Central Park Dental Spa: The Pearly Gates of Pearly Whites

An estimated 75% of American adults suffer from odontophobia, a severe fear of dentistry, and still, few doctors improve upon the status quo to make their patients more comfortable. Enter Central Park Dental Spa, the crown jewel of enameled crowns. Led by Dr. Eda Ellis, the 7th-story dental practice sits on the southern tip of Manhattan’s Central Park—a perfect perch from which to spy the horse-drawn carriages without having to smell them.

Dr. Ellis, who was named one of America’s Top Dentists in 2007 by the Consumer’s Research Counsel of America, is so invested in putting her sugar-loving patients at ease that their descriptions of her work include such superlatives as “best,” “greatest,” and “absolute perfection.” Of course, this has much to do with her confident and unhurried precision, but also her practice’s decidedly contemporary flourishes: a twitter account brimming with oral hygiene tips (when it comes to flossing, “don’t skimp”), a waiting area accented with soothing candles and a four-foot waterfall, and a staff reflexologist who’ll take care of your feet while Dr. Ellis cleans your teeth. Best of all, Dr. Ellis doesn’t shy away from real talk, which means you’ll never leave her office with an unnaturally white smile or ridiculously artificial caps. In short, she gets to the, er, root of the problem.

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Xavier Samuel On ‘Twilight,’ ‘Anonymous,’ & Why Acting Is Like Sex

While in Berlin last year shooting Roland Emmerich’s Anonymous, Xavier Samuel decided to take advantage of a rare night away from set to hit the clubs with his younger brother, Benedict, who was visiting from the suburbs of Sydney. Samuel, who plays vampire Riley Biers in the galactically popular Twilight saga, wanted to cut loose, unnoticed, among the crowds. “We walked up to the door of one bar, and people started screaming at my brother: ‘Jamie! Jamie! Jamie!’” says the 27-year-old actor.

“So he started posing for pictures and signing autographs.” The throngs had mistaken Benedict for Jamie Campbell Bower, Samuel’s Anonymous costar, both of whom boast long, meticulously tangled heads of hair. “The next morning, there was a photo of Benedict and me in one of the papers over a caption that read, ‘Jamie Campbell Bower and friend in Berlin.’ And friend? Come on!” From the shrub-encased patio at Culina inside the Four Seasons Los Angeles, the Australian shakes his head and lets out a laugh.

It seems mistaken identity was in the air in Germany, where Samuel spent three months perfecting his British accent while channeling the Third Earl of Southampton, the man to whom, according to many Elizabethan scholars, Shakespeare addressed his sonnets. As the film’s tagline, “Was Shakespeare a fraud?,” suggests, Emmerich’s thriller centers on the popular theory that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, played by Rhys Ifans, ghostwrote many of the famed wordsmith’s plays. “It’s a bit elitist to argue that Shakespeare, a man from the working class, couldn’t have done it himself, but there are some strange coincidences that could make you lean toward de Vere as the writer,” says Samuel, who took the stage in productions of Hamlet and A Midsummer Night’s Dream during his studies at Rostrevor College and Flinders University Drama Centre in Adelaide. “There are so many theories,” he adds. “I’m sure that if you wanted to, you could find a reason to believe that Muhammad Ali wrote the plays. What’s more interesting to me is the tension between art and politics. Back then you put on a play to overthrow the government. Now you do a movie to get famous.”

A drama about authenticity and authorship set in Shakespearean England doesn’t exactly scream Emmerich, the German special effects enthusiast behind Independence Day, Godzilla, and 2012. But Samuel wasn’t worried about the director trying to arm Ben Jonson with an AK-47. “Sure, he’s a bit of a dark horse, but people seem to forget that the reason Independence Day worked so well was because we cared about those characters—even as everything around them was blowing up,” he says. “Explosions on their own don’t really matter if the audience doesn’t care about the story.” image

No franchise in recent history has catapulted a cast of unknown actors into superstardom with as much velocity as Twilight. In 2009, Samuel traveled to Vancouver to star alongside Robert Pattinson, Kristen Stewart, and Taylor Lautner in Eclipse, the second installment of the sunshine-averse saga. Although fans of the Cullen clan “never needed to be handcuffed or anything,” their advances were aggressive enough to force the cast out of their hotel and into a private residential compound. To enjoy their spare time, the actors had to get creative. “We’d have these strategic text conversations, like, ‘Okay, in 30 minutes let’s all meet at this place,’” Samuel says. “We even had lookalikes. When we’d all get to the meeting point, it was like, ‘Yes, we escaped!’”

Samuel, whose parents are teachers (“My dad used to say, ‘You can always go into law as a backup’”), has been acting professionally for almost a decade now, ever since appearing in an episode of the Australian series McLeod’s Daughters. Still, he talks about his recent films with the enthusiasm of a newcomer. He refers to his costars as “just-add-water families.” He describes Anonymous as a “totally awesome film—really, really awesome.” Working opposite Ifans was a near-ecstatic experience. “Acting is like sex,” he says. “It’s possible if your partner is bad, but it’s better if they’re good. And Rhys, well, he’s probably one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with.”

Minutes from now, Samuel will drive out to Venice Beach, where he’s learning to carve waves for Drift, a surf movie he’s soon to start filming alongside fellow Aussie Sam Worthington. “What’s next?,” however, is a question he’s come to loathe, even though he’s already got two more films—A Few Best Men (a wedding farce he likens to Bridesmaids) and Bait (a horror film about vicious tiger sharks and tsunamis)—in the can. As it turns out, this aversion to looking to the future stems from his recent past. “I was doing a play in Sydney, and David Field, a really respected Australian actor, came to the show. I made the fatal error of saying, What are you doing next? He was like, ‘I’m fucking changing nappies, you fucking cunt. What are you fucking doing?’” Samuel reclines in his chair and lights the cigarette he’s been rolling. After exhaling a thick cloud of blue smoke, he asks, “Why look ahead when you can stop and appreciate the moment?”


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Elena Anaya Scratches Beneath the Surface in ‘The Skin I Live In’

Elena Anaya is having trouble finding the right words. Adding to the distracting whirr of overhead helicopters—the media literally won’t stop hovering over Pope Benedict XVI during his four-day visit to Madrid—is the 36-year-old Spanish actor’s relative greenness when it comes to conducting interviews in her second language, and it’s trying her patience. “My English is such bullshit,” she says while attempting to convey the personal import of her latest film, this month’s Pedro Almodóvar–directed thriller, The Skin I Live In.

Thankfully, as Vera, a human experiment held captive for six years by Dr. Robert Ledgard (Antonio Banderas), a deranged and vengeful plastic surgeon, she’s able to communicate reams of dialogue—and near-savage desperation—through her piercing green eyes. “The character is such a good actress, and that’s something that Pedro needed from my performance. He said, ‘Vera needs to lie to Robert and so you need to lie to the whole audience.’ That was a challenge because it was acting inside of acting, but without moving a muscle, without saying a word—just by waiting and looking,” says Anaya, whose breakout performance came as the eroticized babysitter in 2001’s Sex and Lucia. (Until now, she’s probably best known to American audiences as Agent 99 to Justin Timberlake’s 66 in his “SexyBack” music video.)

