Alexander Skarsgard Talks True Blood, His Home Life And Acting (UK)

Sweden used to be known for peace, Abba and long hours of daylight. These days, from the novels of the late Stieg Larsson to the cult film Let the Right One in, its dark side appears to be taking over the world. And in Alexander Skarsgård, who stars as the 1,000-year-old Viking vampire Eric Northman in the American drama series True Blood – soon to start its second series on Channel 4 – it has an actor who has brought a new level of cool to the vampire genre. Tall, blond and beautiful, Skarsgård mixes sex, danger and laconic humour in a way that sets femoral pulses racing.
True Blood, created by Alan Ball, the Oscar-winning screenwriter of American Beauty and Six Feet Under, is based on the Southern Vampire Mysteries series of novels by Charlaine Harris. Its dark tales of ‘glamouring’ vampires, who can hypnotise their human victims; fangbangers, who are addicted to vampire sex, and users who get high on ‘V’ – vampire blood – have made it the most watched series on HBO in the US since The Sopranos, as well as an internet phenomenon. In Britain it opened with more than two million viewers. Skarsgård says its appeal is that ‘you can sit back and enjoy it, but it’s also really intelligent. It says a lot about society today and about how we relate to each other.’ His appearances as Eric in the first series were few but mesmerising, and instantly propelled him to the status of the series’ sex symbol. We are going to see a lot more of him in the second series.

There is more to Skarsgård than his fangs, though. He also starred as Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert in Generation Kill, HBO’s acclaimed drama series about the US invasion of Iraq. And he is currently shooting Lars von Trier’s new sci-fi film Melancholia alongside Kirsten Dunst, John Hurt and Kiefer Sutherland, as well his father, Stellan Skarsgård, best known for his roles in Breaking the Waves and Mamma Mia!. They are filming in Trollhättan – or Trollywood as it is sometimes known – where von Trier has made three previous films. The town is said to have got its name because people believed trolls lived in the nearby river. It seems an appropriate location for an interview with the vampire.
At the gates of the 15th-century manor house where the cast are staying, a small group of Swedish autograph hunters tell me that Skarsgård went out for a run an hour ago and has only just returned. They already have his autograph. ‘He’s really nice,’ they say.
It is not long before Skarsgård bounds up the steps to the lobby, showered and dressed in a simple grey T-shirt and jeans, looking very tall – he is 6ft 4in – and glowingly healthy. The contrast with Eric, whose deathly pallor projects cold menace, is heightened by his friendliness, but common to both are the most striking pale-blue eyes. He is buzzing from the experience of acting with his father that day for the first time ever. ‘We had a little interaction going. It was a lot of fun.’
At 33, he is the oldest of Stellan’s six children from his first marriage: three of his brothers – Gustav, 29, Bill, 20, and Valter, 14, have established acting careers. Sam, 28, has also dabbled in the family business. His sister, Eija, 18, is a model; his mother, My, a doctor. He grew up in Stockholm, on the island of Södermalm. Family life, he says, was ‘pretty chaotic’, the atmosphere ‘very liberal’. His father strolled around naked a lot. Aunts, uncles and grandparents all lived close by.
‘The doors were always open. On any given night, there would be 10 to 15 people around the dinner table. It was very loud, very crazy, there was a lot of food, a lot of alcohol, but it was also very loving. I was very much part of the chaos but I also had my room, and in there, when I was four or five, I would organise my cars and my action figures. I needed some kind of structure, I think, because it was so chaotic in the rest of the apartment.’

His father was performing in repertory theatre at the time, and would often be rehearsing one play during the day and performing in another in the evening. ‘He worked a lot,’ Skarsgård says, ‘so I would hang out backstage at the theatre and just play there because it was pretty much the only chance I got to spend time with my dad. A lot of the plays were Ingmar Bergman-directed, but I didn’t care about him. It was more fun to play around in the costume department.’
As a young boy he also acted in a number of films, including one, The Dog That Smiled, that brought him stardom at the age of 13. Girls would hang around outside the house. ‘It should have been flattering,’ he says. ‘They came to say “Hi”, or get an autograph, but it made me kind of paranoid and very insecure. I didn’t like it at all.
‘I wasn’t like a Hollywood child actor – “I’m five! I can sing, I can dance, I can act! I wanna be a star!” – the movie I did was because the director was a friend of my dad’s. I told my parents, I don’t want to do this any more. My dad said, “You have to love it, if you don’t feel that way, do the other thing, whatever it is.” I’m very grateful that he did that. I would have listened to him if he’d said, “Keep going”. I would have tried, and I would have done it for a few more years probably, but I’m absolutely sure I wouldn’t be acting today. I would have crashed and burned after a while.’
He briefly considered becoming an architect – ‘I spent a lot of time drawing buildings, even entire towns’ – but changed his mind. He spent his teenage years ‘not hanging out with his family’, listening to punk with his friends, getting drunk at the weekends and following his local football team, Hammarby, home and away.
When he was 19 he applied to do his national service in the marines. ‘I come from a family of pacifists, so it’s not like I was going to join the war. Sweden is not like the States or England where you might get sent to Afghanistan next month. For me it was just a personal challenge. I’m very happy that I did it. It was tough. I hated it at times; the unit I was in dealt with anti-sabotage, anti-terrorism in the archipelago, so some of the people who applied were total warheads. There were a lot of really cool guys, but the mentality sometimes got a little too testosterone-fuelled for my tastes.’
After he finished his national service in 1996, he and a friend left Sweden for Leeds Metropolitan University, where he studied English for six months. ‘We wanted to see the real England, so we just looked at a map. We both liked Leeds United, so we thought, let’s go there. We didn’t study much, we just had a blast. People were super-friendly and I had a great time. I still support Leeds United.’
Ever since his national service, though, Skarsgård had been thinking about trying to act again. ‘I thought I owed it to myself to check it out, because the reason I quit when I was 13 had nothing to do with acting per se.’ He applied for a theatre course at Marymount Manhattan College in New York by sending them videotapes of himself performing monologues, filmed by his friend. He landed a place on the course and moved to New York in 1997, renting a room in an apartment off Times Square from a flamboyant French-Filipino designer named Rene.
But after just six months he flew home to Stockholm. ‘I had met this girl in Sweden three weeks before I went to New York. We had this long-distance relationship. We would speak on the phone once or twice a week. She broke up with me because it wasn’t working out, and I was heart-broken. I thought, I can’t do this, I miss her so much, I’ve got to go home.
‘So I did. I got back and we hung out for a little while, but we were just too young and too different. She was 18 and I was 21. She’s a lovely woman but I didn’t even know her. I spent six months creating her in my mind.’
Skarsgård stayed in Sweden and began to pick up acting jobs there. He starred in soap operas and theatrical productions, as well as films. His romantic life, however, continued to be turbulent. In a recent radio interview, he dedicated the Buzzcocks’ song Ever Fallen In Love (With Someone You Shouldn’t’ve)? to another former girlfriend from this period in Sweden, whom he dated on and off for three years. ‘It was very passionate,’ he says, ‘but we just couldn’t get from the passion stage to the nice relationship phase.’
I ask him how such an impulsive, emotional person came to be known for playing two characters who are so outwardly cool as Brad Colbert and Eric Northman.
‘I can definitely relate to them,’ he says. ‘But I’m different in real life. They’re subdued and calm, I’m more playful. I’m pretty intense when it comes to relationships, platonic ones as well. If I feel a connection with someone, I’m willing to go there.’
Read more of Alexander’s interview at source


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