As Eric Northman on HBO’s racy vampire saga True Blood, Alexander Skarsgård is not your average bloodsucker. Sure, he’s tall, pale and inclined to exsanguinations, but he rarely chews the scenery—or his co-stars—and his louche breed of boredom is a refreshing antidote to those pubescent Twilight lightweights. The 33-year-old actor, who says his character is “both a mirror and weird reflection of my personality,” masterfully embodies Northman’s above-it-all cool. And for good reason. He’s seen it all before—albeit on a smaller, Scandinavian scale—as the son of internationally respected actor Stellan Skarsgård.
The rumored swain of Evan Rachel Wood, Skarsgård became famous in his home country when he was only 13 for his performance in a breakout hit called The Dog That Smiled. He quit acting for almost a decade after that experience, but Skarsgård no longer fears exposure. “I’ve learned not to worry about that and not to let that affect me or my friends,” he says calmly. During production on his new movie, a remake of the Sam Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs (starring James Marsden and Kate Bosworth), fans drove all the way from Chicago to Shreveport, Louisiana, just to get his autograph. “Yeah, it can get a little intense,” he says. “But it’s a good thing. I haven’t had any bad experiences, knock on wood.”
You’ve said in other interviews that your experience of fame as a child actor was kind of scary and put you off acting for a few years and then in your early twenties you decided to give it another try. What motivated that change? Well, I don’t know if “scary” is the right word. I did my first feature when I was seven back in Sweden. I never really considered it a profession or potential work for me in the future, I just thought of it as something fun. Then I did this movie when I was 13 and it got quite a lot of attention back in Scandinavia and it just made me very uncomfortable. It’s weird when you’re 13 to get all that attention. From the day I started working as an actor I wasn’t saying, “I’m gonna be a big star.” So it wasn’t a tough decision for me to stop. And my parents never pushed me. They said, “If you’re not passionate about this, if you don’t like all the attention, just do what you want to do.” And I did for seven years. And then when I was 20, like most people that age, I started thinking about what to do with my future and potential careers and obviously acting came up again. I realized that I had a strong urge to be on a stage again. I missed acting and I also knew that the fact I quit had nothing to do with the craft, with the work itself, it had to do with everything around it. So I figured it might be different now that I was 20 as opposed to when I was 13.
You felt more able to deal with it, at that point, maturity wise. I was still young but I felt that at least I wasn’t 13. I felt that I kind of owed it to myself to give it another go and see how I felt about it. Then I went to study at a drama school in New York and from day one I knew how much I missed it and how much I loved it, so, you know, after that I’ve never looked back.
In Generation Kill the character you played, Ice Man, who is based on a real soldier, is very reserved and the performance itself was similarly restrained, but the scene that I really liked and that a lot of people have commented on, is the one where you’re, for lack of a better word, flying around in that field where everyone’s camped. How did that particular scene come about? It happened. It happened for real. Reading the book and the script I just loved that moment so much. It’s towards the end of their journey, they’re almost outside of Baghdad at that point, they’ve gone through all this madness. It’s just this moment where [my character] Colbert, who is the Ice Man, and is always strong, just has to become a child again for just a few seconds. He just has to let all that out for a brief moment and be the guy who leaves his gun behind and just enjoys the moment, which he hasn’t done up until then.
I know that you had decided not to talk to the man you were playing during the filming, but that you met him after. Did you talk about that specific moment with him? I don’t remember. We talked, I’m pretty sure we did, we talked about everything. I picked his brain for hours. It was just such a big moment for me to sit down and meet with him and talk to him about the whole journey, and his take on the series, how he felt about what we did with it, how we portrayed him and his fellow marines.
Was he pleased? I’m still alive so I guess. He seemed to like it. It would be tough for him because it was personal. Everything I say on the show, talking about his ex-girlfriend, and hookers and all that stuff, it’s real, it’s quotes from real life. He never asked for this to become a huge HBO series. This is stuff he said in front of his men, inside the humvee, and yes, he knew that there was a journalist back there, but after a couple of days you forget that the guy’s a journalist. When you’re tired, and you’ve been on the road for a couple days it’s hard to censor yourself. But I think that he liked what we did and felt that it was a portrait of what they went through out there. That meant everything to me to hear that.
On the flip side of Ice Man you have Eric Northman in True Blood, who’s very flamboyant and predatory, if vulnerable. Which of these characters feels closer to your real personality than the other? I think both of them are born inside of me. I always use my own feelings and experiences in portraying a character so I think they’re both a mirror of my personality and a weird reflection of my personality. Also, for me as an actor, to be able to go from playing Ice Man for seven months to playing a character like Eric that’s the polar opposite– someone who’s flamboyant, who likes the attention, who’s always in the center–gave me tons of creativity. I wouldn’t want to play the same character in ten different projects in a row.