Although she and Almodóvar had already worked together on Talk to Her—an equally poetic ode to obsession and disfigurement—Anaya says, “I had such a tiny part in that one, and so it was like taking a small bite of a really delicious meal. This time, I ate the whole thing.” Anaya, who “screamed, laughed, and cried” when Almodóvar offered her the meaty part, says The Skin I Live In sharpened her aversion to going under the knife. “I think sometimes people get too carried away with plastic surgery, and I don’t mean those who need to smile again because they lost a part of their face in an accident. It’s so ridiculous when young people completely change their faces to look even younger. I find wrinkles to be beautiful.”

Mike White Talks ‘Enlightened’ & His Hotel Fetish

Television hasn’t been kind to Mike White. His first writing and producing gig, on the seminal teen saga Dawson’s Creek, wasn’t exactly what he “wanted to be doing.” His next show, NBC’s critically-acclaimed Freaks and Geeks, was unceremoniously canceled. Even his stint as a reality TV star on the 14th season of The Amazing Race had him sleeping on train station floors next to his 71-year-old father, Mel, before getting eliminated early in the competition. But with his newest project, Enlightened, luck finally seems to be on his side.

“The more HBO sees it, the easier it is for them to get behind it,” he says of the series, which was delayed when the 41-year-old writer, producer, actor, and director repacked his knapsack for The Amazing Race: Unfinished Business. “When we turned in the pilot, HBO was like, ‘We love it! It’s beautiful! It’s artistic! But it’s not very funny, is it?’”

Enlightened, which White writes and directs, follows Laura Dern’s Amy, a beauty executive who, in the aftermath of a very public nervous breakdown, goes to rehab and tries to piece together the shards of her broken life. As one might expect from White, the writer of deliciously twisted films like Chuck & Buck and The Good Girl, Amy’s every attempt at reconciliation is thwarted. “She reminds me of my friends who’ve gone to AA, and have since seen the light,” he says. “It’s like, Well, you still owe me money, and you crashed my car. Let’s hold off on the advice for another day or two.” Laughing, he adds, “Laura isn’t Amy, exactly, but she does share her indefatigable optimism. The sad-sack part of her character is me. A theme throughout my work deals with people trying to find meaning in their humdrum lives.”

An aversion to routine partly explains White’s decision to compete on The Amazing Race, as well as his hotel obsession. “When I was growing up, my mom would always say, ‘I just want to live in a hotel!’ I guess I got my hotel fetish from her. I was in Barcelona recently—I’d been spending some time in Spain, where my mom happened to visit me while I was deathly ill, so we just camped out at the Hotel Arts. For four days we literally didn’t leave the room, and I’ve never seen her happier,” says White, who’s been a vegan for the past six years. “One of my favorite places in London is the Charlotte Street Hotel . They have great vegan menu options, which is a unique thing—especially in Europe. It’s easy to find in Third World countries, but places like Spain have pigs hanging in the bars for atmosphere. They even put bacon on their salads.”

Introducing the Many Faces of Joseph Gordon-Levitt

There are two Joseph Gordon-Levitts, and they coexist in the same beatific-faced, wiry-framed vessel. The first, a sensitive actor known to his traditional media fans as Joseph Gordon-Levitt, eats things like raw kale salad, which is exactly what he orders from the patio of Little Dom’s, a neighborhood hashery in Los Feliz, Los Angeles, on a calm evening in August. This Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a sweet-tempered movie star who could make—who has made—pixie princess Zooey Deschanel look like an ice queen by comparison. He’s quick with a quip, and, no matter who or what he plays onscreen, the audience roots for him.

He says things like, “There’s a difference between a girl who’s sexy, like, ‘I’m a slave,’ and an assuredly sexy girl like Beyoncé,” because he’s a gentleman. The second Joe is RegularJoe, as he’s known to the members of his online collaborative production site, hitRECord. Gordon-Levitt is sometimes overpowered by Joe, who’ll add things like, “But I have to admit, man, I fall for the slave thing, too.” Joe follows up Gordon-Levitt’s bed of leafy greens with an unwieldy tower of hot fudge–and whipped cream–topped gelato sundae.

That there are two sides to the well-rounded artist—the thinking woman’s heartthrob and the unassuming dude—makes him the perfect choice to star in 50/50, a seemingly oxymoronic cancer comedy. The Jonathan Levine–directed film (The Wackness, All the Boys Love Mandy Lane) stars Gordon-Levitt as Adam, an otherwise healthy young man whose cancer diagnosis upends his regular existence. Metastasis and malignancy preoccupy his thoughts, but not exclusively. While enduring a ward’s worth of chemotherapy-induced agonies, Adam is also caught up in the skirt-chasing exploits of his enterprising best friend, Kyle (Seth Rogen), who’s optimistic that his buddy’s life-threatening disease might get them both laid; a messy split from his two-timing girlfriend, Rachael (Bryce Dallas Howard); and a neuroses-ravaged, possibly romantic relationship with his doctoral student counselor Katie (Anna Kendrick). 50/50, which refers to its protagonist’s odds of survival, was adapted from the experiences of its writer, Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with a rare strain of the disease six years ago and has since recovered. Terms of Endearment for the Apatow set, the film injects a heavy dose of the best medicine into an otherwise quietly calamitous bildungsroman.

“It’s not like Seth and Evan [Goldberg, Rogen’s childhood friend and the film’s co-producer] sat down and said, ‘How can we make something quirky? I know! Let’s do a comedy about cancer,’” he says. Reiser came to set “all day, every day,” according to the 30-year-old actor, who insists that it was “great to have the guy I was playing there next to me.” But it was challenging, too, especially when shooting the film’s more unguarded scenes—like, for example, one that called for Adam to shave his head with Kyle’s clippers, which, we find out, have been regularly employed to mow and prune his pubic hair. “That happened at the end of our first day of shooting,” says Levine, who uses the word “integrity” at least a dozen times to describe his star. “We decided that a wig made from his real hair would be better than a bald cap, and we were really determined to avoid the movie looking like a Saturday Night Live skit. I remember saying to him, You need to do this in one take, without hesitation—you have to be in the moment. And he was. Everyone in the room stared at the monitor, like, ‘Holy. Shit.’” It’s easy to see why. Whereas most actors would have milked that scene for every bit of its awards-baiting pathos—many, from Demi Moore to Natalie Portman, already have—Gordon-Levitt approached the task like, well, a regular Joe doing what needs to be done.

Although the film’s depiction of cancer’s side effects is sobering (that is, with the exception of a doe-eyed, pot macaroon–induced stoner sequence), Levine insists, “We had a very upbeat, positive, collaborative set. It was never depressing to come to work.” Still, for Gordon-Levitt, wallowing in his own mortality in Vancouver, where he spent two months shooting the film, was hard to shake. “That entire time, I never stopped thinking about what it would be like if I was about to die, and that’s rough. After we finished shooting the movie, I went through this phase where I had to say to myself, I don’t have cancer. I do not have cancer. It was like I needed convincing.” It’s only lightly difficult to take him seriously with a small bead of melted gelato rolling down his chin. image

Gordon-Levitt, whose film choices—Rian Johnson’s neo-noir Brick, Marc Webb’s anti-love story (500) Days of Summer, and Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending thriller Inception, among them—are evidence of an actor with impeccable taste, is trying to come up with one of his guiltier pleasures. His apparent disgust when I mention The Human Centipede suggests that the deranged Dutch horror film is not one of them. (“Isn’t that the one where someone’s face is sewn onto someone else’s ass? That’s so fucking gross!”) “I actually don’t enjoy watching something that I know is terrible,” he says. “Right now, it’s trendy for people to laugh at The Room, which is this really horrible romantic drama. I’ll get into it for 10 minutes, maybe, but that’s about it.”

