Alexander Skarsgard: A Look at This Rising Star

October 23, 2009 by  

AS Shreveport  photo 1 CHRIS MALUSZYNSKIForget the vicious, loathsome vampires of yore. The days of the repulsive vampire, played by Max Schreck, Klaus Kinski or Bela Lugosi are over. Today’s vampires have emerged from their coffins, glamoring humans into thinking that they are the new anti-heroes. Now that these gorgeous blood-sucking creatures have emerged from the shadows, they are busy sinking their fangs into every aspect of popular culture, books and movies. We seem to have sunk collectively into the throes of a vampire induced lust; witness the contagion spreading among us: Park Chan-Wook’s Thirst, the BBC’s Being Human, Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In, The Vampire Diaries, The Strain, Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant. New Orleans is about to host their Vampire Film Festival and Italian Vogue has recently succumbed to the charms of the vampire; in its June issue, models pose as spooky creatures of the night.

And the most famous vampires of all are currently stalking across our screens in HBO‘s True Blood. It is a measure of the extent to which True Blood and, more importantly, vampires have seeped into our consciousness that even Snoop Dog has revealed he is a big fan of HBO‘s True Blood, and wants to be part of the vampire action. In his new song Gangsta Luv, the first single from his new album Malice n Wonderland, he pays tribute to True Blood: “Everyday is the same thang, I creep in/ It’s like True Blood, I sink my teeth in / I gotta have it“. True Blood, notably Sookie, was even referenced in a recent episode of House.

Make no mistake, there is nothing chaste about True Blood; set against a vivid Southern Gothic mise-en-scene, it has captured viewers’ imagination with is gloriously gory, fiendish, darkly funny script. And, oh yes, how could I forget. It also happens to be populated by gorgeous looking vampires, notably the tall, blonde and un-dead Viking vampire, Eric Northman. This is entirely based on an un-scientific and utterly subjective evaluation, but judging from the heated responses of reviewers, readers and viewers, I think it is safe to say that this particular devilishly charismatic Viking vampire has captured the attention and hearts of viewers on both sides of the Atlantic.

Based on Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Series, HBO’s True Blood universe is peopled by supernatural (or supes, to adopt the parlance of True Blood) creatures such as weres, shifters, witches, demons and a particular maenad, all of whom are re-imagined in a modern Southern Gothic idiom. And smack in the middle of this is Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic barmaid in Bon Temps, who seems to be the modern version of Nancy Drew. Oh, and did I mention that towards the end of Season 2, she finds herself caught between Vampire Bill and Eric Northman, the Viking vampire?


Judging from reactions to his charismatic performance as the 1000-year-old Viking vampire, Alexander Skarsgard’s profile as an actor is leaping forwards, upwards and onwards. Alexander certainly wasn’t prepared for the fans’ reactions to his Viking vampire, and he was caught by surprise at the 2009 Comic-Con event in San Diego. He admits:

“The real truth is, I was in Europe when season two started, and I had no idea how big the thing had gotten. I landed in L.A., went to Comic-Con and it was absolutely crazy”.

However, coming straight from another HBO miniseries, the critically acclaimed Generation Kill, one does wonder how he prepared for the role of two very different types of warriors, one the Viking vampire, the other a US 1st Recon Marine. In both roles, his performances are typically understated and low-key. He has, for example, stated that he was drawn to the role as the Viking vampire because he gets to walk the line between good and evil – sometimes in the same breath:

“A 1000-year-old flying Viking is quite different from most of my previous roles […] I love that he drains people with an innocent smile on his face”

Alexander Skarsgard’s take on Eric Northman is that the Viking is a little bit Gordon Gekko, from Wall Street (a manipulative, conniving businessman), mixed with a little Mr. Darcy (a misunderstood brooding man). Alexander explains how he approaches the role of Eric Northman,

“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 naive and stupid in general. But there’s something different about Sookie, and that intrigues him. That’s what gets his attention, basically.”

He admits that he was initially bemused about being asked to be in True Blood, revealing:

“I reacted like most people would do when I heard that it was a vampire show, I thought ‘Whoa, I have no idea what this is going to be like.’ But then they told me that he (Alan Ball) was behind it, and that made me very interested in working on it.”

He is also intrigued about the current fascination with vampires and he thinks this is because,

“It has to do with immortality and eternal youth. What creates a platform for good drama is 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 would let you live forever, or you could become vampire food.”

However, in spite of his growing celebrity status following his performances in GenerationAS SHREVEPORT PHOTOS_CHRIS MALUYNSKI Kill and True Blood, Alexander Skarsgard remains low-key and unassuming. Prior to his roles in the US, 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).

Son of the actor, Stellan Skarsgard, Alexander has, in short, been acting nearly all his life. For example, one of his early roles was in the 1984 film version of the Swedish children’s book Ake och hans värld (Ake and His World), in which he played Kalle Nubb. This was followed by the lead role in 1989’s Hunden som log (The Dog That Smiled). He says,

“My parents never dragged me to auditions. They didn’t push me. Things just kind of happened, and I thought it was fun,”

But by age 13, he’d had enough.

“I was really self-conscious and I wasn’t comfortable with all the attention. Thirteen is a tough age. You’re trying to figure out if you are a child or a man. It’s a strange time. People on the street would recognize me, and I hated it. It was too much. I said to my dad and mom, ‘I don’t want to do this. I want to play soccer.’ I wanted a girl to like me because I was funny or cute, not because she saw me on TV. So I quit. If I didn’t quit at that time,” he says, “I would have crashed and burned, and I doubt I would be acting today.”

After he quit acting, 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. But 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. He explains,

“I was lonely, I had no money, and I was in love,”

He packed his bags and flew back to Stockholm. Two days after he landed, he and his girlfriend broke up. What followed were more Swedish productions, and a small role in Zoolander, playing Meekus, a Eurotrash model who dies in a gasoline fire.

Who knows, these small roles would have continued were it not for his big U.S. break whengeneration kill 2 he was cast as Sgt. Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert in Generation Kill, the 11-time Emmy-nominated HBO miniseries following the exploits of the Marines’ First Recon Battalion during the early part of the Iraq War in 2003. The series is based on the book written by Evan Wright, an embedded Rolling Stone reporter, and Skarsgard plays the alpha male team leader Marine Sgt. Brad (Iceman) Colbert. Says casting director Alexa L. Fogel:

“Alex was definitely put through his paces, and there was a lot of discussion throughout the ranks about casting him.”

The Colbert role was a fine tightrope act: military brawn combined with intellect. In addition, there was the language issue. The entire seven-part series is peppered with a rich colorful shorthand of the Marine slang and phrases, such as “Oscar Mike” (on the move) and “Stay frosty” (stay alert). As Rudy Reyes, a former Recon Marine who played himself in HBO’s Generation Kill, indicates,

“In walks this skinny guy that looked like a really tall Kurt Cobain […] But once the cameras started rolling, Skarsgard became Colbert.”

Of his role as Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert, Alexander says,

“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?’”

Alexander also indicates that his former experience as a Marine in the SakJakt-unit of the Swedish Navy helped:

“[…] 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.”

To date, his roles, such as Viking vampire and Marine warrior in both HBO series, have been varied. Importantly, they demonstrate his versatility as an actor and as Alexander indicates:

“[…] 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.”

In addition to True Blood and Generation Kill, Alexander can also be seen in the recently released David L. William’s Beyond the Pole Rod and Tariq Saleh’s Metropia, and the upcoming Rod Lurie’s Straw Dogs, 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.

Combined with his stellar performances in HBO’s True Blood and Generation Kill, 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.


Photo credits: Chris Maluszynski and HBO Inc.