Alexander Skarsgard Interview About True Blood

September 30, 2009 by  

Alexander SkarsgardBenjie Goodhart from channel4.com had the opportunity to interview Alexander Skarsgard who portrays the 1000 year old vampire sheriff Eric Northman on Alan Ball‘s hit HBO TV series True Blood and discuss with him his beginnings in acting and his work not only on True Blood, but as well as his work on HBO’s Generation Kill.  Many thanks to Benji Goodhart from Channel 4 for allowing this interview to be reproduced in its entirety here.

The TV and movie industry is littered with actors who were tipped to be ‘the next big thing’ only to end up with non-speaking parts in the latest Jean-Claude Van Damme film. Predicting stardom is a precarious business but Alexander Skarsgård has as good a chance as any of making it big. Movie-star good looks? Check. Sensible career choices so far? Check. An engaging and intelligent personality? Check. Family pedigree in the business? Well, his dad is Hollywood star Stellan Skarsgård, so: Check. He’s also recently starred in two of the most critically acclaimed and successful TV series to come out of the US last year, True Blood (from the creator of Six Feet Under) and Generation Kill (from the creators of The Wire). Both series will be on Channel 4 this autumn.

It was almost all so different, though. As a child actor, Skarsgård turned his back on the industry aged 13. It was only after a seven-year hiatus that he decided to give acting another go. It was, it would seem, a good decision. Just how good, the next few years will reveal.

You’re from an acting background, and obviously your dad [Stellan Skarsgård] is hugely successful. Did you grow up proud of his level of success, or did you just take what he did for granted?
He wasn’t that big a star when I grew up. The thing that brought him to Hollywood was Breaking the Waves, the Lars von Trier movie, which was in 1996. I was already 20 years old by that point. Growing up, my father was working at a theatre in Stockholm, so he was mostly a stage actor. He did movies as well, but smaller Swedish movies. I’ve got younger siblings, and it was different for them. They did more of the travelling around the world, being on sets and all of that exotic stuff. For me, it was running around backstage at the theatre, and I didn’t really think much about it.

On the subject of your siblings, a few of them have gone into acting as well, haven’t they?
Yeah. I’ve got a brother who’s two months old, and it’s kind of difficult to say what he’ll do! But I’m the oldest, I’ve got a brother who’s four years younger than I am, and he’s an actor back home in Sweden. And I have another brother who’s 18, who’s working doing movies in Sweden right now as well.

How old were you when you started acting?
Seven. I did my first movie when I was seven, and then I worked for about six years, doing movies and television in Sweden. But then I quit when I was 13, and didn’t work at all for seven years.

Why did you quit?
This was in 1989, and back then in good old Sweden, we only had two TV channels. I did a movie for television there, and whatever was on, people would watch, so the impact that had back then was huge. Suddenly people recognised me wherever I went, and it just made me very uncomfortable. It was a weird age to become famous. I didn’t know how to handle it, and I was very self-conscious and stressed out about the whole situation. I just wanted to be one of the guys, so I quit, basically. I didn’t have the urge to act for seven years.

What drew you back into acting?
I was 20, and like most guys of that age I was trying to figure out what to do with my life. I was thinking about different options, and naturally acting came up again, and I thought about it, and I felt that it might be different now I’m 20 instead of 13. Hopefully I’m a bit more sure of who I am and what I want in life, and maybe I can handle it better than I did when I was 13. Leaving acting had never had anything to do with the craft, the work, at all. It was only because I wasn’t comfortable being recognized, and I thought that might be better. So I decided to give it a go again, and went to New York to study theatre for a while, and got hooked pretty instantly.

You’ve got two new series coming up on Channel 4 this autumn. True Blood is a drama about vampires, which will automatically make people think of Buffy – but it’s really not like that, is it?
I wouldn’t know. I’ve never seen Buffy!

Well, this isn’t exactly aimed at kids, is it?
No! Definitely not! It’s pretty dark.

