BIG LITTLE HIGHS
Alexander Skarsgård earns even more hotness points.
During the shoot for English director Duncan Jones’ noir sci-fi Mute, filmed in Berlin at the end of 2016, Alexander Skarsgård sampled the city’s smorgasbord of nightlife, often with his co-stars Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux. “One of the best ones was a hot-chocolate rave at three o’clock on a Sunday afternoon,” he says, rhythmically flashing his eyes wider, as if to the pulse of strobe lights (this is just one of his eccentric tics). “To get in, you first had to be ‘cleansed’ by this woman with a feather... It was in some industrial warehouse – the only thing they served was hot chocolate, and there were five-year-old kids and their grandmothers on the dance floor. I was like, ‘Wow, this is totally crazy. I’ve never experienced anything like this before.’”
It’s not easy to elicit a “wow” from Skarsgård. As the eldest of six children born to Swedish hippies (his father is actor Stellan Skarsgård, the esteemed muse of art-house director Lars von Trier, while younger brothers Gustaf, Bill and Valter are all rising screen stars), he has seen a few “crazy” things in his 41 years. But he has cause for exclamation of late. His most recent “wow” moment was a kiss from Dolly Parton – to date, “the best kiss of my life”. This took place at last year’s Emmys, when she and her co-stars in his favourite girl-power film 9 To 5, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda, presented him with the Outstanding Supporting Actor award for his turn as Nicole Kidman’s abusive husband in the eight-time Emmy Award-winning Big Little Lies. “It’s such a girl-power story,” he raves of the show. Skarsgård flew into LA from a shoot in Spain for the awards as well as a welcome reunion with the female-dominated cast, including Kidman and Reese Witherspoon, who are also executive producers of the series. “It was just an incredible gang of women who are not only supremely talented, but also the loveliest people you’ll ever meet. I was part of that girl gang and it was extraordinary.”
Who wouldn’t want Skarsgård as an honorary member of their girl gang? Never mind that he is viking vertical. He seems even taller than his 194cm in person (and conducts this interview precariously balanced on a miniature Marie Antoinette chair more suited to a garden gnome). He could be a second rower for the Stockholm Exiles rugby team were it not for his refined features and sensitive, antifreeze-blue eyes, with the very slight squint of a man who is without his glasses. (This look, coupled with an eyebrow move, has been officially fetishised as “The Skarsbrow”.) Skarsgård is resolutely pro-woman. “I’m 100 per cent feminist,” he says. “Sweden is very progressive. In terms of equal rights, I think it’s ahead of most countries.”
To prove it, he went to the 2015 LA premiere of The Diary Of A Teenage Girl in Farrah Fawcett-style drag, to celebrate the film’s all-female visionaries: director Marielle Heller and graphic novelist Phoebe Gloeckner. In the film, he played the affable moustachioed loser Monroe, who has a sexually explicit affair with his girlfriend’s underage daughter – another reproachable supporting male in a female-led story. And at 2017’s Emmys, Skarsgård cheered in support of Witherspoon’s rallying cry for more women’s stories to be told in Hollywood. “I think our society is changing and it’s fantastic that we have all these projects now
“THERE IS A DOUBLE
STANDARD [IN HOLLYWOOD]. IT’S DISGUSTING. I THINK YOU SEE THIS IN MANY PROFESSIONS, WHERE MEN WITH POWER
THINK THEY’RE ENTITLED”
where women’s voices are heard,” he says. “That they’re not just actresses being hired; that they are the genesis of the project. It’s them telling their stories, and I really think Big Little Lies is a great example of that.”
He’s also quick to acknowledge that, when it comes to on-screen roles, there’s a definite gender bias in the industry. Skarsgård has appeared on our screens in 50 shades of naked – as Eric Northman in seven seasons of True Blood, The Legend Of Tarzan in 2016, and exposing his appendage in Big Little Lies. But flesh exposure has never limited his career. “There is a double standard [in the film industry],” he says. “I notice that with actress friends of mine. And it’s disgusting.” As for casting-couch culture post-harvey Weinstein, he adds, “It’s not a problem that is specific to Hollywood. I think you see this in many professions, where men with power think they’re entitled. So these women are very brave to talk about it, and I do believe it will fundamentally change things.”
