Alexander Skarsgard: An Actor On The Frontline

October 21, 2009 by  

grey suited eric 2What do brooding, libidinous sex-crazed vampires and US Recon Marines have in common? They are both the subject of HBO TV series, and both star the Swedish actor, Alexander Skarsgard, who has a role in both Generation Kill and True Blood. Both TV series are currently being aired on Wednesday nights on Channel 4 in the UK.

As an actor, Alexander Skarsgard already has an impressive pedigree in European films and theatre. For example, he wrote and directed Att döda ett barn (2003), appeared on stage in Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at Södra Teatern, Stockholm, Sweden (2002), starred in Om Sara (2005), Never Be Mine (2006), Kill Your Darlings (2006), Cuppen (2006) and Exit (2006), Leende guldbruna ögon (2207) among others. However, it is only relatively recently that Alexander Skarsgard’s profile is increasing exponentially, notably in the US, where he can be seen playing a 1000-year-old Viking vampire in HBO‘s True Blood and Sgt. Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert in HBO’s Generation Kill.

Based on the prizewinning book of the same name by Evan Wright, a contributing editor at Rolling Stones, and adapted for the television by Wright, David Simon and Ed Burns (both creators of HBO’s Baltimore based The Wire), Generation Kill is a 2008 HBO miniseries. Spanning seven episodes, the series premiered on July 13, 2008 in the US. In the UK, the series had its digital premier on the FX channel on Sundays, January, 2009 and its terrestrial premiere on Channel 4 October, 2009. It is directed by Susanna White and Simon Cellan Jones, and produced by Simons, Burns, Nina K. Nobel, Andrea Calderwood, Charles Pattinson and George Faber. The show was shot on location in Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique.

Generation Kill is based on Evan Wright’s experiences as an embedded reporter with thehumvee alex United States Marine Corps 1st Reconnaissance Battalion during the Iraq War in 2003. Evan Wright, played by Lee Tergenson in the HBO series, was assigned to the lead vehicle of Bravo Company, led by Sgt. Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert (played by Alexander Skarsgard).

Maintaining an impeccable impartiality, faithful to Wright’s account, and respectful to the soldiers Wright befriended, HBO’s Generation Kill is bold, uncompromising and yet diffident as it details the experiences of the elite 1st Recon Marines who spearhead the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The odyssey of these often profane and irreverent Recon Marines are detailed engagingly, with dignity and without judgment. With an impressive ensemble combining both talented actors and Recon Marines, such as Rudy Reyes, Generation Kill conveys the message that warriors don’t change that much from one conflict to the next. While it may be Iraq 2003, and not Normandy, Guadalcanal or Agincourt, at its core it manages to convey a narrative of what war does to warriors and how brotherly camaraderie is forged between warriors during battle.

At the heart of this narration lies the dynamic between two 1st Recon Marines of Bravo Company: Sgt. Brad Colbert (Alexander Skarsgard) known as ‘Iceman’, a lean, laconic and highly disciplined and respected team leader, and his driver, Cpl. Josh Ray Peron (James Ransone), who is small, wiry and relentlessly chirpy as a result of his consumption of the ephedra-based Ripped Fuel. In its first episode, we see the Marines training in the desert of Kuwait, practicing martial arts, insulting each other with crude, lewd racial slurs and gay-bashing jokes, reading skin magazines and Noam Chomsky, while waiting restlessly for the war to start. While preoccupied with the latest BBC reports, they are also similarly anxious about J. Lo’s rumored death. Priding themselves on their 1st Recon Marine status, they riff sarcastically about absurd grooming standards and the idiocy up the ranks; the generals and their politicians who send them into combat with shortages and inappropriate equipment:

“See, the Marine Corps is like America’s little pit bull,” Cpl. Person (James Ransone) explains to the Rolling Stone reporter (Lee Tergenson), “They beat us, starve us, and once in a while they let us out to attack somebody.”