Summarize the concept of True Blood.
The series is based on The Southern Vampire Mysteries. Charlaine [Harris, the books’ author] created this world where vampires live in coexistence with humans. They came out of the coffin two years ago, and went out publicly and said ‘Yes, we do exist, but don’t worry, we’re not going to harm you because we can drink synthetic blood now. We just want to live in peace.’ And it takes place in Bon Temps, a small town in Louisiana, and it’s basically about prejudice, and how these vampires try to fit into society and find a role.

Your character is a vampire called Eric Northman. What’s he like?
He’s the sheriff of Area Five, which basically means he’s the sheriff of the vampires in Louisiana. He’s one of the oldest vampires around, and one of the strongest and most powerful. He’s a true entrepreneur – he’s got a nightclub in Shreveport, and he sees this as an opportunity to make money. Curious humans will come into the club and buy souvenirs and see real vampires, and he uses that and makes money from it.

He’s been around for 1,000 years. How do you play someone who has a thousand-year back story?
Well, I think he’s got huge confidence, and also he doesn’t waste time. He’s been around for that long, so he cuts to the chase and gets down to business. And it’s hard to impress a guy like that, because he’s seen it all. That’s why he’s intrigued by Sookie [the show’s heroine, Sookie Stackhouse, played by Anna Paquin] because there’s something new here, something interesting and different about her that he can’t really put his finger on. In general he’s not very interested in humans, they don’t impress him, he thinks they’re naïve and stupid in general. But there’s something different about Sookie, and that intrigues him. That’s what gets his attention, basically.

Did you read the books when you got the part?
Yeah. I read the first five books before we started season one, but when we started shooting, it was just too confusing to keep reading the books [there are nine] because I didn’t want to end up wondering if I’d read something in the book or in the script. But we’re on hiatus now, so I’m going to go back and read a few more.

The series is adapted by Alan Ball, who wrote and produced Six Feet Under and American Beauty. Did that add to your excitement about the project?
Oh yeah, yeah. I reacted like most people would do when I heard it was a vampire show, I thought ‘Whoa – I have no idea what this is going to be like.’ But then, when they told me that he was behind it, that made me very interested in working on it.

In literature and cinema and on TV we seem to return time and again to vampire stories. What do you think is behind our fascination with the genre?
I think it has to do with immortality and eternal youth. What creates a platform for good drama is that that is so alluring and intriguing to people. Immortality and eternal youth are so attractive, yet the fact that vampires are also lethal predators who could kill you in an instant creates great platforms for drama, I think. You have that duality. An encounter with a vampire could let you live forever, or you could become vampire food.

The series is quite risqué. Did it cause controversy when it first came out in the US?
Yeah, a bit. It’s pretty full-on, and very graphic and gory. Season two is even more graphic, so we’ll see what the response is.

The other series you’ve got coming up on Channel 4 is Generation Kill. That’s also based on a book, isn’t it?
Yeah, it’s based on a book written by Evan Wright, who was a journalist who was embedded with First Reconnaissance Battalion of the US Marines for the first five weeks of the Iraq invasion in 2003. It’s basically about his experience of that journey.

Are the events portrayed pretty accurate to what happened?
Yeah, everything that is on the show happened in real life. One of the actors is a real Marine, and plays himself on the show. We had two other guys from First Reconnaissance with us for the duration of the shoot, which was seven months in Africa. They were behind the camera for every single take every single day, making sure that everything was legit and was real, and what we say and what we do on the show happened for real. It was very important to us to show exactly what happened, and not make it into a Hollywood series or movie where everything is dramatised, and things are added or removed. We just wanted to tell it exactly as it was, and I hope we succeeded in doing that.