The kind of Chucks- and black jeans–wearing hipster endemic to Echo Park walks onto the patio from inside Little Dom’s, where the likes of Jena Malone and Christina Ricci are seated in the restaurant’s many leather booths, to introduce himself to Gordon-Levitt. “I never do this, really, but I just had to tell you that Hesher is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while,” he says of the 2010 film in which Gordon-Levitt plays the title character, a misanthropic, Metallica-loving, porn-occupied red-eye Jedi. “It came at a really important time in my life,” says the man, who happens to oversee Adult Swim’s original online content. And then: “When you have a moment, if there’s anything you want to do for the site, we’d love to work with you. It can be the stupidest idea possible, and we’ll pull together $25,000 to $50,000, whatever it takes to make, like, a one-minute remake of the opening credits to a bad TV show.” Gordon-Levitt interrupts the pitch. “You know,” he says, “we make one-minute videos for no money all the time.”

He’s referring to the 51,000 (and growing) members of hitRECord, the online production company he founded in 2010. Capitalizing on his cachet as a Hollywood actor, Gordon-Levitt, who first encountered fame as an ancient alien trapped in the body of a teenage boy on NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun, invites users to “remix” other members’ contributions. (The site gets about 1,000 new contributions daily.) For example, someone might write and upload a short story, which someone else might illustrate, and someone else might animate, and Gordon-Levitt might (and sometimes does) provide the voice for one of the characters, and then someone else might create a soundtrack to match the narrative. When a set of collaborations meets Gordon-Levitt’s standards, he’ll release it via traditional media, such as this month’s RECollection, a hardcover book containing the work—art, writing, original songs, and short films—of 471 contributors. There are also live performances that find Gordon-Levitt touring the country to promote his new endeavor, of which he says, “HitRECord isn’t a democracy; it’s a benevolent dictatorship. Anyone can work on it with me, but the idea isn’t to create pure chaos. Even though it’s totally collaborative, I’m directing it. Ultimately, it’s a movie actor’s job to help a director make their movie. This is really the first time that I’ve made something that really feels like my own.”

The idea for an online community that razes the hierarchy between artists from Hollywood and, say, Hoboken came to the Golden Globe nominee when he started using Final Cut editing software to make his own short movies, something he began dabbling in shortly after his sixth and final season on 3rd Rock. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to be an actor anymore because the only jobs anybody wanted to give me were more TV parts,” he says. “It’s not that I was averse to TV; it’s just that the work didn’t inspire me. Saying ‘hit record’ was, for me, an imperative sentence. I no longer wanted anyone to tell me how I was allowed to express myself.” He wears the mantra on his sleeve—and, today, on his T-shirt, which is emblazoned with a bright red “O,” the company’s logo. (Also available for purchase on his site: a pair of gray boxers adorned with an illustration of a partially peeled, tuxedo-wearing banana with a fountain of liquid spraying from its anthropomorphic head. “Lovesplode,” it is called.)

It’s a passion project for Gordon-Levitt, who conceived of the first iteration of hitRECord with his older brother, Dan, a fire-spinning performer who died of an alleged drug overdose last October at the age of 36. (We don’t discuss specifics, but Gordon-Levitt was extremely close to his brother, and in honor of his life, he asked to be excused from production on his latest film project to attend Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada. Dan was known to his friends as Burning Dan.) The company, for which Gordon-Levitt is the sole investor, is run “out of my house or whatever hotel room I happen to be staying in.” He currently employs four people, including producer Jared Geller, creative director Marke Johnson, editor Gregory Abraham, and CFO Dennis Levitt, Gordon-Levitt’s father. “It’s not often you get to be the boss in a scenario that involves your dad,” he says. “But he’s very cool about it.” image

Seldom, if ever, does a marquee name like Gordon-Levitt give much credence to the creative input of non-marquee names. This value system didn’t come from the ether, but rather from his mother, Jane Gordon, who ran for Congress in the ’70s as part of the Peace and Freedom Party, a feminist and socialist political group who, according to their mission statement, “represent the working class, those without capital in a capitalist society.” Gordon-Levitt, who was born in Sherman Oaks, Los Angeles, was brought up with these ideals. “I think that what I’m doing with hitRECord is influenced enormously by the fact that my parents were social peace activists in the ’60s and ’70s,” he says. “It’s not so much about ownership but about what we can accomplish as a community.”

Gordon-Levitt, who is the grandson of the late filmmaker Michael Gordon (best known for directing Pillow Talk, a romantic comedy from 1959 starring Rock Hudson and Doris Day), began acting on stage and in commercials, hawking everything from Pop-Tarts to Cocoa Puffs, from the age of 6. “My parents have VHS tapes of pretty much everything I’ve ever done, even an old episode of Murder, She Wrote,” he says.

In 2000, Gordon-Levitt moved to New York to study French history and literature at Columbia University, but dropped out just short of his third year. Nowadays, he says that if he were able to spend as much time poring over books as he does the tower of scripts he’s sent, he’d be “very, very well-read.” Of the novels he does make time to read, he says, “I usually don’t finish them. I get into them until I have my ‘eureka’ moment, and then it’s done.”

Thankfully, he’s far more committed to the varied roles he tackles. From his portrayal of a sexually compulsive gay prostitute in Gregg Araki’s Mysterious Skin to his turn as the villainous Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Gordon-Levitt grounds his characters with an understated honesty that normally gets eschewed in Hollywood for bovine-like scenery chewing. “What turns me on about acting is being somebody else,” says Gordon-Levitt, who’ll begin shooting Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln, opposite Daniel Day-Lewis, before the end of the year. “My favorite actors are those who really disappear into their characters.” Gary Oldman is, for Gordon-Levitt, one of those actors. “He’s one of my idols,” says Gordon-Levitt of his costar in Christopher Nolan’s upcoming Batman saga, The Dark Knight Rises, in which he plays a beat cop under the command of Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon.

He’ll also appear this January in Premium Rush, which he describes as “a really fun popcorn movie with these super-perfect bad guys,” specifically Michael Shannon, who plays a crooked police officer chasing Gordon-Levitt’s bike messenger all over Manhattan. But it’s the science fiction thriller Looper, which reunites the actor with his Brick director Rian Johnson, that most excites him at the moment. In that film, which wrapped this past April, he plays a younger version of Bruce Willis’ character (named, oddly, Joe), a mob killer who recognizes his future self as his next victim. “That movie is really special to me,” he says. “Although it’s definitely the grandest thing Rian has done, it’s not a total departure in that it’s still a unique and clever take on a classic genre. It wasn’t as physically demanding an experience as Inception was, but it was so hard for me to sit still while they applied prosthetic makeup to my face for two-and-a-half hours each day.” Although his character isn’t meant to be a carbon-copy impersonation of Willis (“I’m not a particularly good impersonator anyway”), Gordon-Levitt listened to audio tapes of the Die Hard actor reciting his lines so that their speech patterns would match. “I studied his voice and how he walks by hanging out with him and by watching his movies,” he says.

