Sometimes it's just easier for two celebrities to be in love in Europe.
While that hardly eliminated them from the mass curiosity that accompanies any two gorgeous actors when they decide to couple up, Alicia Vikander and Michael Fassbender have been able to enjoy a certain amount of privacy not always afforded the Hollywood-based set.
Of course, that wouldn't have been possible without their concerted decision to be inconspicuous in plain sight.
"I think we've made a clear statement that we keep certain things just between us," Vikander told Entertainment Weekly in 2016 of her agreement with her eventual husband. "It was very easy to unite, but that's quite personal." Noted Fassbender, "Each to their own. I'm not going to talk about my private life with a total stranger, unless I feel like I need to. Why would I? I don't."
The pair first met as co-stars of The Light Between Oceans, a tearjerker of a drama about a lighthouse keeper and his wife who find a baby washed up on shore. After having suffered through multiple miscarriages, they feel it's the answer to their prayers—until they come across the baby's actual mother, played by Rachel Weisz.
The intensity of those roles certainly contributed to Fassbender and Vikander falling fast for each other. As the actor told EW, with the "summer camp" quality of a movie set, "You have to come together very quickly. That's a very specific, unusual thing to this business—and it can be a very powerful thing."
That being said, Fassbender added, "It wasn't the first time in a movie either of us had played somebody who is falling in love. There is an element of separation there. If I'm playing a murderer, I don't go out and start murdering people."
But, just as Tom goes gaga for Isabel, so did the German-born, Irish-bred actor flip for his Swedish co-star. Having both done the dating-fellow-actors thing, they decided fairly right away that they'd keep it to themselves, as much as their frequent paparazzi escorts would let them. And perhaps neither wanted to go too public until they had confirmed to each other that this wasn't just a classic case of co-stars getting caught up in the moment.
Fassbender briefly dated Zoë Kravitz after the two were in X-Men: First Class together, the superhero saga having started filming in the summer of 2010. But then it was on to making Shame, the dark, NC-17-rated drama directed by Steve McQueen about a self-destructive sex addict that launched countless jokes about the actor's member (including George Clooney miming a golf club swing) that, er, stretched into awards season.
By the time the movie opened in limited release in December 2011, Fassbender—who would go on to be nominated for a Golden Globe but snubbed by the Academy—was dating his co-star Nicole Beharie.
"Nothing happened while we were filming," he told GQ in 2012. "We started talking more on the promotion thing. So, yeah, it just sort of unfolded like that."
He acknowledged that dating long distance was tough, though, with him in England and Beharie in New York, but "we're trying to see each other as often as possible."
But when GQ caught up with him again toward the end of 2013, he was single (having squeezed in a stretch of dating Olympic heptathlete Louise Hazel after his breakup with Beharie), increasingly ubiquitous onscreen and not fully ready to dismiss his reputation as a guy not looking to settle down—romantically or otherwise—any time soon. (For the record, he insisted to GQ he was not thrown out of his own premiere after-party for A Dangerous Method in 2012, as some tabloids had it—he was amiably piggybacked out.)
Reflecting on how life was different as a famous person, Fassbender said, "I make a lot more friends, you know what I mean? You become a lot more successful in terms of, like, talking to a girl. She's all of a sudden more interested in me. I know that, like, three years ago, she would've walked away after two sentences left my mouth. I remember I was sitting at this table at this thing, and I was talking to this girl. I was like, 'God, I am so boring right now.' But she was like, 'That's so interesting!'"
"I was like, 'You know what? Five years ago, this would not have been interesting.'"
Since he had started acting, "I think the longest relationship that I've been in was two years," he told the magazine. "I started doing this when I was 17, so I guess in my dating, adult life, that kind of covers it."
But though he had been quoted as saying that fame brought with it "a buffet of choice," Fassbender basically chalked it up to acting being his companion for the time being. "I'm kind of selfish with the hours that I put into the work," he admitted.
Hence most of his romances—such as 2014 dalliances with Gerard Butler's ex Madalina Ghenea and Naomi Campbell, and someone told The Sun he had an "incredible connection" with 12 Years a Slave co-star Lupita Nyong'o—not moving too far past the "linked to" and "rumored to be dating" stage.
Meanwhile, Vikander, a classically trained ballet dancer who made a name for herself acting in Sweden and stood out in small parts before vaulting into our consciousness as the star of 2014's Ex Machina, seemed to be dating fellow Swede Alexander Skarsgård (who coincidentally had his own headline-making full-frontal moment on True Blood). The couple were spotted having lunch in their home country in the summer of 2013 after it was said they'd been together for about a year—but it was entirely their own if so. (He's said to have attended her wedding in 2017, so they were at least good friends.)
Finally, in the fall of 2014, with Vikander having shot what would be her Oscar-winning turn in The Danish Girl, she reported to the New Zealand set of The Light Between Oceans.
It was a two-month shoot, also touching down in Australia (where they surfed and dined on the beach) and Tanzania. Her first appearance at an event with Fassbender was in May 2015 at the Formula One Grand Prix in Monte Carlo, a day after she attended her presumed boyfriend's Macbeth premiere at Cannes but didn't walk the red carpet with him.
The editing process took about a year, so when The Light Between Oceans finally came out almost two years after they shot it, The Danish Girl had made a splash, Vikander had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress—and Fassbender (also nominated that night, Best Actor for Steve Jobs) was the guy who got the big kiss when her name was called.