You play Sergeant Brad Colbert. What’s he like?
He’s a team leader, a sergeant, and one of the senior guys in First Reconnaissance, but he’s not as macho as the other guys. He’s a bit of a loner, he’s doing his own thing. He loves the first stage of the invasion, where he actually gets to sit down alone and plan the mission that he gets. He’s a perfectionist when it comes to that, and he really believes in the cause. He believes that they’re out there to help people, to liberate people, but throughout the series things will change. It’s hard for him to do his job, because he needs to be there and motivate the guys, and make sure they’re sharp and aggressive, because otherwise they’re more likely to get killed. But at the same time, he’s beginning to think “What the hell are we doing out here?”

Did you meet the real Sergeant Colbert while you were filming?
No.

Was that a conscious decision?
No. If I’d had a chance to meet him before we started filming, and hang out with him for a month or two, then great. But he was in the UK, embedded with the special forces.

UK? That’s a really tough posting, being sent over here! Yeah. That’s the real deal! So he was in the UK, and I couldn’t get hold of him. I was able to get his email address, but at that point we were already two weeks into shooting it, and I’d already created my version of Brad Colbert after talking to the guys who knew him, and also talking to Evan Wright, who spent five weeks in a Humvee with him. So I’d already created my Brad Colbert, and at that point I decided not to get in touch with him, because I’d made my choices and found my path, and had to continue down that road with conviction. But I did get a chance to see him as soon as I got back to the States. Evan Wright was kind enough to throw a barbecue at his place, and he invited me and Brad, because he wanted us to meet somewhere other than the red carpet before the Premiere, and get a chance to sit down and talk. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life to finally meet him.

It must have been strange, finally meeting someone whose character you’ve spent so long immersing yourself in.
Yeah. I was with that character for a year. It’s his life. All the quotes and things I say on the show are his life. When I talk about my ex-girlfriend, and hookers in Australia, these are things that he actually said. And he never asked for this to become a huge HBO series, so I didn’t know how he would react when I met him. But I have a tremendous amount of respect and love for the man, so it was very important for me that he would be proud of what we did and how I portrayed him. And he didn’t kill me, so I guess I did okay.

Aside from the guys working on the show, did you spend any time immersed with the US Marines as part of your research?
No, but I’m a sergeant in the Swedish Marines.

Yeah, you did your national service with them. Did that experience prove useful in filming this series?
Absolutely, it was very useful, just to help understand how you deal with your officers and peers, understand the group dynamic between the guys, and also how you handle your weapons systems and all that kind of stuff. It was very helpful to have gone through that.

Were you a good soldier, and was it something you enjoyed?
Not really. It’s mandatory to do it in Sweden. I wanted to join the Marines, that’s not mandatory, but you have to do some sort of service to the state, doing something else. But I wanted to do this because I grew up in downtown Stockholm, and I wanted to challenge myself. I figured if I was going to do this, I wanted to do it for real and full-on, and actually physically and mentally challenge myself. At least then it might be interesting, and something I can use later on, instead of spending ten months in a booth stamping passports. But most of the guys I was with in my platoon were kind of like Rambos, you know? I wasn’t like that at all. I knew this definitely wasn’t a profession for me. I did this solely for my own reasons, to experience these things and challenge myself. It was kind of weird, and at times I hated it, but I’m glad I finished it.

Generation Kill shows a lot of bravery and gusto from the Marines, but it doesn’t necessarily tie in with the homespun, patriotic, apple-pie image of troops that exists in the US. Did the depiction of the troops upset people?
No, I think the Marine community really embraced the show, because it felt legit and it felt real and it made the audience realize that it’s more complicated than they might have thought. It made the audience realize that these are all individuals, and they’re very young, and they’re all there for different reasons. Some really believe in it, some are there because they’re bored, some are there because they’re trying to avoid jail. So it was definitely embraced by the Marine community, and by the army and the air force and the navy as well. I know that some of the officers weren’t happy about it, because they wanted it to be a pro-Marine Corps series where everything is amazing and they’re all patriots and all fighting for the right cause, so some of them weren’t happy with either Evan Wright’s book, or with the series either. But we can live with that.