Skarsgård is ponderous on such disturbing matters, but when talk turns to himself, he’s playful and wonderfully sarcastic – so much so that it leans towards avoidance. There’s no earnest account of method preparation for his lead role in Mute, in which he plays a mute former-amish man working as a bartender in 2052 Berlin. So did he stop talking for several months? “I never do preparation,” he jokes. Stay silent between takes? “I talked a lot – and I mean a lot.” The film is in some ways a tribute to director Jones’ late father, David Bowie, whose most creative periods were spent in Berlin with his son: “We definitely felt [Bowie’s] presence.”
Mute juxtaposes futuristic Berlin – full of drone-flown ethnic takeaways, cyber brothels and sexbots – with the spartan, anti-technological existence of the Amish. Skarsgård can certainly see the appeal of the latter. He doesn’t really partake in the socialmedia world. “Sometimes, I think it’s good to be bored, because that’s when your mind wanders; creativity is born that way,” he explains. “But we don’t allow for those moments anymore, because if there are three seconds of downtime, you’re on your phone or you’re checking your Insta feed or Twitter.”
Skarsgård grew up in the then-working class, now gentrified, hip district of Sofo (that’s south of Folkungagatan) in Stockholm. His mother was a doctor and his father worked with legendary director Ingmar Bergman at Stockholm’s Royal National Theatre. “It was more like a commune – very artistic, very hippie,” he says. “Our apartment was a social hub in south Stockholm. Lots of Dad’s friends were actors, musicians, painters or intellectuals; left wing, anarchistic. My dad was either naked or in something freeflowing.” By the age of 13, Skarsgård had landed a lead role in a Swedish TV film, which made him famous in his own right. “To have people talk about you and say, ‘Well, this is who Alex is...’ when I had no idea myself, it just fucked with my self-confidence. Because if a girl looked at me or seemed interested, I thought she was only interested because she had seen me in the movie. It made me feel worthless. I wanted girls in school to like me because I was funny or cute or interesting – that’s what you want, isn’t it? When you’re 13? And I guess when you’re 40 as well...” He lets out a wry laugh.
A fascination with British culture took him to the UK for a sixmonth stint studying English at Leeds Metropolitan University. When I ask if he has a penchant for funny British girls (he dated Alexa Chung for two years and they’re rumoured to be back together), he sidesteps my question. “British humour is the best,” he says. “Brits are very dry, sarcastic and self-deprecating.” It was at Leeds that he decided to take up acting again, having quit in his teens, and went on to study first at the Marymount Manhattan College in New York before moving to LA.
Apart from his three-minute wonder turn as Scandi model Meekus in 2001’s Zoolander, it took him another seven years to get his big break – a key role in Iraq War series Generation Kill. This was soon followed by vampire drama True Blood. The Legend Of Tarzan was Skarsgård’s first big-budget movie, and it necessitated months of monastic living. “A part of me was miserable on a Saturday night, knowing my friends were out having a good time and I was at home eating broccoli about to go to the gym,” he says. “But in a sadistic way, I really embraced the challenge.” When he wrapped filming Tarzan in the English countryside, he took a car straight to his dad’s rental flat in East London: “I spent three days on his couch with a funnel in my mouth being fed bone marrow and wine.”
Due to a back-to-back film schedule that meant he would be on the road for months, Skarsgård recently gave up his New York apartment. For now, he’s living out of a single suitcase. “It makes you think about overconsumption,” he says. “Because, if it doesn’t fit in the suitcase, I can’t get it.” He’s shot The Aftermath in Hamburg, a post-world War II film opposite Keira Knightley, as well as Hold The Dark, about a wolf hunter in the Alaskan wilderness (the actor is environmentally conscious and recently went to Greenland with Greenpeace). With several more projects in the pipeline, including tech-trader drama The Hummingbird Project, for which he’s been sporting a “spectacular” monk-like haircut – “I have an inclination that I’ve lost a lot of my fans” – there is no sign of Alexander Skarsgård unpacking just yet.