He’s just now watching many of his own movies, too. “When I was younger, I couldn’t watch anything I was in,” he says. “Then I started making and editing my own little videos for fun, and that’s when I started watching myself, although seeing myself act in a Hollywood-scale production is different from watching something I shot on my video camera.” Setting aside the work of his esteemed predecessors Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton, making those “little videos,” DIY-style, is far from what’s typically expected of an A-lister. But then, Gordon-Levitt has proved he’s an atypical star who has little patience for the business of celebrity. “When I go to the grocery store, I’ll look at the covers of tabloid magazines—they fascinate me—but I don’t bring that shit into my house because I think it’s evil and poisonous. It’s easy to dismiss it as harmless entertainment, but I don’t think it is. We’re very influenced by the stories we choose to fill our days with.”

Gordon-Levitt has instead chosen to fill his days—and RECollection—with whimsical, hopeful, and magical stories, some tiny (“Having never fit into the social circles of society, the boy formed a social square”), some wordy (“The passionpair lovestrolled through the animalium, pawtangled”), some angry (Sick Again), some interplanetary (Nebulullaby). Many of them are his own creations, such as the rhyming poem A New Hevn, which “RegularJoe” cowrote with hitRECord members “wirrow” and “Metaphorest.” In it, we’re told about “two stories, one of hevn, one of urth, who awake to find they’re hugging with no knowledge of their birth.” Eventually, “the two stories have come one,” not unlike their creator, a Hollywood demigod and earthly everyman.

JOE LIKES Little Dom’s

Above photo is the winner of our hitRECord contest: Wonderful Chaos" by xobreexo23, Lawrie Brewster, and Eskapurla.

Photography by Yu Tsai. Styling by Jenny Ricker.

Our September Issue Editor’s Letter

I dislike editor’s letters. The cutesy rhyme—editor’s letters—makes me cringe just like it did when Mystikal, on Mariah Carey’s “Don’t Stop (Funkin’ 4 Jamaica),” paired “bowl of gumbo” with “play in the clubo.” I find the supposed omniscience of the letters inauthentic in a patronizing, Wizard of Oz–type way, and, truth be told, part of me resents playing tour guide when we typically reserve two to three precious pages of each issue for the table of contents.

My aversion to writing these missives spawned a feature called Not an Editor’s Letter, which debuted in our October 2009 Surveillance Issue. In it, Brett Ratner railed against a stranger on a plane who tweeted about the director’s “syncopated snoring.” Since then, folks like Snoop Dogg, Lindsay Lohan, and Bianca Jagger have put pen to paper to discuss themes from political activism and fashion as art to Lady Gaga’s private parts, not respectively.

But this one’s different, and not just because it’s BlackBook’s 15th anniversary issue—although that is a source of considerable pride. Going forward, we’re refocusing our content. Although the difference won’t be glaring, we hope that the changes will make the magazine more accessible to new readers, who’ll be lured in by our show-stopping, envelope-pushing photography, and who’ll stick around because they know what to expect from us. Starting with this issue, we’ll lead the conversation on Who’s Next and What’s Next. Let’s use two of the many wonderful talents in this issue as examples. Brit Marling, the season’s breakout film star for her breathtaking turn as a lost soul in Another Earth, which she co-wrote, produced, and stars in, is Who’s Next. We hadn’t heard of her until very recently, but now we can’t get her out of our heads. Vera Farmiga, meanwhile, grabbed our attention in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, and again with her Oscar-nominated portrayal of a frequent flier in Jason Reitman’s Up in the Air. (Don’t miss Orphan’s climactic scene, one of the most underrated in the history of cinema, in which Farmiga, as a mother scorned by the child she adopts—a “young girl” who turns out to be a 33-year-old prostitute with proportional dwarfism—begs to be saved from drowning in an icy lake. Farmiga looks her dead in the eyes and kicks her in the face with a boot, but not before screaming, “I’m not! Your fucking! Mommy!”) She’s now changing gears by directing her critically acclaimed debut feature film, Higher Ground—in other words, What’s Next.

Since its inception in the fall of 1996, BlackBook has undergone a number of facelifts and mood swings, but it’s always been a place where readers can find a sophisticated and sincere (although never too serious) take on culture, both popular and peripheral. Musician and friend Ryan Adams—whom I first met during a stunt that had him interning at our offices—put it best when he said we’re all just a “bunch of freaks and outsiders.” It’s a flag we proudly wave, even when our arms get tired.

And, believe me, they do. The only reason BlackBook still exists is because of the tireless work poured into it by creative and collaborative minds who deserve better pay and Sundays off. That none of us will get either anytime soon is a shame. But it’s also comforting, because it’s proof that we do this job because it inspires us, because it thrills us, and because we can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s a passion—with a streak of insanity—shared by all of the formidable editors who held this post before me, and those who will undoubtedly hold it long after I leave.

Do I love this editor’s letter? No, I most certainly do not. Do I love this issue? You’re fucking right I do. Leaf through it, if for no other reason than to relish the Grecian beauty of cover stars Alexander Skarsgård and Kate Bosworth, or the hilarious idiocy of Dionysian butt-buddies Paul Rudd and Adam Scott. I hope there’s something for you here, not just because a lot of people missed a lot fun parties putting it together, but because we photographed Ladyfag sitting half-naked on a pool table. For better or worse, our collective heart beats for this magazine, which has become our home—even if that home is a crowded, chaotic, asbestos-ridden lair with a fickle air conditioner.

Proenza Schouler’s Lazaro Hernandez Shares His Late-Summer Playlist

The dog days of July were turning into the rabid heat waves of August when Lazaro Hernandez (left), one half of New York–based womenswear and accessories brand Proenza Schouler, began compiling his summer getaway playlist. A week after its completion, the 32-year-old designer flew to a remote cabin on Frank Island, off the coast of Vancouver, which he describes romantically as an oasis of “eagles, whales, and waves.”

His eagerness to escape his studio in the city, where he and his business partner Jack McCollough create their CFDA Award–winning line, was woven into the fabric of his song choices, all of which are worlds apart from the stiletto-stomping anthems that will provide the soundtrack to Proenza Schouler’s Spring 2012 collection this month at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

While Hernandez appreciates the style of, say, punk prophet Patti Smith, he insists there’s no connection between the rock icons he admires and the clothes he makes. “They’re very different mediums,” he says of fashion and music. “It’s not like we’ve been inspired by someone’s specific look or a particular album cover, but we do love dressing the people we admire. Even that, though, is less about the young, ‘cool’ artists, and more about the older, iconic ones like Yoko Ono and Stevie Nicks.” Hernandez does, however, have his finger on the pulse of young, “cool” artists despite not getting to see many concerts. “I’m definitely not hardcore about catching shows,” he says, before a brief pause. “That’s a lie, actually. I see lots of shows—fashion shows.”

