?
Graham King: Of all the films I’ve been involved with, I’ve never seen someone with so much dedication, and who put so much energy and excitement into the physical aspects of a character, as I have with Alicia. She was in the gym every day. I’d always see her practising the action and stunts with so much passion. Even when she’s doing the big action heroics, it’s so grounded in the way she plays it that you’re just with her the entire journey.
Walton Goggins: The interesting thing about Lara’s physicality is that it’s not rooted in a superpower. This is a very strong young woman who uses her wits, as well as her physical prowess to become a hero. Alicia really makes that believable.
Were there any injuries during filming?
Alicia Vikander: I still have, like, little wounds on my legs, but no serious injuries. We had an incredible stunt team that made sure everything was safe.
Walton, how did you approach playing the villain, Vogel?
Walton Goggins: I love villains, but they must be multi-dimensional characters. I like to get in there and discover the character. I found Vogel to be sad, exhausted and at his wit’s end. He’s given up things that are important to him to finish his mission.
The scene where Vogel meets Lara on the beach is revealing. For me, Vogel’s behaviour comes from being baffled at his good fortune in meeting Lara. The cards have always been stacked against him and now, with Lara’s arrival, that’s all changed. It was rewarding and fulfilling to interpret Vogel that way.
Were there moments on set that you thought were too daunting?
Alicia Vikander: I had never taken on a character and a role in a film like this.
I was a dancer, but I wasn’t sure I could look real doing an MMA fight scene. I was almost, like, “Please don’t look” [laughs]. All eyes were on me and that was scary, but the biggest overall challenge was to make sure the film had both spectacle and heart.
It’s impressive how Lara avoids using a gun, and instead relies on her wits…
Alicia Vikander: I loved that, and it was something we discussed early on.
How did they pitch the film to you?
Alicia Vikander: I became interested when they told me that it was going to be inspired by the rebooted game, which was released in 2013. I did my research and realised that it was a very different take on Lara, and then my imagination began spinning. When I met with Roar, I realised we shared a vision for the film.
Walton Goggins: I had just seen Roar’s film The Wave, which I was a huge fan of, when I got a call that Roar wanted to meet with me. We had a long talk and I read the script, and thought, “Wow, this is different”. I had incredible conversations with Roar, Alicia and Graham. From that point on, I was hooked.
What was either your favourite, or the most difficult, scene to film?
Alicia Vikander: That is sometimes the same scene! One of my favourites was the scene where Lara meets Vogel. It was both difficult and exciting because Walton and I tried so many different things.
The scene where Lara bicycles around east London was a wonderful way to introduce her. When I was 20, I lived in east London with my girlfriends, and I used to have a bike, because it’s so crazy expensive to get on the Tube.
I was almost severely injured riding the bike, so, I know how difficult it is to cycle in London.
Walton Goggins: That first scene with Alicia was a memorable one for me, too. We knew we wanted to disorientate the audience and have them wonder where the characters are in the scene. The audience is experiencing what Lara is.
Roar Uthaug: One of my favourite scenes has Lara going down a river on an old Japanese bomber. That was inspired by the 2013 game. Filming encompassed different elements, like Alicia being in a tank, on the wing set, and on a big gimbal plane set that would spin 180 degrees – culminating in Alicia speeding down a white-water Olympic rafting course, with her hands tied.
Alicia Vikander: Twenty-five times [laughs].
Roar Uthaug: When we put all that together, it made for a great sequence.
Graham King: That first day of filming was the scene Alicia and Walton have already mentioned, in the tent, where Lara meets Vogel. Seeing their chemistry on set, watching them getting into their characters, gave the production a lot of momentum. But as a producer, it’s difficult to single out a day or scene. They were all incredible to experience.
Tomb Raider is in cinemas across Doha.