Alexander Skarsgard: From Sweden to LA

November 27, 2009 by  

alexander-skarsgard-as-vampire-eric-northman-on-hbos-true-bloodMention the name Alexander Skarsgard these days, most people would cite his roles in Generation Kill or True Blood. Now, after the success of the hit HBO series True Blood and Generation Kill, Alexander Skarsgard finds himself on the cusp of playing in an even bigger league. To date, these are his two largest roles; as ‘Iceman’ Brad Colbert in Generation Kill and as the Viking vampire Eric Northman in True Blood, these roles have garnered him respect among his peers and celebrity status among his growing fan base but in spite of this, Alexander Skarsgard remains low-key and unassuming.

But as fans of Alexander Skarsgard know, his career as an actor started in Sweden where Alexander delivered a string of impressive performances in European films and acted in several Swedish TV series.

For example, he wrote and directed Att döda ett barn (2003), played Leonardo in Lorcas’ Bloodwedding at Gothemburg State Theatre in 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.In 2003, he was nominated for a Guldbagge for male supporting role in the movie Hundtricket – The Movie (The Dog Trick).

Currently, in addition to his role in True Blood, Alexander can also be seen in the recently released David L. William’s Beyond the Pole Rod, Tariq Saleh’s Metropia, and the upcoming Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs. Lurie’s film is a remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1972 cult classic of the same name. Straw Dogs was filmed in Shreveport. Only a couple of hours from New Orleans, it is a medium-sized town in the middle of the classic American South.

In Lurie’s re-make, Skarsgard works opposite Kate Bosworth, who plays his ex-girlfriend. During a break in shooting Straw Dogs, Skarsgard also recently returned to Visby [the largest city on the Swedish island of Gotland] where he completed complete filming Johan Kling’s new movie Trust Me aka Puss (‘Kiss’ in Swedish).

Of his role as Charlie in Lurie’s Straw Dogs, Alexander indicates that he plays an alpha-male,

“I play Charlie, a football player who’s the best in his team in college, a “jock” with a promising future. But he gets injured and has to stay in his small town as a carpenter. He’s bitter that he didn’t get to go. After a while his ex-girlfriend comes back with a new guy, an intellectual script writer from Hollywood. The movie is about how Charlie deals with his ex being with someone he sees as not a real man.”

Now back in LA, he is about to commence filming the third season of True Blood. Since moving to LA two years ago, his career as an actor is going very well, and he is now poised on the edge of moving among Hollywood’s elite.

As Martin Gelin observed recently of Alexander Skarsgard’s presumed glamorous life,

“[Alexander] claims, like actors usually do, that there isn’t such a life. […] But as usual in LA, reality tends to blend with fiction. Alexander is having a meeting with the agency Endeavor, founded by, among others, Ari Emanuel – who Ari Gold’s character in Entourage is based upon. Most of the scenes from the agency are recorded at their real office, located on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.”

A couple of years ago, Endeavor would have been the perfect home for Alexander, but as we all know, since his career defining roles in Generation Kill and True Blood, a lot has happened in his career lately. And despite Endeavor having a respectable profile in Hollywood, partly due to its appearance in the TV series Entourage, it is a relatively new firm and has found its niche among the younger, hipper actors. But it isn’t the most prestigious agency around. Consequently, in addition to having meetings with Endeavor, Alexander also finds himself having half a dozen meetings at other agencies. As Gelin observes,

“[I]t’s a grateful ego-trip to go from office to office where everyone tries to convince him [Alexander] how good he is and why they must work together in the future […] Right now, Skarsgard is balancing on the edge of that exclusive group of actors whose names are, that’s right, brand names, and he’s aiming higher when it’s time to switch agent. He wants to end up in one of the largest agencies.”

As Alexander himself explains,

“They have always carried a lot of weight, they make things happen, make sure you meet the right directors and producers. At the same time you want an agency that makes you its priority. If you’re in the same agency as Tom Cruise there’s a risk of ending up at the bottom. I’m guess I’m not really interested in that side of the industry, I have to trust my manger and my gut feeling. Like, “Nah, that guy felt like too much of a flashy LA agent.”

Following a series of meetings with different agencies, it soon becomes clear to Alexander that he has to dump his old agent and as Gelin observes, Alexander is obviously nervous about the upcoming conversation he’ll be having with his agent admitting that it will be “as hard as breaking up”. However, following the meeting, it becomes immediately obvious that the conversation with his agent isn’t as bad as he feared it would be,

“She understood me. I mean… if I would have stayed at her agency it would have been like Zlatan [Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a Swedish football player] deciding to go to Brommapojkarna instead of Ajax after Malmö. [Brommapojkarna and Malmö are smaller Swedish football clubs, Ajax is a large celebrated football club in the Netherlands.]”

It soon emerges that the agency that Alexander has chosen is Creative Artists Agency (CAA). He is now in the big league as CAA represents stars like George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Shakira, Sean Penn and Bob Dylan.