The Beach Boys’ “Lonely Sea.” I can’t even think of a summer playlist without including the Beach Boys, one of the all-time greatest bands. Brian Wilson is my hero. I listened to this song as a little kid and I’ve recently fallen back in love with it. I like the melancholic, lonely feel to this one, which is unlike the hyper-happy songs that they’re sometimes associated with.

The Mayfair Set’s “Dark House.” This has been playing around the studio pretty much nonstop. I guess you could say I’m not all that into party music like the stuff Lady Gaga records. I don’t really listen to the radio, and I’m not so up to speed on popular songs. I’ll be like, What’s that song you’re playing, Jack? And he’ll be like, “Really? You don’t know?” Like that new Beyoncé song everyone’s listening to, the one she took from some Jamaican band. [Ed note: “Run the World (Girls)” samples “Pon de Floor” by Major Lazer, whose members Diplo and Switch both have writing credits on Beyoncé’s song.]

Smith Westerns’ “All Die Young.” This is a great new band whose album I play in its entirety around the clock. I do a lot of internet music searches and one thing leads me to another and another, and then to another. I spend a couple nights a week buying music, which I suppose is a bit too much time spent buying music.

Banjo or Freakout’s “Can’t be Mad for Nothing.” This is one of the newer albums we’ve been playing on a loop. My problem is that I get bored of things really quickly—that’s just my personality—so if I listen to the same album all week I’ll need another one the next.

John Maus’ “Believer.” He puts on a sick live show. You should YouTube him. He looks like a normal guy—he’s a professor at the University of Hawaii [at Manoa], or something really weird like that—but then he transforms into a crazy, spastic performer. He runs around on stage shaking, really feeling it. It’s pretty cool.

The Jesus and Mary Chain’s “The Hardest Walk.” I listened to this one when I was, like, 16 years old. I was a pissed-off kid and a bit of a delinquent because back then I didn’t have many responsibilities. This entire JAMC album, Psychocandy, reminds me of a time when I was free. I was a bad kid, but I’ve cleaned myself up a bit.

The Smiths’ “I Won’t Share You.” Morrissey is like a religion among many of my friends. I had a lot of “firsts” while listening to the Smiths, although some things shall remain private. I’ve never actually met Morrissey but I once met Madonna, which was pretty amazing. I ran into her at the Met Ball back in the day. We were both at the bar, and so I turned around and said something really stupid like, Hi, I wanted to say hi to you. She smiled—she was sweet—and then she walked away. I just stood there, like, Amazing.

Atlas Sound’s “Bite Marks.” This is [Deerhunter’s] Bradford Cox’s other band. He’s kind of a musical prodigy and we have mad respect for everything he does. He’s got a pretty cool music blog, too.

Neil Young’s “Out on the Weekend.” This is another escapist track, which is pretty much my vibe these days. Maybe it’s because it’s summer and I want to be anywhere but the city. We have a farm out in Massachusetts where we’ve gone almost every single weekend for a couple of years now. I bring people there all the time to chill and do nothing. This song reminds me of getting away from it all.

Tapper Zukie’s “M.P.L.A.” I’ve been pretty heavy into reggae since I was a kid and Tappa is top dog in my eyes. He informed a lot of newer reggae artists, but he’s this amazing, underground—no, don’t write underground, that’s such a cheesy word—under-the-radar guy who not many people know about. He made real reggae in the ’70s—not like those shitty ’90s pop songs by Shaggy.

The Reawakening of Kate Bosworth

She’ll never admit it, but Kate Bosworth is in the middle of a reawakening. You can hear the excitement in her voice, which trembles when she tells me about the movie she just finished shooting in Italy. “I got back yesterday after spending four weeks on this renegade production of a film on the island of Ischia,” she says from her home in Hollywood on a blistering afternoon in late July. “There were only six people in the crew, including myself. We’d mike ourselves at the hotel before going outside to steal shots all over the place. It’s a really interesting position to be in because you have to try to control the chaos while at the same time letting it reign.” Her longtime friend Kat Coiro directed the still-untitled project, which follows Bosworth’s character, a married writer, as she embarks on an affair with a younger man. It might never get a distributor, but that’s exactly the type of chaos Bosworth intends to embrace. “We just wanted to make something of our own.”

To observe her recent performances is to feel like you’re witnessing a defining moment in the 28-year-old actor’s career. Alexander Skarsgård, her boyfriend of two years until their split in July—and her costar in this month’s remake of the Sam Peckinpah classic Straw Dogs—couldn’t agree more. “She’s working really hard at changing her career, steering it in a new direction,” he says. James Marsden, who plays the other male lead in the film and who shared the screen with Bosworth in 2006’s Superman Returns, isn’t so sure. “I don’t necessarily think Kate’s undergoing any sort of reinvention,” he says. “She’s never had a rule book. It doesn’t matter if a film is being directed by Martin Scorsese or a first-time filmmaker, and it doesn’t matter if its budget is $100 million or $500,000—the role is the only thing she cares about.” For her part, Bosworth, whose earlier films have seen her bring to life Sandra Dee in Beyond the Sea and Lois Lane in Superman Returns, insists there’s nothing calculated about the projects she’s chosen. “God, I started this so young—I was 14 when I got my first role,” she says of playing an equestrian opposite Scarlett Johansson in 1998’s The Horse Whisperer. “I barely knew myself back then. I did the best I could to navigate a career while also just growing up, and it wasn’t until three years ago, when I turned 25, that something in me grounded. I wanted to explore. I wanted to be challenged. I started riding emotional roller-coasters I wouldn’t have even lined up for in the past.”

The first of those rides to barrel into theaters is Rod Lurie’s update of Straw Dogs. In it, Bosworth plays a once-successful American television actor named Amy Sumner, a role inhabited by a coquettish Susan George in the 1971 original. Marsden plays her screenwriter husband David, and together they relocate from Los Angeles to her hometown of Blackwater, Louisiana, where the welcome wagon derails almost as soon as they arrive. The film was shot two summers ago in Shreveport, Louisiana, amid what Bosworth describes as “insufferable heat,” which added to the overall intensity of filming the movie’s graphic scenes of extended torture, rape, and murder. “The pavement was practically melting,” she says, her words practically melting at the memory. “It felt dangerous. People there keep rifles in their cars. There’s a dark history to the area, and like any place that’s endured a certain amount of pain, you can feel it all around you.”

Whereas George played Amy, a British sexpot and second-wave feminist, with one-dimensional, braless flirtation, Bosworth knew her interpretation of the character—a struggling, slightly defeated actor who uses her sex appeal as currency—needed more than a nice rack and a Brigitte Bardot pout. “I’m really interested in how we, as women, use our sexuality. But I also believe there’s a fine line between the exploration of misogyny and its glorification, so I wanted to make sure that Amy was also intelligent and interesting—so much more than just David Sumner’s wife.” image

That a beautiful actor, especially one whose big break came in the 2002 babes-in-bikinis surfer movie Blue Crush, vehemently condemns Hollywood’s exploitation of women is fraught with complicated irony. When, for example, Bosworth describes the scene in which Skarsgård’s Charlie, an aggressive farmhand and Amy’s high school sweetheart, rapes her, she says, “I told Alex not to worry about me, to just go for it. I said, I need you to lose yourself in this moment. And it was actually violent. He’s a huge guy. When he was ripping off my clothes in front of a room filled with men, even though I knew it was make-believe, it was still incredibly violating and terrifying. The panic you see flooding me in that rape scene is real.” Marsden remembers how tense things became leading up to that moment. “They’d definitely marked it on their calendars,” he says. “Earlier that week, they both kind of dropped off the map. They had vacant expressions on their faces—not in their scenes but socially. You could tell it was looming over them.” And afterward? Laughing, he says, “Afterward it was beers again.”

