BIG LIT­TLE HIGHS

Alexan­der Skars­gård earns even more hot­ness points.

ELLE (Australia) - - Contents - TUNE IN: Mute is screen­ing now on Net­flix

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.

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