Venice: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander Talk Intense Acting in 'The Light Between Oceans'

The Light Between Oceans - still 1 - H 2016
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

The Irish-German actor also related the story to the modern-day immigration crisis.

In Derek Cianfrance’s new film The Light Between Oceans, based on the book by M.L. Stedman, Michael Fassbender plays Tom, a WWI veteran who longs for a life of solitude and takes an undesirable job as a lighthouse keeper on a desolate island off the coast of Western Australia. His plans happily change when he falls in love with a woman named Isabel (Alicia Vikander) and the two marry and set up an idyllic life apart from civilization.

Yet they can’t have it all, and Isabel tries repeatedly to have a child with traumatic consequences. When a baby, accompanied by a man's corpse, washes ashore in a row boat, they decide to keep the girl and raise her as their own. But they later find out that the mother of the child, a woman named Hannah (Rachel Weisz), is alive and still grieving for her lost daughter and her German husband, Franz.

The sweeping period melodrama has been praised at the Venice Film Festival for its gorgeous production with lush cinematography from Adam Arkapaw and another triumphant score from Alexandre Desplat. Cianfrance, Fassbender and Vikander were on hand in Venice to promote the film.

Cianfrance explained that DreamWorks ended up making the film because exec Steven Spielberg was a big fan of the director's 2010 drama Blue Valentine, which starred Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams. “I had always thought that Blue Valentine was E.T. without the alien,” Cianfrance said.

For the two actors, the experience of shooting on remote locations between Australia and New Zealand was incredibly intense, but one they found very fulfilling.

“It meant the world. I was such a big film of Derek’s films,” said Vikander. “And then I knew that Michael was attached to play Tom, and I think he’s one of the most brilliant actors out there.

"So for me, I knew I had to come in and work with these guys and give it my very best. That meant that I was up for the game, but I was very nervous. I got people that picked me up when I fell and who pushed me," she continued. "Michael’s support in those scenes were a big part of me daring to go all the way, which was needed for the role of Isabel.”

Fassbender added of his co-star, who was still up-and-coming at the time of the shoot: “I was kind of scared when Alicia came, she was so fierce and hungry, and it was something that is always a great thing to see in an actor who is getting an opportunity who hasn’t been well known yet.

"It’s always great to see that hunger when you’re given that opportunity, and you grab it with both hands," he continued. "I remember that from when I was starting, that hunger when really fresh actors come on the scene makes more established actors up their game. "I really felt like I had to get my shit together and just be there and be as present as she was."

He also spoke of Cianfrance's insistence on pushing him as an actor. "Derek is just somebody who demands more and more and more," said Fassbender. "You think you’ve discovered something and then you’re going to go for another 35-minute take. It was a very intense experience, but very rewarding.”

Vikander also talked about the film addressing the often taboo subject of miscarriages: “This women goes through miscarriages and I know it’s a subject that‘s sometimes not talked about a lot but is common and is trauma that a lot of people can relate to.”

The young actress explained that although she’s not a mother yet, it’s something she is planning on in the future. ”It’s one of those things that I feel to be the biggest mystery to one day have a child. I always imagine myself to one day have a family,” says Vikander.

For Fassbender, he said if there’s one thing to take away from the film, it’s forgiveness, amplified in the character of Hannah, after having sympathized with the discrimination her husband suffered in the post-war climate. “We see it today with the immigration scenario, what happens to Franz is also something that we can relate to today. He goes out in a boat and dies at sea. We see so many immigrants dying at sea today, and how people react to new people coming into a country and that sort of prejudice," the actor said. "What I like most is this element of forgiveness."