Voted Swedens Sexiest Man five times, Alexander Skarsgard became a breakout star on HBOs True Blood and, with his complex role in Lars von Triers masterpiece Melancholia, is ready for his closeup. The actor opens up to Marlow Stern about his early role in Zoolander, dating co-stars, how his naval background prepared him for next summers Battleship opposite Rihanna, and more.|
by Marlow Stern, published on November 9, 2011 - 8:42 PM EST
When Sookie Stackhouse, the protagonist of Charlaine Harriss The Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels, first lays eyes on the chiseled, naked body of Eric Northman, she remarks, if there were an international butt competition, Eric would win, hands downor cheeks up.
On the hit HBO series True Blood, adapted from Harriss books, Northman, a vainglorious Viking-cum-vampire, is played with great panacheand frequent nakednessby Alexander Skarsgard, a blond, 6-foot-4 actor whose slight bags under his eyes only seem to augment his power to glamour, or hypnotize. The hunky role isnt too much of a stretch for Skarsgard, who was voted Swedens Sexiest Man five times in a row, much to his actor-father Stellans chagrin.
He pushed me off that throne and Ill never forgive him, the elder Skarsgard told The Daily Beast. I was Swedens sexiest man once and then my son comes and becomes it five times in a row just to show Daddy.
Now, after melting the hearts of womenand some menon HBOs flagship show, the aesthetically pleasing younger Skarsgard is angling into more serious fare, starring alongside his father in celebrated Danish filmmaker Lars von Triers Melancholia, in theaters Friday. Set during and moments after Justines (Kirsten Dunst) wedding, the movie centers on two sistersthe depressed Justine and distraught Claire (Charlotte Gainsbourg)who struggle to grasp each others peculiarities, all while the Earth is about to collide with a new planet. Skarsgard plays Michael, Justines new husband, who hopes to fix this broken woman.
Despite von Triers recent Im a Nazi comment at Cannes, which Skarsgard told The Daily Beast was very stupid and a byproduct of the eccentric directors bizarre sense of humor, the enthralling film is being hailed as von Triers masterpiece. And the effete, vulnerable Michael is a far cry from the brooding Northman, showcasing Skarsgards range as an actor. With a diverse array of future rolesas the victim of identity theft opposite Jason Bateman in Disconnect, an eco-anarchist alongside Ellen Page and Brit Marling in The East, and one of the leads in next summers $200 million-plus blockbuster Battleship, Skarsgard seems ready to make the jump from TV heartthrob to Hollywood star.
But Alexander Skarsgard never wanted to be famous.
At the age of 7, he co-starred with his father in Åke and His World, a traditional Swedish childrens story. Skarsgard played a young boy battling tuberculosis and seemed to possess an innate screen presence. I saw that he was very good, said Skarsgards father, adding, He had very expressive eyes. Michael Nyqvist, known for his starring role in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo films, lived just two blocks from the Skarsgards in south Stockholm and echoes the praise. I knew him since he was around 7, and he has this open, honest way in everything he does, Nyqvist told The Daily Beast.
Then, at 13, Skarsgard achieved his first lead role in the TV film The Smiling Dog. Since Sweden only had a handful of TV channels then, Skarsgard became a local sensationand hated it.
You want a cute girl in school to look at you because youre cool or cute, but it made me paranoid because suddenly I just assumed that everybody looked at me because they recognized me from television and I didnt like it, said Skarsgard. So I quit television and acting for eight years.
When Skarsgard was 19 he applied to do his national service, and became team leader of a group of four men in the Royal Swedish Navy stationed on the archipelago for 18 months. The men were, according to Skarsgard, training in anti-sabotage. Following his military stint, Skarsgard, then 21 and attending university in England, reached a crossroads.
I had taken eight years off of not doing anything, and like most kids that age, I got to a place where I thought I should start thinking about my future and what I wanted to do, said Skarsgard. I started thinking about acting again and figured I should try it before I dismiss it for good.
So Skarsgard moved to New York City and enrolled in an acting class at Marymount Manhattan College. He fell back in love with it immediately and returned to Stockholm to sharpen his skills doing theater work.