Alexander SkarsgardIn between meeting with prospective agencies and catching up with friends, Alexander Skarsgard took some time out to talk about his love for football, especially of his support for Hammarby (Swedish football team), reminisce about his early life in Sweden, reflect on his career trajectory to date, his roles in Generation Kill and True Blood, and how living in LA is very different to Sweden and takes some getting used to.

But behind the easy going demeanor of a söderkisen [a person from Södermalm, which is a neighborhood and island in central Sweden] in a Bajen hat [Bajen is a nickname for Swedish soccer team Hammarby IF] is an astute, well-read, contemplative European man who reveals himself through his speech which is liberally peppered with slang, curses and quotes from Tolstoy and Ibsen.

When asked about how shooting conditions during True Blood compared to Generation Kill, he explains,

“It’s a piece of cake compared to Generation Kill. Sure, we might work 16 hours straight sometimes, but then you’re off and can chill around for two days. Generation Kill was a 145 days shoot in Africa and we shot 142 of them, 12 hours a day. I lived like that for seven months.”

Alexander admits that his two HBO roles has helped lift him into the bigger league in Hollywood. He reveals,

“I actually got the part in True Blood before Generation Kill, but it took so long before we started recording that I did Generation Kill first. Then they called me again about True Blood when I was in Mozambique and did Generation Kill. Lucky for me, there was the script strike. Then True Blood was delayed and I could still make it. I was lucky.”

In terms of how his career in Hollywood commenced, Alexander explains,

“I was here on vacation ten years ago, when dad was filming. His manager heard I was an actor back in Sweden. She suggested I would try some auditions and got me some. The first one I did was for Zoolander – and I got that part. Then I got my own agent. After that I was in Sweden for two years and did theatre, but got no interesting movie scripts. In 2004, I started commuting between Stockholm and LA. I thought, if I already have representation here I might as well try.”

Alexander goes on to explain that it was Stellan Skarsgard (Alexander Skarsgard’s father) who introduced him to the acting and actor’s life,

“He [Stellan] used to bring the whole family to movie shoots, so we travelled a lot, but he hasn’t actually recorded that much here in LA. He shot in Holland, Scotland, Ireland, France, Greece, Cambodia, Hungary […] He wasn’t an international actor when I grew up. It wasn’t until Breaking the Waves that it happened, and then with Good Will Hunting after that, but at that point I’d already moved out. I have younger siblings that are almost 20 years younger than me, so they’ve lived an entirely different life with him, they’ve experienced the Hollywood glamour much more. When I was young he mostly worked at Dramaten [The Royal Theatre in Stockholm]. I never saw him because he had rehearsals at night. If you wanted to meet dad, you had to run around the catacombs of Dramaten.”

While Alexander is now appreciative of his early upbringing in a colourful bohemian household, he admits that it wasn’t always thus for him. He reveals that as a young boy, he was jealous of his friends because of the perceived normalcy of their lives. He admits that for a while he was tempted to avoid acting in the hope of pursuing a more conventional career,

“[…] I did a few jobs as a children’s actor, but never had any thought of it as a career. As I got older and started thinking of how my buddies and their parents were living, of status and those things, wearing the right jeans […] Then I thought, what the hell, a red-wine-drinking theatre-bohemian who’s naked in the kitchen smoking? The buddies who had dads with shiny suits and drove a Saab 9000 and were home at night were much more attractive. It was tough, with a dad always away at night […] But as I got older I saw the positive sides to it, that there were a lot of creative and interesting people in my life, thanks to the discharged punks my dad dragged home.”

But Alexander did quit acting for a period whereupon he spent the next eight years turning down every offer he received. Instead, he studied Political Science in the UK, completed his military service as a Sergeant in the Swedish marines and planned on studying architecture in Stockholm. However, his longing for the theatre and acting never left him; he moved to the United States in his early 20s to attend Marymount Theater School in NYC, but he soon dropped out after six months.

Of his period serving as a Marine, he admits that it was partly in reaction to the bohemian lifestyle of his background, saying,

“Sure, I actively sought that position. I was 19 and felt I could either go backpacking by train for 6 months, go to Bangkok to some cafe, or do this. But of course you ask yourself when you’re lying buried in a swamp for four days: Why am I doing this? Especially when you got postcards from buddies in Australia who were hanging out with kangaroos. But looking back, I haven’t regretted doing it for a second.”

Of his move to New York to enroll in the Marymount Theatre School to study acting and his subsequent dropping out, he explains,

“I was twenty and got into an acting school there. I had planned on living there for four years, studying. But then I met a girl in Sweden first summer break. So I dropped out of school and went home for love. She was 17 and I was 20. We didn’t even know each other, we had only hung out for four weeks and had just fallen in love. It ended after four days.”

Once he moved back to Sweden, Alexander Skarsgard had a string of roles in European films and on Swedish TV but LA beckoned, and he moved to LA permanently two years ago. However, he admits that living in LA takes some getting used to. Although he mostly hangs out with the gang from Generation Kill, among others, when asked if he can imagine staying in LA, he replies,

“No. I feel comfortable as long as I’m working, the whole town is made up around the movie industry. It’s a very creative environment. But I miss the intensity of regular cities. You don’t see any people here, just cars. There are 15 million people in LA but you see more people on the streets of Skövde [trans note: Swedish small town] than here. There are good restaurants, cozy cafes, all of that, but the spontaneity disappears a bit when you have to take your car everywhere. You have to park all the time. Then you have dinner and you’re like: shouldn’t we have another bottle of wine? But you can’t because you have to drive home.”