I imagine that filming it was a pretty odd experience on set. It must have been an almost exclusively male environment.
Yeah. It was funny talking to the real Marines who were out there with us. They said it was very similar to being in the Marines – not, obviously, what you do for your work, but with the group, and how bonds are formed and how tight you get when you spend that long all together. And on a set it’s 80 per cent wait and 20 per cent action, and I think it’s pretty much the same thing in the Marine Corps. You do something, then you sit around and bullshit for hours and hours, and wait for the next order. So that definitely created a similarity, and I think it was great that we did this 3,000 miles away from our families and our homes, because all we had was each other, and I think that was good for the show.

Looking at the two series, which you did back to back, the roles are very different. Was that a conscious decision – do you always like to have that element of variety to your roles?
Yeah, because it keeps me on my toes and it keeps me motivated and creative. If I do something for seven months, and then I jump into a character that’s very similar to that, I think I’m going to get bored, and I’m not going to do a good job. I need to be challenged, I need to feel almost nervous about a new project and a new character. That gets me excited, and it definitely helps me in my creative process.

SOURCE: channel4.com

(Photo credit:  Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos via exposay.com)

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  • hayfa

    sexyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy i love you kisssssss

  • Less Billy

    Bill got over writen for 2 whole seasons & got to stake LS * shake head * that was an Eric book thing Bill got. i mean now what the writer’s are going to give Eric Bill traits now after building him up so much to be this great vamp? i would not stay a TB fan for long if Eric is the rapist & Bill get’s Amnesia watch rating’s drop… it’s totaly easy to build on a character that was empty to start with..

    • Ok Less Billy I have said this over and over again and will continue to until people understand that they should differentiate between the books and the TV show because they are both to different mediums with completely different titles. Charlaine has said herself that she is happy with the show and enjoys it and all the actors very much. This was a wonderful interview with Alex so let’s stick to the topic.

  • Less Billy

    yeah ! why are Bill fans on the Alex interview blog anyway? & they get upset when an Alex/Eric fan doesnt like SM/Bill. *scratch head* i would like to say that i LOVE the fact that Alex is playing Eric (my favorite character in the CH novles). he is doing a great Job on TB…

    • Lupilu

      agreed, I like SM as an actor, have since I saw him here in the UK in a series called Ultraviolet, funnily enough he played a vampire. but Eric is a brillient character and I want to see more of him, to be honest I want to read more about him in the books too! AS is a rather yummy package! so would deff notice a lack of him in the series.

  • pbartteacher

    This is a great article about Alexander. He deserves our accolades as all the actors on the show do. AB lets create the best possible season of True Blood.

  • Lizzie 1701

    Sorry, but Bill and Sookie are the core of the show. Alex, is a supporting actor. With Season 3, I am sure you will see more of Eric, but up til now, he was not so crucial. Anyhow, as stated many times before, Stephen Moyer is the lead actor and even he was short changed this last season.

    • Less Billy

      SM needs to continue to be short changed.. follow the Books AB follow the book… SM got kidnaped & hopefully season four the writer’s come up with a situation to send him away.. unless they follow the books & have him constanly at Sookie’s job & stalking her out side her house when there is no reason of threat to her life..

      • I am sorry but I have to say something I found this comment very disrespectful to the actor. To say Stephen Moyer deserves to be short changed is very rude. I have had the pleasure of interviewing several of the actors and each and everyone of them has been a joy to speak with and an honor! Every actor on the show works hard to provide us with this wonderful show called True Blood (NOT the Sookie Stackhouse series NOT the Eric Northman show or if you think I am showing favoritism NOT the Bill Compton show). The show works because of the team effort that goes on. The actors see it as a team effort and so should the fans.

        The show is not a re-enactment of the book but is used as a template to work on various themes in the show. I have said this before and will say it again instead of waiting for a scene from the books to be re-created (which may not occur) enjoy the thrills and drama that Alan Ball, his writers and the wonderful actors create for us each week.