Even though they filmed the scene well before becoming a real-life couple—at that point she and Skarsgård, along with the rest of the cast, were still getting acquainted over drinks at the Stray Cat, a Shreveport dive they frequented—Bosworth felt comfortable enough in the arms of her on-screen assailant to endure the two days that were required to capture the simulated rape. “Alex is so kind and so dedicated and so incredibly professional,” she says. “He’s got this rare, wonderful control and stillness that you notice in a lot of old movie stars. He looks you in the eye. I feel incredibly lucky to have had that type of man on this movie.”

Another man she credits with helping her to submerge into the deeper recesses of her psyche is first-time director Sam Levinson (son of acclaimed filmmaker Barry), who coached her through an equally grueling performance in Another Happy Day, which also stars Ellen Barkin, Ezra Miller, and Demi Moore, and is set for a November release. In that film, Bosworth plays Alice, a college student who reunites with her absentee father (Thomas Haden Church) at her brother’s wedding, and is met with cynical derision from her extended family regarding the latticework of straight-razor marks across her arms. Played woodenly, she’d be an unsympathetic cliché, the archetype of a poor little rich girl. “Dude, I know exactly what you mean!” says Bosworth, whose guy’s-gal lexicon every now and again rushes to the surface of her feminine exterior. “To be totally honest with you, I had that same fear. I remember continually telling Sam, I don’t want her to be this whining heap of a wreck. But it goes so beyond her feeling victimized. Watching her is to watch someone struggling with her own survival.”

Bosworth took care not to trivialize Alice’s self-harm. “It’s almost like that type of pain has become hip these days: ‘This is where we’ll introduce the drug addict. And this is where we’ll introduce the cutter!’ The last thing I wanted to do was treat Alice’s disease like it was a trend.” Although she’s never dealt with that particular demon, Bosworth has endured her share of anxiety. “I’ve always been sensitive, and sometimes I don’t know how to handle that sensitivity, but I’m learning to manage it better,” she says. “As an artist, my job is to indulge in emotion. The artistic process is thrilling and joyous, but it can also be extremely painful.”

Most recently, Bosworth capped off her trifecta of harrowing films with Michael Polish’s Big Sur, which recounts Jack Kerouac’s several trips to a cabin on California’s central coast. As Billie, she plays a mother who pines after Neal Cassady (Josh Lucas), the Beat poet who was immortalized as Dean Moriarty in Kerouac’s On the Road. “Blue Crush was one of the most physically challenging things I’ve ever done, but this one, well, it’s up there in terms of emotional difficulty,” she says. In particular, there’s a scene that has Billie entertaining the idea of killing herself and her child. “The thought of one day killing my own child is so far removed from the intensity of sadness I’ve ever known, but in the moment I became her, and I let go of control and really allowed myself to take off.” image

Bosworth is driving through the Hollywood Hills, running a few errands, when she calls me later that afternoon. She’s given some thought to being typecast, a concern we touched on during our earlier conversation. “I feel like I’m always battling people’s perceptions of me, but it’s a losing battle,” she says. “I pick projects because they’re interesting, not to prove anyone wrong.” Oddly, given that she’s often perceived as the all-American girlfriend, Bosworth has rarely played that role, with the exception of her work in Remember the Titans and Win A Date with Tad Hamilton!. What’s more, for every plain vanilla beauty she’s played, Bosworth has tackled a handful of more savory parts, from a porn star’s main squeeze (Wonderland) and a card-counting MIT student (21), to an itinerant sociopath (The Girl in the Park). Aside from her golden locks (which, yes, appear to have been spun by an assembly line of little angels), she doesn’t even look like the girl next door. Her two different-colored eyes—the left is blue and the right is a blue-hazel hybrid—are more reminiscent of David Bowie than Mary Jane.

She insists she’s never much cared what other people think. “I was a real loner in high school, even though people assume I was the head cheerleader,” says Bosworth, an only child who was raised by her retailer father Harold and her homemaker mother Patricia in the affluent town of Cohasset, Massachusetts. “My head was always in books. I felt uncomfortable in cliques. I wasn’t a social butterfly at all.” After graduating from high school she was granted admission to Princeton University, but deferred her acceptance and instead moved, at 18, to Los Angeles. “Talk about anxiety!” she says. “That was a really stressful time for me. I look back now and think, How did I ever do that? I lived there, in a tiny studio apartment, on my own.”

It’s her outsider sensibility (and not, as some might expect, her sample-size frame) that first drew Bosworth, now a go-to muse for design luminaries such as Francisco Costa and Phillip Lim, to the world of fashion. Although she insists she’s not a high-maintenance style hound (“I never wear stilettos during the day”), she’s often photographed in what appears to be an endless series of outfits designed by everyone from Valentino to Alexander Wang. “I’ve always seen fashion as embracing the individual, although yes, I understand that there are parts of the industry that aren’t so welcoming. But look at the Proenza Schouler boys,” she says, referring to the womenswear and accessories label’s co-designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez. “They’re so kind and they make such brilliant designs. The Rodarte sisters, too. It may be idealistic, but I like to think that goodness rises to the top.”

If the success of her own accessories line is any indication, Bosworth—who shares Skarsgård’s down-to-earth approachability—is right. It’ll be a year in October since she and Cher Coulter, her close friend and personal stylist, launched http://jmnt.co/nqXwg5” title=”JewelMint”>JewelMint, their successful internet retail venture, which exists under the umbrella of BeachMint, itself owned by MySpace co-founder Josh Berman. Frustrated by their inability to find interesting accessories online, Bosworth and Coulter conceived of a test whereby participants can narrow the scope of their bauble preferences and sign up to receive, based on the results of that quiz—questions involve picking favorites between Chanel and Dior, Kate Moss and Alexa Chung—a monthly design for $29.99. Bosworth, whose father worked at Zegna and Talbot’s before retiring, says her decision to dip her toe rings into the world of fashion was an easy one. “My first Bring Your Daughter to Work Day was spent understanding the difference in quality and texture between various fabrics. I’ve had an appreciation for good workmanship from a young age,” she says. “I had no interest in signing a contract that would force me to curate pieces I found horrendous.”

According to the results of my JewelMint quiz, I “like to play up [my] inner wild child.” Bosworth responds to this news by laughing. “You’d probably like Cher’s favorite pieces then. She’s a London girl and I love her for it, but I like to keep things simple,” she says. “Keeping it simple,” however, means something very different for Kate Bosworth than it does for the average American. With mock-defiance, as if challenging me to prove her wrong, she says, “Oh, really? You’d be surprised by how creative I can get with my sweatpants look.”