Then he got lucky.
It was the summer of 2000, and Skarsgard was visiting his father in Los Angeles, where he was shooting The Glass House. At a family dinner, Skarsgard met his fathers manager, who said hed send him on a series of auditions. The first one was for the role of Meekus, a dimwitted model-roommate of Ben Stillers title character in Zoolander who dies in a freak gasoline fight accident.
Two weeks later, I was in Manhattan shooting with Ben Stiller, said Skarsgard. It was crazy. But I had a contract with a theater in Sweden, so I went home after that to work for another three years with basically no time off. I got an agent and a manager because of Zoolander and my agent said, When you get a little break, you should come out to L.A. to meet some producers and casting directors, and thats how it started.
His theater obligations met, Skarsgard moved to Los Angeles in 2004 and, thanks in part to his military background, was cast as Sgt. Brad Iceman Colbert in the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, set early in the Iraq War. The series co-creator David Simon (The Wire) was initially apprehensive about hiring Skarsgard because of his Swedish accent, so the actor hired famed dialect coach Jerome Butler to help him sound perfectly American. He really saved my ass, said Skarsgard.
Following Generation Kill, he was cast as Northman in the sexy vampire series True Blood. While his vampire-sheriff was little more than a glorified extra during the shows first season, he grew a massive following, and his character has evolved into one of the leadsmeaning plenty of sex scenes with Sookie Stackhouse, played by Anna Paquin, who in real life is married to her co-star Stephen Moyer, a.k.a. vampire Bill.
Before all [the sex] started, Stephen said to me, I want you to be comfortable, I dont want you to feel weird or anything. Youre a good friend, so just do whatever the scenes demand. It was great of him to say, just making sure that we were all cool with it, said Skarsgard.
Moyer did have some grounds for concern, however, considering Skarsgards penchant for dating co-stars. So far, hes been linked to True Blood actress Evan Rachel Wood, as well as Kate Bosworth, whom he tormented in the recent remake of Straw Dogs.
Well, of course it happens, said a visibly awkward Skarsgard. You have a very intense experience together and I dont think its very uncommon that people meet at work. He pauses, then laughs. I dont f---ing know! You get to know people, you become friends, and then it leads to something else.
And while his star is rising in Hollywood, Skarsgard says he doesnt plan to leave the HBO showwhich will resume shooting its fifth season in Decemberany time soon, saying, As long as its fun, Im having a blast, and they want me on the show, Ill do it.
Its taken Skarsgard a few years to transition into films since he made his big splash on True Blood, in part because many Hollywood producers, according to the actor, insist on pigeonholing him for his looks. So he decided to throw a few curveballstaking the role in Melancholia, a film thats receiving some of the best reviews of the year, followed by the indie drama Disconnect, where hell play a married man caught up in an identity-theft scama role for which Skarsgard packed on 15 pounds. And of course, he plays the commanding officer of a U.S. Navy destroyer in next summers blockbuster Battleship, directed by Peter Berg (Hancock). Despite his own heavy workload, Skarsgards experience on Battleship left him in awe of his co-star Rihanna, who made her acting debut in the movie.
I thought I had a busy, tough schedule, but f--- me, man! said Skarsgard. We would shoot Friday in Hawaii, Saturday shed fly to L.A. to perform at the MTV Music Awards, take the redeye back after the show, land, come back to the set with a smile on her face. Shes really tough and I was very impressed.
Skarsgard is also rumored to be in the running in a few more high-profile film projects, including Steven Soderberghs film adaptation of The Man from U.N.K.L.E. Hes currently filming the eco-anarchist drama The East opposite Brit Marling and Ellen Page, and just wrapped the indie drama What Maisie Knew, alongside Julianne Moore. The Swede, however, seems to be taking his newly found It Boy status in stride.
Its kind of crazy but Im just trying to be smart, find the right projects, and enjoy every single day of it, said Skarsgard. Ive had moments where my phones silent and I get no scripts sent my way or no phone calls from agents. I also know that a couple of years from now I might be back there, so Im really trying to make the most of it.