In 2014 and 2015, Vikander achieved global recognition for her roles as activist Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth, a humanoid robot in Ex Machina (for which she was nominated for the Golden Globe and BAFTA Award for Best Supporting Actress) and painter Gerda Wegener in The Danish Girl, for which she received the Academy Award and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Supporting Actress, among other awards. She will star as Lara Croft in the 2018 film Tomb Raider.
Vikander was born in Gothenburg, the daughter of Maria Fahl Vikander, a stage actor, and Svante Vikander, a psychiatrist. Her parents are from small villages in the north and south of Sweden, respectively. They separated when Vikander was two months old, and she was mostly raised by her single mother. She has five half-siblings on her father's side. Vikander has said that she had the best of both worlds growing up, being an only child to her mother and being surrounded by a big family when she went to her father’s house every second week. Her ancestry is Swedish and one quarter Finnish.
Vikander started her career as an actor at the age of seven, starring in a production of Kristina från Duvemåla at The Göteborg Opera, which was written by the Mamma Mia! creators, Björn and Benny from ABBA; she performed in the play for three-and-a-half years. She appeared in several musicals at the Opera, such as The Sound of Music and Les Misérables. In 1997 she participated in the TV4 kids' singing show Småstjärnorna; she performed the Helen Sjöholms song "Du måste finnas". She won her episode with praise by the judges for her stage presence.
Vikander trained in ballet from the age of nine with the Svenska Balettskolan i Göteborg (1998–2004). At the age of 15, Vikander moved from Gothenburg to train at the ballet's upper school in Stockholm; she lived on her own, working to become a principal dancer. She traveled around the world for summer courses, training one summer at the School of American Ballet in New York City.
At the age of 16, she almost left school to commit fully to the television series she worked on with director Tomas Alfredson, realizing her passion for acting. Her dance career was sidelined by injuries in her late teens. She auditioned for drama school but was turned down twice. At one point, Vikander was admitted to law school but she never attended, following her dreams to become an actress instead.
Vikander began her career by appearing in a number of short films and television roles in her native Sweden. She became well known in Scandinavia for her role in the popular Swedish TV drama Andra Avenyn (2008–2010).
Vikander received critical acclaim for her feature film debut, playing the leading role of Katarina in the Swedish film Pure (2010). The film centers around the troubled secretary Katarina, who desperately tries to escape her life. With this role, Vikander won the Rising Star Award in 2010 at the Stockholm Film Festival, the Shooting Star Award at the Berlin International Film Festival and the prestigious Guldbagge Award for Best Actress. In 2011, she had the leading role of Fragancia Fernandez, who is arrested for attempted murder, in The Crown Jewels. In 2012, Vikander gained international attention for playing the key role of Kitty in the English-language film adaptation of Anna Karenina, starring Keira Knightley. The film premiered at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and received positive reviews.
That year, she added Danish to her repertoire while co-starring as Queen Caroline Mathilde in the Nikolaj Arcel feature film A Royal Affair. It had its world premiere at the 62nd Berlin International Film Festival and was received with critical acclaim. The film was subsequently nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film at the 85th Academy Awards.
Vikander was named as one of the 10 Actors to Watch: Breakthrough Performances of 2012 at the 20th Hamptons International Film Festival, was nominated for BAFTA Rising Star Award in 2013, and received the Editor's Choice Award at the 2013 Elle Style Awards.
In 2013, she starred as German Pirate Party member Anke Domscheit-Berg in The Fifth Estate. The film opened the Toronto International Film Festival on 5 September 2013. The film garnered mixed critical reactions; however, some critics praised the performances in the film. She also had the leading role of Erika in the Swedish film Hotell, for which she was awarded the Marrakech International Film Festival Award for Best Actress by jury president, director Martin Scorsese.
In 2014, she appeared in the Australian crime thriller Son of a Gun. The film was released in Australia on 16 October 2014 and received mixed reviews; however, Vikander was praised for her performance.
In 2015, Vikander had substantial roles in eight films. She was praised by critics for her portrayal of painter Gerda Wegener in Tom Hooper's The Danish Girl, for which she won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the second Swedish actress to win this award; the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role, and the Critics' Choice Movie Award for Best Supporting Actress; and received a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role but lost both awards to Brie Larson for her role in Room.
She gained public recognition and critical acclaim for her starring role as Artificial intelligence Ava in Alex Garland's directorial debut Ex Machina, for which she received a nomination for the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture and the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role.
She had the leading role of pacifist Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth alongside Kit Harington and Emily Watson. Testament of Youth was well received upon its release, with critics praising Vikander's performance in particular. For her role as Brittain, Vikander was nominated for BIFA Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a British Independent Film. She also played the role of half-human/half-witch Alice Deane in the fantasy film Seventh Son (2015), narrated the Swedish documentary Ingrid Bergman: In Her Own Words (2015), had the female leading role in the Guy Ritchie-directed action film The Man from U.N.C.L.E., based on the 1964 MGM television series of the same name; and appeared in the film Burnt (2015).
On 6 May 2016 it was announced that Vikander set up a production company called Vikarious along with her agent Charles Collier. The company’s first film, Euphoria, a production with Sweden’s B-Reel Films, will start shooting in the German Alps in early August 2016. The film is the English-language directorial debut of Swedish writer/director Lisa Langseth, and will be Langseth and Vikander's third collaboration. Vikander will star opposite Eva Green and Charlotte Rampling as sisters in conflict travelling through Europe toward a mystery destination.
In 2016, Vikander starred opposite Matt Damon in Jason Bourne, directed by Paul Greengrass. It was released on 29 July 2016 by Universal Pictures. Vikander then appeared in the adaptation of the novel The Light Between Oceans (2016), directed by Derek Cianfrance, with Michael Fassbender and Rachel Weisz. The film was released in the United States by Touchstone Pictures on 2 September 2016.
On 30 November 2015, it was announced that Vikander will co-star opposite James McAvoy in the upcoming romantic thriller, Submergence. The film will be directed by Wim Wenders. In April 2016, it was confirmed that Vikander would play Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot film adaptation which is set to be released on 16 March 2018. In June 2016, it was reported Vikander was being eyed to portray Agatha Christie.
Vikander lives in London. Since late 2014 she has been in a relationship with actor Michael Fassbender.
Vikander identifies as a feminist, and has publicly denounced gender inequality in film:
"I'd just made five films in a row, and [Tulip Fever] was the first one where I had a scene with another woman...There's a change happening, and I want to be part of that. You see something like The Hunger Games or Insurgent proving that a female role can carry a successful blockbuster."