KATE LIKES: Joan’s on Third, Los Angeles.

Photography by Andrew MacPherson. Styling by Cher Coulter.

First a Vampire, Now a Leading Man: Alexander Skarsgård Can’t Be Tamed

“Use your phone and shine a light over here,” says Alexander Skarsgård, whose indefinitely appropriated Southern twang echoes off the walls inside one of the many vast stages at Hollywood Center Studios in Los Angeles. It’s True Blood’s final day of production before the show’s annual hiatus (they’ll reconvene in November for season five), and the near-empty lot we’ve been wandering feels like a schoolhouse abandoned by its students for the summer. Most of the cast and crew have driven out to Malibu this afternoon to film the pyre-heavy final scene of the HBO series’ fourth season, but Skarsgård and his costar Stephen Moyer have been directed here to re-shoot a close-up. “Follow me,” he says as we edge closer to the darkest part of the hangar-size room.

“I wish I could find a fucking light switch,” he adds, before eventually flipping one. The chamber we’re in—done up like a dank basement with black columns and intimations of evil—suddenly becomes awash in the glow of overhead lights. “This is where I tortured Lafayette,” he says with a satisfied grin, referring to the show’s second season, in which his character Eric Northman, the sheriff of Area 5, chained Nelsan Ellis’ drug-abusing, cross-dressing fry cook to a post. He waves me through another door into what looks like a nightclub filled with barstools, dusty liquor bottles, and a poster of a vampiric George W. Bush. “Welcome,” he says with exaggerated gravitas, “to Fangtasia!”

For the past four years, Skarsgård’s spot-on portrayal of a seemingly cold-blooded exsanguinist—who this season upended expectations by betraying more than a little amnesia-induced emotion for Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse—has turned the 35-year-old Swedish actor into an object of desire for men and women around the world. Still, the alpha male label doesn’t fit, at least not entirely. “In most of the projects I’m recognized for, I’ve played leaders,” he says. “And so, of course, that’s how people want to pigeonhole me. You’d be shocked by the number of offers I get to play Eric Northman under a different name.”

Skarsgård’s latest role in this month’s remake of the ultra-violent Sam Peckinpah film Straw Dogs won’t do much to change the public perception of the 6’4″ actor as a man with testosterone to spare. In director Rod Lurie’s adaptation of the 1971 cult thriller, Skarsgård plays Charlie, a small-town football hero whose emasculation at the hands of his high school sweetheart, Amy, and her new husband, David—played by Kate Bosworth and James Marsden—results in a simmering rage, which inevitably boils over into a symphony of wildly ungovernable carnage. “Humans are animals,” he says resolutely. “And like other animals we struggle between instinct and rationality. Of course I believe we’ve evolved, but I think it’d be naïve to claim we’re nothing like the rest of the animals with whom we share the planet. At the end of the day, we’re nothing but frappuccino-sipping savages.”

Or beer-chugging savages, a more accurate description of Charlie, who David, a Hollywood screenwriter, commissions to renovate his isolated property’s farmhouse. Tensions build throughout the film as Charlie and David try to out-brute each other, each time with greater consequences. “There were times when Alex really did beat the shit out of me,” says Marsden of the film’s many physically demanding scenes. “There was a moment when he launched me into a wall, smacked me right in the face, and pressed a gun into my forehead. He pressed it so hard you could see the ring of the barrel on my forehead afterward. But the second they cut the scene, he’d go right back to his compassionate, considerate self: ‘Are you okay, Jimmy? Everything fine?’”

While David is out hunting one afternoon—a display of barbarism into which he’s been pressured by Charlie and his crew—Charlie drops by the house, where he corners and attacks Amy. The rape scene, which caused a stentorian uproar when the original Straw Dogs first screened four decades ago, is no less difficult to watch in the remake. After violating Amy, whose mix of pleasure and pain while being assaulted lends the scene a layer of uncomfortable ambiguity, Charlie sits back and watches as one his hulking cronies follows suit. “It fucking breaks his heart, watching her get raped by someone else,” says Skarsgård, the gaze of his piercing greenish-blue eyes difficult to match in this moment. “It’s not like he ever says, ‘Yeah, fuck her!’ In a way, he feels like she’s his territory. He thinks, ‘You’re my woman. I offered to protect you for the rest of my life, but you didn’t want that, did you? If you don’t feel this passion, this real thing we share, then fine, you’re on your own.’ It’s definitely more complicated than him fucking her because he can’t have her.” image

The set of Straw Dogs, the production of which Skarsgård admits was “exhausting on an emotional level,” seems an unlikely place for romance to blossom—nonetheless, it’s where he met Bosworth, whom he dated for two years until they broke up in July. “Kate is such a great actress, and she’s so much more than a good-looking Hollywood starlet. We were just really good friends at the time,” says Skarsgård, who lives on his own in a rented house in the Hollywood Hills. “But we shared a really special experience on that film.” (Although I didn’t know it at the time, Skarsgård was safeguarding a secret—the dissolution of his relationship with Bosworth had yet to become public fodder—which partly explains why our easy banter atrophied into guarded responses so quickly when the subject was broached. It didn’t last long. A downright neighborly guy, he generously explained, “I make it a rule not to talk about myself and Kate. I so desperately try to keep my private life out of the tabloids because becoming a celebrity rather than an actor can really get in the way of a good performance.”)

Skarsgård and I are now in his dressing room waiting for him to be called into hair and makeup. He strips down to a pair of black briefs, consulting a rack of clothes he’s meant to wear for today’s shoot: tattered military pants, a dark, ripped shirt, and “WWI–style” combat boots. There’s not much by way of interior design except for a couch and a wooden desk, on which sits a set of True Blood posters awaiting his autograph (they’re for the family members of two of the show’s head accountants), a second pair of folded black underwear, and a white box decorated with a crimson bow. “Aw, look how sweet this is,” he says, holding the contents of the box up to the light. “It’s a hand-painted vampire!”

After he gets dressed, we move to a similarly barren room, where Moyer, who plays his nemesis Bill Compton, is wearing a costume almost identical to Skarsgård’s, his hair being parted by a doting stylist. Skarsgård sits down next to him and, almost immediately, a makeup artist begins applying dots of red corn syrup to his cheeks, chin, neck, and chest. “Don’t you want to know why Eric’s face is all bloody?” Moyer says in a surprisingly thick British accent given the seeming authenticity of his Southern drawl on the show. Skarsgård nods at Moyer to continue. “He rips somebody’s heart out and then drinks blood from the aorta like it’s a straw. It’s so fucking cool!” Skarsgård, who’s been known to deliver some of the show’s wittiest one-liners, says, “When I’m finished, I just look into the camera and burp. It’s so gross.” Perched next to one another like the Bobbsey Twins as imagined by Quentin Tarantino, True Blood’s two greatest adversaries catch each other’s gaze and erupt with laughter.