A friend of mine mentioned that in the love triangle you have going on in the show, she likes is that it seems like Eric and Bill spend as much time staring deeply into each others’ eyes as Bill and Sookie do. And of course then Evan Rachel Wood’s character told you guys to just to do it already. How do you guys feel about how that relationship is going? Eric and Bill? I love it. I think that it’s so much fun for Eric to toy with Bill, because Bill is so serious, he’s so young and naïve in a way, and Eric enjoys that. Bill’s so, “Oh, I’m in love and I’m going to save Sookie,” and to Eric, Bill’s not even two-hundred years old, so to Eric he’s just a little baby. Eric knows he’s in control and he’s in power and he really enjoys all those moments and seeing Bill upset and angry, because to Eric it’s not a real threat.
Have you noticed a difference between True Blood fans and Twilight fans? You’re not being chased around in hotel rooms like Robert Pattinson, are you? The fans of True Blood, they’re very devoted, they take this very seriously so, it can get a little intense but I try to see it as a positive thing. I shot a movie down in Shreveport and there were these fans who drove down from Chicago and drove up from Miami just to come to the hotel where we stayed for an autograph. I would never do that, but on the other hand I really have to appreciate how much they love the show. I haven’t had any bad experiences. Knock on wood.
One of the consequences of the recent uptick in your fame lately is that your personal life is being scrutinized, with people connecting you with Evan Rachel Wood and Kate Bosworth. How do you deal with that ? I’ve been dealing with this in Scandinavia for the last ten years now, plus those years when I was a child actor, so this is like that only a thousand times bigger. Even though I’ve just become famous here in the states, I’ve dealt with the fact that people recognize me or look at me wherever I go and start rumors about me and my private life before. I’m already used to all that stuff. I’ve learned not to worry about it. It’s pretty much the same phenomenon only it’s a lot bigger here.
I had forgotten until recently that you had a cameo in Zoolander as the Meekus character. How in the world did you end up in that movie? I was here in the states on vacation. My father’s an actor and he was working in LA and his manager knew that I was working in Sweden at the time. So she was like, “Well do you want to go out and take a meeting and audition for something.” And I thought, “Oh that’s fun, you know, I’m in Hollywood I’ll try that.” And I think Zoolander was my first and only audition when I was out there was and I got the part. I was like, “That was easy–is that how easy it is in Hollywood?” And then of course I came back two years later and realized that I was very lucky and it took me a couple years until I landed my next gig. So it was just a fluke. It was an amazing experience for me, coming from the tiny film industry in Sweden with no expectations. It’s not like I was in LA trying to get work. I was on vacation hanging out with my family and two weeks later I found myself in Tribecca in Manhattan working with Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson and Will Ferrell. I flew back to Stockholm right after that and spent another three years in Sweden and then I came back to the states. I was a little naïve when I came back because I was like, “Piece of cake you go in, you read, you get the job, you go do the job.” But then I faced reality and realized it’s not that easy.
So that movie you were talking about in Shreveport was Straw Dogs. Tell me about that. It’s a remake and it’s not. Rod Lurie wrote it and directed it, and you can’t just copy a Sam Peckinpah movie because there’s really no point in doing that. You have to add something and I think Rod did. What attracted me to it is that there’s also a love triangle drama there. My character had a history with Kate Bosworth’s character. They dated for many years, she leaves and she comes back ten years later with James Marsden’s character who’s a screenwriter from Hollywood. It’s a culture clash.
It’s definitely another change from what you were doing before. Yeah, I mean this is a local guy from down in Southern Mississippi so it was quite different.
If I heard correctly, your dad was just cast in Thor and you were in the running for that title character, what did you think about that prospect? I was very flattered. I know that they considered me for the part and I got, from what I understand, very close to getting it and that’s amazing because I know how many guys they look at for a part like that. I was very humbled by that. It was a great experience and you know you win some you lose some, of course I wanted to do that but…
Did you actually audition for it? Oh yeah, many, many times.
So just to wrap up, do you care to tell us about any of your favorite places to go out in LA or New York. I usually go to house parties. I’m from Sweden and we don’t go out to clubs until 1 am in Sweden, so it’s hard for me to adjust to L.A. where you have to go out at 10 and then the bars close at 1:30 and you have to drive. I prefer to stay in when you don’t have to drive and you can hang out as late as you want.
Photo by Chris Mauszynski