Combining characteristic soldierly profanity and lewdness, sardonic humor, pop cultural references and respectful veracity to military craft, HBO’s Generation Kill avoids the cheesy clichés and cinematic stereotypes so often seen in lesser cinematographic representations of warfare. As Alexander Skarsgard indicates:

“Everything on the show happened in real life […] One of the actors (Rudy Reyes) is a real Marine, and plays himself on the show. We had two other guys from 1st Recon with us for the duration of the shoot, which was seven months in South Africa. They were behind the camera for every single take every single day, making sure that everything was legit and was real. It was very important to us to show exactly what happened, and not make it into a Hollywood movie where everything is dramatized, and things are added or removed.”

alexander and rudy reyesAlthough Alexander Skarsgard did not get the chance to meet the real Sgt. Brad Colbert during filming, who was at that time embedded with the special forces in the UK, Alexander did eventually meet him once he was back in the States. Evan Wright was kind enough to throw a barbeque at his place and he invited both Colbert and Skarsgard so that they could finally meet each other face-to-face. It is a testament to Skarsgard‘s skills as an actor and his former experience as a Sergeant in the Swedish Marines that his portrayal of ‘Iceman’ Colbert was conveyed with such seamless credibility.

With its superb cast and script, this HBO series provides a clear-eyed and searing, gripping account of the Iraq War. And, like other classic war movies, it movingly conveys the simple unavoidable truths and age-old archetypes of warfare and warriors. Generation Kill will surely enter the cinematic Parthenon of cinematographic representations of warfare.

In the more recent HBO series, True Blood, Alexander Skarsgard demonstrates yet again his versatility as an actor when he plays another kind of warrior, this time a 1000-year-old Viking vampire. Based on Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries, he plays the eponymous Eric Northman, Sheriff of Area 5, with an entrepreneurial streak who opens the nightclub, Fangtasia. According to Alexander, he was initially only a “glorified extra”, often to be found lurking in the shadows of Season 1; however he quickly became a pivotal part of the HBO series, and in Season 2, he is to be found attempting to woo Sookie away from her main squeeze, Vampire Bill. The Viking vampire’s reputation seems to have preceded him because, judging from viewers’ reactions to Alexander’s performance of the cunning, contrary and strangely charismatic Eric Northman and fans’ reactions at Comic-Con in San Diego (2009), viewers just can’t seem to get enough of the Viking in both HBO’s True Blood and Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries. As Alan Ball recently indicated, one of the fun aspects of the Southern Vampire Mysteries was translating the romantic tension and sexual chemistry between Eric, Sookie and Bill onto True Blood. Now that True Blood has become HBO’s biggest hit since The Sopranos, averaging about 5 million viewers a week in the US, our Viking also appears to be the vampire du jour.smirking eric

As a testament to the quality of the script and its talented cast of actors, at the recent star-studded Spike TV’s SCREAM Awards (Saturday 17th October, 2009), HBO’s True Blood was honored with four awards. The SCREAM Awards, based on fans voting online for their winners, honors the best in science-fiction, horror, fantasy and comic book inspired movies and TV shows. The popularity of True Blood and the Viking vampire was obvious that night when HBO’s True Blood won awards for the best TV show, Alexander Skarsgard for best villain and co-stars Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin received awards for best horror actor and actress. Whither True Blood? Well, we all know that Season 2 of True Blood ended on a cliff-hanger involving you know who. But we have also been assured that we can expect to see more of Skarsgard in Season 3. Literally. I think we can safely assume that this fact alone would make a lot of the fangirls out there ecstatic with joy.

With successes beneath his belt, and with several other movies in the pipeline, Alexander is now rightly regarded as a rising star in the US. But it wasn’t always like this. In fact, he retired in 1989 when he hit the grand old age of 13. He explains:

“I did my first movie when I was seven, and then I worked for about six years, doing movies and television in Sweden […] Then I quit.”

And you would be correct to wonder why. As Alexander continues to explain:

“back then, I did a movie for television, and it had a huge impact. Suddenly people recognized me wherever I went, and it made me uncomfortable. I didn’t know how to handle it, and I was very self-conscious and stressed out about the whole situation. So I quit.”

We can only thank our lucky stars that Alexander changed his mind and returned to acting. No doubt both women and men are breathing collective sighs of relief across the land. Imagine what Wednesday nights would be if our Viking did not grace us with his presence on Channel 4 as both Marine warrior and Viking vampire?

The future does indeed look bright for Alexander Skarsgard. He has just completed Beyond the Pole and Metropia, recently aired at the London Film Festival; both Straw Dogs and 13 are currently in post-production. And he is about to return to Sweden to complete filming Trust Me aka Puss before returning to the US to begin filming the third season of True Blood.


Photo credit: HBO Inc.