Skarsgård grew up in Södermalm (a district in central Stockholm that he says has the same artsy vibe as Lower Manhattan), the oldest of seven children. Despite the fact that his father, Stellan Skarsgård, is one of Sweden’s most revered actors, he insists theirs was a normal life. At 13, he lived for six months in Budapest, where his father was filming Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg. While there, he attended a school run mostly by American teachers. He attributes this experience and the short time he spent studying theater at New York’s Marymount Manhattan College in 1997 with the almost total evisceration of his Swedish accent. (Although he looks like a Norse god, Skarsgård talks like a Texan rancher, an incongruity he says came from working with his Straw Dogs dialect coach. “This slight twang will stick,” he says, “until I work on the next thing.”) After six months at Marymount, he moved back to Sweden to chase after a girl he’d met only three weeks prior to his trip to New York. “This was before Skype, and it was really expensive to call,” he says. “She broke up with me after six months and I was devastated, very naïve—not old and bitter like I am now. After she dumped me, I was like, I’m coming home, baby! Please take me back! I rode into town on my white stallion thinking I was saving the most beautiful relationship in the history of mankind. She dumped me again a couple months later.” image

Heartbroken but still determined to pursue acting, Skarsgård bounced around a series of plays, the most demanding of them being a three-hour Swedish production of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which he embodied Nick, an impotent overachiever, six days a week for nine months. (That and Generation Kill, the seven-episode HBO miniseries about the 2003 US invasion of Iraq, were, he says, the most challenging roles of his still-young career. Of Generation Kill, which first aired in 2008, he says, laughing, “It’s funny, I spent seven months in the African desert, putting my blood, sweat, and tears—my heart and my soul—into that project, and still, more often than not people want to talk about the six hours I spent filming the music video for Lady Gaga’s ‘Paparazzi.’”)

In 2000, Skarsgård took a trip to Los Angeles from Sweden, where he’d been working steadily in film and on stage, to visit his father. At the suggestion of Stellan’s manager, Skarsgård went to an audition on a whim. “I was just a tourist and it seemed like a fun adventure,” he says of the experience, which landed him his first American film role as a goofy, dumber-than-dirt male model named Meekus in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander. “I would love to do another comedy,” he says, although his upcoming film slate won’t do much to calcify his funny bone.

He’ll next appear in Lars Von Trier’s matrimony-and-Armaggedon drama Melancholia as the fiancé to Kirsten Dunst’s despondent bride-to-be (a performance that won her the Best Actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year), whom he can feel slipping away from him on their wedding day. “I’m so madly in love with her and this is supposed to be the best day of my life,” he says. “But I can’t seem to stop us from drifting apart.” The film, which will be released in November, also stars Charlotte Gainsbourg, Kiefer Sutherland, and the elder Skarsgård, who plays his son’s friend and best man.

Although he’d worked with Von Trier in 2000 on a Danish miniseries called D-Day, he was “excited and nervous to explore such a vulnerable character.” Unfortunately, Von Trier’s knack for eliciting career-topping performances from his actors was overshadowed when he uttered three little words during a press conference at Cannes: “I understand Hitler.” Shaking his head at the foolishness of it all, Skarsgård says, “Lars isn’t a racist, but he likes to provoke people. It’s almost like he has Tourette’s. If he’d been drunk and yelled it at someone—if it had felt genuine—that would be one thing, but it’s just bullshit he says because he’s trying to be funny. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, and it definitely didn’t this time.”

After Melancholia, he’ll return to alpha territory as the commanding officer of a US Navy destroyer in Peter Berg’s Battleship, a big-screen adaptation of the classic peg-and-grid game costarring a bunch of aliens, Liam Neeson, and a camouflage-wearing Rihanna, whom he insists seemed “like a natural—in the few scenes I shared with her, she was very good.” Despite his initial hesitation about starring in his first mega-budget movie—“I’ve heard they can become more about the explosions than the acting”—he says it was a great experience. Just then, a portly, headset-sporting man, wearing a polo shirt emblazoned with the True Blood logo, knocks on the door to Skarsgård’s dressing room and says, “They’re ready for you on set.” image

The Moon Goddess Emporium is relatively new to True Blood, as are those who frequent it, the witches who were introduced to the show this past June. Tibetan prayer flags hang from the room’s vaulted ceilings. It’s a cluttered space made all the more crowded by the 20-odd crew members anxious to film the scene and start their hiatus. Before the cameras begin rolling, Skarsgård walks up to his mark in the center of the room, Moyer kneels in front of him—his character is picking something up off the ground when the shot begins—and the director watches them from his chair in front of a camera monitor. While waiting in their places, Skarsgård looks down at his costar and says dryly, “It looks like he’s sucking me off,” to which Moyer responds by bobbing his head vigorously. Skarsgård closes his eyes and starts moaning with the intensity of a slash-fiction hero, after which Moyer stands up and wipes imaginary fluids from his mouth with the back of his hand. He scans the crowd and after taking a slight bow says, “And the Emmy goes to… ” A crew member whispers to no one in particular, “Now that’s what I call ‘Action.’”

Later that night, the fourth season of True Blood officially wrapped, Skarsgård returns home to shower before meeting me at the Hollywood Roosevelt for a burger and a few ice-cold bottles of IPA. Over two hours, he draws more than a few glances from a group of Australian tourists and even from social gadfly Rumer Willis, the daughter of Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. “It’s you, Eric, isn’t it?” says one particularly guileless man, as if testing the waters before introducing Skarsgård to his wife. “Would you please take a picture with her?” He graciously obliges, wrapping his arm around the woman’s waist and smiling for the camera. “Would you… bite her?” This he does not oblige. When the couple retreats back to a far corner of the restaurant, Skarsgård says, “That’s one thing I’ll never really understand. But the main reason I don’t ever do it is because if I do it just once, every single person will be like, ‘Bite me! Bite me! Bite me!’”

Whereas he doesn’t at all begrudge a forward fan, he’s less patient with paparazzi who follow him to the gym and out to dinner. “They don’t care about you,” he says of the tabloid lensmen. “They just want their money. I’ll never get used to the fact that they camp out to get a picture of me eating a sandwich. It’s strange to me, and I want it to be strange—I don’t ever want to feel like that’s normal.” Which is why he’s excited to relocate for a few months to New York this fall, where he’ll film What Maisie Knew, a relationship drama costarring Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan. “LA is such a one-trick pony—80% of the people here talk exclusively about managers and agents—but New Yorkers don’t really care as much about ‘the industry.’”

Although he never says as much, it seems like this is why Skarsgård remains so connected to his Nordic homeland: Compared to Los Angeles (and New York to a lesser degree), where he’s become wildly famous for playing a pansexual, seldom fully-clothed, 1,000-year-old vampire living in a fictional backroads Petri dish for mutants and Louisianan bumpkins, Sweden seems downright normal. “All of my childhood friends are still in Stockholm,” he says. “Not a single one of them is impressed by me—they’re happy for me, but they don’t give a fuck about that shit. One guy’s a salesman, a couple others are unemployed, and they could care less that they’re hanging out with a ‘celebrity.’” I tell him that sounds like a healthy balance. Skarsgård empties his beer and smiles. “You have no idea, man. I’m so fucking balanced it’s ridiculous!”

ALEX LIKES: Paul & Andre, Los Angeles.

Photography by Andrew MacPherson. Styling by Annie Psaltiras.