Dressed in a faded mechanic's jumpsuit, Alicia Vikander is white-knuckling a tiny stick-shift car through the dusky back alleys of Rome. As a menacing Russian spy (played by Armie Hammer) careens up beside her, she swerves, catapulting the car into the narrow space between two buildings.
When you watch the opening scene of Guy Ritchie's stylish adaptation of the '60s cult TV show The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (out August 14), it's hard to believe that just a few months before filming, its 26-year-old star had never driven a car. "When I auditioned, I didn't tell them I didn't have a license," says Vikander, swallowing a faint smirk as she takes a sip of green tea at New York's Crosby Street Hotel. The Swedish-born actress, who has lived in London for the past four years, speaks in a low, almost hypnotic voice that sounds slightly British. "My friends came to the set while we were shooting the car-chase scene and just laughed, but it was so fun."
Laughing in the face of fear is nothing new for the self-possessed actress and dancer, who performed in her first play at the age of 7 in front of a live audience of about 1,500 and moved—by herself—to Stockholm when she was 15 to attend the Royal Swedish Ballet school. After landing a few acting roles in Sweden, Vikander gained international attention in 2012's Anna Karenina and even more as a sexy robot in this year's Ex Machina. "When I got the Karenina role, I was living in London with the girls from Icona Pop—they're my best friends from Sweden," she says. "We didn't have any money, so we lived in the most dirty little house. We shared beds and just had a pile of clothes in the middle of the room that we also shared."
Vikander, a new face of Louis Vuitton, is nattily dressed for our interview in a tweed Vuitton blazer, Acne Studios skinny jeans, and Vuitton sandals. "These actually look like the sandals I wore in the movie," she says, lifting a jewel-encrusted slide into the air. The actress loved all the chic '60s-inspired fashion in U.N.C.L.E., but she says with a sly smile, "My favorite outfit was the boilersuit."