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Tomb Raider director Roar Uthaug on why Lara Croft is a hero for today

Contributed by
Mar 14, 2018, 4:30 PM EDT

In the 22 years of Lara Croft's existence, she's kicked down plenty of doors, both virtual and proverbial, in proving the power of a female heroine in gaming and pop culture. In the video game world alone, the character's top-lined 11 different installments of the Tomb Raider game franchise. She's also gotten many women into gaming by giving them a smart, capable and adventurous female avatar to play.

She's even been adapted to the big screen, with Angelina Jolie donning Croft's ponytail and tank top for two successful movies: Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001) and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider – The Cradle of Life (2003). Unfortunately, it's taken 15 years to get the character back in theaters, but in that downtime the world to catch up a bit, allowing Lara to become more an icon for our current times.

Academy-Award winning actor Alicia Vikander is inhabiting the role now which is adapted from the Crystal Dynamics 2013 Tomb Raider video game reboot. Both that game and this Tomb Raider film frame Croft as brainier, less buxom and scrappier than ever.

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However, the movie's adventures, locales and action will be just as ambitious as the game's best cut scenes because director Roar Uthaug is himself a gamer who was intent on translating the intensity of the video game experience to theaters. That's a lofty goal for any director, but Uthau tells SYFY WIRE why he thinks Vikander has unlocked that particular achievement.

As a character-based filmmaker what made the action-oriented Tomb Raider reboot the right project for you?

Roar Uthaug: Well, I was always a fan of the video game from the very first game that came out. We used to play it with my friends back in Norway all the time. From the beginning, Lara Croft was just an interesting and iconic character. Just a fresh breath of air for video game heroes. And so, I've always been a fan and then when I got the call regarding this, and saw what they had done to the reboot of the game, I got very excited.

Did you present a specific take on what your Tomb Raider will would look like, or was there already a specific approach developed?

I think we were all on the same page, in that we wanted to make a very authentic and gritty Tomb Raider, in keeping with the reboot of the game version of Lara Croft that felt very human. When she falls, she gets hurt, but she picks herself up. In the game, when she has her first kill she has an emotional reaction to it. I think all that felt like it was a really great basis for a modern, contemporary video game movie, or a Lara Croft movie.

The disappearance of Lara's father really drives a lot of this movie. Explain how that came to be?

To me it was very important that we get to know Lara and get the sense of her life and who she is before she's taking off on this big adventure. The way I saw it was that she's this young girl living in East London, working as a bike courier, trying to make ends meet. But there's a big part missing in her life after her father (Dominic West), who was very close to her, disappeared seven years ago. Nobody knows what happened to him. That is what leads her onto her adventure.

What makes Alicia Vikander the right Lara Croft?

Being a fellow Scandinavian, I, of course, knew of her work and I've always wanted to work with her. When we started thinking about who could portray our version of Lara Croft, she was immediately at the top of our list. I think she just has it all. She has the vulnerability, and as you've seen from her before, in emotional scenes, you just really connect.

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How did you craft a Lara for these times, keeping her grounded yet heroic?

You cast Alicia Vikander and you let her train for a month. (Laughs) She trained with her trainer, Magnus, who worked with Skarsgard for Tarzan. He's Swedish as well, so they really hit it off. He pushed her really hard, and she pushed herself really hard to get in the physical shape to be an action hero, and also just to handle all the stuff that we were gonna put her through. All the shit. Just all the running and jumping and swimming. She worked really hard with the stunt team preparing her for all the stunts that she had to go through.

When you're essentially competing against incredible cut scenes in video games, how do you approach making a real-life movie that has to work within the reality of gravity and human frailty?

Well, the movie has to come from character. First of all, get Lara in the middle of the action. But I also wanted the audience to be in the middle of the action with Lara and experiencing everything through her. It doesn't matter how big the explosions are if you don't care about the character in the middle of it. So, it's about really connecting with Lara and then experiencing it through her experience of it, and trying to bring the audience as close to that as possible.

Is there a sequence that you really love how it came out?

I love in the game that they have a sequence with Lara going down the river, hanging off the waterfall and then having to grab a parachute before a window breaks. I think that's a really cool scene in the game and that scene inspired the sequence in our movie.

With the success of Wonder Woman and Black Panther setting new standards for women in action films, are you hoping this Lara Croft will carry the torch?

First of all, I'm extremely proud to be able to update the legacy on the big screen and to create the new origin story for the big screen. That's an incredible honor, knowing all the fans out there and their expectations. I also think that we have created a very strong female heroine that I hope both girls and boys, can identify with and that can inspire all people to kind of try to reach for their potential. And having two daughters myself, I'm also hoping that it can inspire them as well.

Tomb Raider opens on March 16.