        • Lizzie 1701

          Thanks, AdoreBill. I do not understand all this character bashing, especially the Bill Bashers. I hope AB does not read these posts. I love True Blood and will follow it to the end. I enjoy all the cast, but do prefer Bill as my main “crush”. According to the show, he has done nothing wrong – he is just a vampire in love. Stephen Moyer has done nothing wrong other than play a fantastic part and perhaps is seen as having more publicity than other cast members.

          I just want AB to write the best possible show and win tons of awards next year – True Blood certainly deserves this recognition!!

        • Less Billy

          your right ! i should have said Bill.. SM is just playing Bill a character from AB’s adaption of the books. and in the adaption of the books i wonder if Bill’s character goes on trips, or stalks Sookie, humm. we will see how True Blood developes Bill’s character after the break up. But anyway ! Bill is vampnaped “oh happy day’s ! this makes great t.v.

        • Nia

          Thank you AdoreBill and Lizzy for sticking up for our Stephen/Bill. Too many feel the need for cruel and insensitive comments about a wonderful actor and character. I don’t understand the “bashing”, I never have. This is such a wonderful show and all the actors are amazing in their roles. Alex/Eric and Stephen/Bill are the BEST. I cannot fathom the show without either of them. Nothing wrong with having a favorite, just not at the expense of the other or others.
          I hope, as you do Lizzy, that Stephen never has to be subjected to some of these comments. I would feel ashamed as a fan.
          It is good to know that in real life Stephen and Alex are good friends. Maybe some should take this mutual like and commraderie as a lesson learned.
          As to the show, it is called True Blood, not “Dead Until Dark”, “Living Dead In Dallas”, etc…..Please can we not leave
          Alan B. to his creative juices and allow him to bring us this wonderful entertainment? The constant rude comments, comparisons and bickering over every difference is uncalled for and unnecessary.
          There are times I wish I had never started visiting this and similar sites because I became aware of the team Bill, Team Eric, hate Bill, hate Eric nonsense. There is sometimes bliss in ignorance. But I am here and I find it necessary to put in my 2 cents and attempt to right a wrong although it is usually a fruitless and impossible undertaking.
          I am truly glad to have visited these sites for there are those who feel as I do……the love of this show, and talking with them, speculating with them and just having fun, has been such a joy, and makes the rest bearable.
          I am so grateful for True Blood. This is the most fun I have ever had with a tv show. I will always support Alan Ball and whatever storyline and direction he chooses to take the show.
          I am a devoted True Blood fan!

  • Fangbanger

    Skarsgard/Eric is the only reason I stick with the show.

    • Less Billy

      i agree,

      i dont care about Tara & i was glad that Eggs died off. but the lack of Eric was a true disappointment this season. i have to deal with Sookie because she is the one telling the story & i barley liked her character in the books. i really could not stand Billy at all in the books.. so i totaly watch the show for Eric & his interaction with Sookie.. the writer’s really short changed his character in season 2 & they had Billy punch Eric * the nerve* ..AB get with the program with developing Eric’s /Alex character..

  • Less Billy

    i hope AB see’s the light & stops over writing Bill’s character ( for 2 seasons). i would like to see more Eric on the show & less Billy. i have been subjected to the Billy show for way to long & Eric appeared in the books more than he appeared on the show. AB get it togather. i mean AB totaly cut the Sheriff of area 5 out of the finale i was like WTF?

  • pbartteacher

    I hope that Alan Ball reads this article very carefully. Alexander needs to be challenged in his portrayal of Eric Northman next season. He needs to continue to explore and develop this character. We need to see more of this character and all the different levels of Eric. Alex is a very deep individual and craves the excitement of something new and different.

    Let’s hope that AB and the writers keep that in mind when they write next season’s episodes. Club Dead is a book that has so many potential emotions for Eric/Alexander character to explore. The interview just solidifies my fascination with this actor. Well done, Alex Skarsgard. Keep up the great work. Here’s to keeping you challenged, nervous and excited about Season Three of True Blood.

    • val

      Amen!We need much more of him in season 3.Lets keep up the comments and let him know how we all feel!!Go Eric!