Which, so you know, was not a given, since they had sat next to each other at the BAFTAs earlier that month and completely denied the ceremony's kiss cam when it fell on the couple. (And why haven't award shows in the U.S. tried this?)
But thanks to the long post-production period, they got to enjoy a modicum of peace before all eyes were on them as they set out to jointly promote their movie.
Then, people wanted to know.
"It's not really difficult" being asked about his girlfriend, Fassbender said on Good Morning Britain in October 2016. "I just answer what I choose to answer and don't answer other things. It just happened, I'm glad it happened, and you know it is what it is."
It sure is.
"I was such a big fan of Derek's films," Vikander later told reporters at the 2016 Venice Film Festival, referring to The Light Between Oceans director Derek Cianfrance. "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."
Added Fassbender, "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."
"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 s--t together and just be there and be as present as she was."
According to his future wife, he came through.
"I remember on the first day we actually worked we stepped out and you said 'Give me something new, give me something new,'" Vikander said, a smiling Fassbender next to her, in an interview with Canada's eTalk. "And that kind of just set the terms...of always trying to find a new door that was going to lead us down a new path."
Vikander said that she was mostly nervous to play a woman who had gone through multiple miscarriages and then, through a haunting twist of fate, became a mother.
"I haven't had a child yet...so knowing that half of the audience, or half of the women watching it will just feel like 'she doesn't really know what it's like,' was something I felt a bit pressured by," she acknowledged at a news conference.
But she was also grateful to portray such a character, telling reporters, "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."
And she did plan to explore motherhood personally at some point. "It's one of those things that I feel to be the biggest mystery, to one day have a child," she said. "I always imagine myself to one day have a family."
Though the Venice set pretty much stuck to asking about moviemaking, like good cineastes, the co-stars' real-life partnership didn't go unnoticed. But, Fassbender explained to Entertainment Weekly, aside from the obvious fact that they were together, people would just have to keep wondering what their relationship was like.
"I might have been curious about actors' lives when I was growing up. That's human nature," he said. "We're all curious about a lot of things. But my curiosity didn't obligate them to tell me. It's the worst thing if you're sitting there in the theater, going, 'Oh, that's the guy who dates this person and likes to do this in the morning and that in the afternoon.' Then you're just watching a brand, as opposed to an actor."
Vikander said, "I remember in Sweden, I used to set the alarm for 2 or 3 a.m. and get up with my mom to watch the Oscars. But for me, that was the same as the stories I saw up on the movie screen. Things have changed with social media and technology, but I still feel it helps when I know less about the actors I look up to. That's what I mean—I love the mystery behind it all."
Hence her decision to stay off social media after trying, but then dismissing, Instagram.
"I remember, just with my friends, feeling like I had to post things," Vikander recalled. "And that was before I was really in films. And I know it involves a lot of other people who are not in the public eye. But it's a pressure that you kind of have to do it. If you like it, then it's great. And I do have a lot of friends who do communicate and express themselves and present their art through those mediums. That's just the way we're moving ahead. But I think you need to do what feels right."
What continued to feel super-right to her was her relationship with Fassbender, and they got married on Oct. 14, 2017, in a private—albeit star-studded—ceremony in Ibiza. "It's not about being secretive," she told Vogue a few weeks later. "It's just about choosing the few things that you keep private."
The following year, the couple, who prefer Airbnbs in Brooklyn to fancy hotels when they travel to New York, decided to settle down in Lisbon "to get away from London and big cities," Vikander said, calling the Portuguese capital "Williamsburg-ish."
As for newlywed life, she said at the time, "I feel I'm more happy and content than I've ever been."
And she sounded open to working with her husband again, calling the first try "a great experience," but at the same time she sounded as if she might want to compartmentalize a bit more.
"I think he's one of the absolute best actors I've worked with," she explained. "Of course he'd done more films than me, but immediately when we started to work together he was so open to wanting me to chip in new ideas and thoughts. He would be like, 'I'm stuck; what should I do?' and I would say, 'You're asking me?' That was such a sweet thing...Life is about a lot more than work, but if it's also your biggest passion, of course it's something you enjoy talking about."
We'll take that as a maybe. In the meantime, Vikander's latest movie is The Glorias, in which she plays one of several iterations of feminist icon Gloria Steinem, a figure she very much identifies with ideologically. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the promotional tour went virtual, so the actress didn't have to leave her husband for this one, the two instead checking into a five-star hotel in Sweden to celebrate her 32nd birthday on Oct. 3.
Having had a couple years to think about the idea of re-teaming with Fassbender, the actress told Elle this summer, "I would love to work with him one day, but we're very much individuals, which I love and I think is good in any relationship. We both take on parts because it's a film that is right for us, so it would have to be the same if we were ever to work together again."
So still, maybe. The couple—who walked their first red carpet together in more than three years in March 2020, at the Dublin International Film Festival—spent most of lockdown in rural France, and she joked to the magazine that there was always the chance that someone on the other end of a Zoom meeting could get a glimpse of Fassbender being domestic.
"But that's the thing when you're in your house," she laughed. "There's always a risk of someone in the background. My husband was often around making coffee or putting the boiler on."
It may not be the way we all wanted to find out, but the actual peek behind closed doors was certainly welcome.