He continues to explain that he still finds it hard to adjust to living in LA, especially to the lifestyle and the mindset,

“People can be kind of fleeting. There’s a lot of “Great, we’ll have lunch tomorrow then!” and then you’re kind of Swedish saying “Okay, should we say 2pm?” But it never happens. A lot of stuff gets planned that never gets followed through, and you’re not that accustomed to that. At the same time there’s an awesome energy here. You’re allowed to dream and have visions of doing things that might not follow the norm 100%, which people have a harder time accepting in Sweden. Everything that sticks out is considered a little bit frightening back home.”

In addition, he observes that the people in LA have a very different fashion sense compared to the Swedes or to Scandinavians, for that matter. When asked about what he thinks about the dress sense or clothing style in LA, Alexander observes,

“There are hipsters at the rock clubs in Silverlake that look like those in New York or at (the rock club) Debaser in Stockholm. In Hollywood, there’s a lot of money. Preferably, it should be very visible, and they go a little overboard. Instead of a regular suit jacket, they buy one with skulls on the back and large fringes hanging from the sleeves […]They have to “toughen things up” a little, they want shirts that show that they aren’t boring agent guys that sit in their offices all day, so it’s important to have skulls on your back. There’s a lot of Ed Hardy-fashion here, but it’s not really my style. It gives me a headache.”

In contrast, in spite having lived in LA for several years now, Alexander Skarsgard retains the typical understated style of a Scandinavian man, preferring the classic styling provided by Whyred, Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, Acne, Raf Simons and Rick Owens. He does admit, however, that he went through a typical rebellious phase where

“[he] bought pink pants, a bunch of strings and, like, a kids’ hat saying “Alexander”. I wish I could say I was 14. But I was probably 21. Fuck, can we say 14?”

Later in the day, Alexander hangs out with his acting friends from Generation Kill. They are there to meet Evangeneration kill 2 Wright, the embedded reporter whose book was turned into the hit HBO series Generation Kill. Wright has just released Hella Nation and has a book event at the Farmer’s Market. Wright’s new book is about the darker underbelly of the USA. The book itself gives an account of his time spent with neo-nazis, crystal meth junkies, porn stars and those who spend their time spinning insane conspiracy theories. Wright, who continues to keep in touch with the Generation Kill actors, meets the actors at his Barnes & Noble book reading and they later decamp to a nearby restaurant for a catch-up. As Gelin observes the dinner conversation, he notes Wright making an observation of Alexander. Wright attempts to sum up Alexander by indicating that he,

“[Alexander] is trying to act like a “complicated Swede” by “coming alone to parties and talking self-pitying about his hard life as a single.” The level of truth of this is unclear. Alexander laughs, shrugs and says: “Sure…””

While he becomes used to being recognized in his native Sweden, following his HBO roles in True Blood and Generation Kill, Alexander does admit that there are advantages and disadvantages to being increasingly recognized in LA too. For example, of the recent paparazzi gossip and internet inspired spin regarding his dating Evan Rachel Wood (also in True Blood), Alexander states simply,

“We’re just friends from the show. It’s the kind of garbage you have to live with.”

Tariq Saleh, director of Metropia, further explains,

“On the outside he looks pretty free of sorrows – he has a fantastic job in Hollywood, he’s a tall guy all the girls want, a lot of guys envy him. But if there wasn’t anything underneath he wouldn’t get the parts he gets. He can play an ungrateful character, but you like him anyway, because it feels like there’s something inside him that could break. A mysterious vulnerability. Another thing I like about Alexander is that he really can really drink! If you try to keep up with him you end up with alcohol poisoning and embarrass yourself irrevocably.”

On the other hand, the advantages of getting increasingly recognized for his HBO roles has meant that he is now managed by CAA and along with that comes the possibility of even bigger roles. However, Alexander Skarsgard is not a man to rest on his laurels career-wise,

“But I still notice I have these thoughts about what will happen next. What do I do in six years? I guess you’ll have to live with that uncertainty as long as you freelance.”

He admits that it would be great to take a break from the alpha male roles he’s played so far, and that he would love to work with Gus van Sant,

Paranoid Park was so tremendously good, it hit me extremely hard. I’d love to play someone more insecure, someone less alpha male. It’s been a lot of that.”

Who knows what the future holds? But now that Alexander is with CAA, maybe he’ll get the chance to tackle those type of roles. Nonetheless, it is safe to say that the future does look bright for Alexander Skarsgard. And judging from his work to date, we can be assured that no matter what roles he takes on, he is bound to continue delivering fine performances, creating, at the same time complex, nuanced characters on both the big and small screen.

SOURCE: CAFE Magazine via

Picture credit: HBO Inc., Albert L. Ortega / PR Photos via