Swedish star is ready for Battle
by Jane Foster and James Wigney
TRUE Blood hunk Alexander Skarsgard didn’t have to look too far to prepare for his role as a naval officer in Battleship.
The lanky Swede, who made his name as the sexy but deadly 1000-year-old Viking vampire Eric Northman in the hit HBO series, not only played a soldier in one of his first TV outings, he also had a stint as real-life Marine in his homeland’s navy.
“I was in the Swedish navy 15 years ago, and I worked on a mini-series, called Generation Kill about a platoon of Marines and both of those experiences were very useful in preparing to do this, Battleship,” Skarsgard says.
“It was more about the character and stuff about leadership and the dynamic and the relationship between officers and enlisted guys and little things like how do you address them? But it was also different; I play a commanding officer of a navy destroyer; that’s not what I did in the navy in Sweden.”
Skarsgard describes his upbringing as “bohemian” and “artistic”.
He is the oldest son of Stellan Skarsgard, who was a superstar in Scandinavia, before making his mark in Hollywood in films, such as Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean and, more recently, Thor.
The younger Skarsgard began acting at the age of seven, when given a film role by a friend of his father.
But, uncomfortable with the public attention his starring role in a TV drama brought, he quit at the age of 13.
He says he joined the military – in a unit that dealt with anti-sabotage and anti-terrorism in the Stockholm archipelago – at the age of 19, more for the challenge and to satiate a rebellious streak more than sense of career or national duty.
“Because I come from a family of pacifists and I am a bit of a pacifist myself, I didn’t do it because I wanted to kill people,” he says.
“I’m from Sweden, no one is going to attack; we are not going to attack another country any time soon.
“It was more selfishly, I wanted the experience, I wanted that challenge.
“Growing up in a concrete jungle, I wanted to feel what it was like to be way out on the islands and there was this unit I was very intrigued and interested in and so I applied and got it.”
After finishing his 18-month stint in the navy and studying English at Leeds University, Skarsgard found he was getting the bug for acting again and enrolled in a theatre course in New York.
After returning to Sweden he started to pick up roles in theatre, TV and film – and a bit part in the 2001 comedy hit Zoolander – and then moved to Los Angeles in 2004.
His big break came in True Blood, where his role as Eric, part of an ongoing and increasingly steamy love triangle between Anna Paquin’s Sookie Stackhouse and Stephen Moyer’s Bill Compton, catapulted him to big-time fame and sexiest man alive lists.
Skarsgard, who auditioned for the part of Bill, was originally skeptical about playing a vampire, but the fact that the man who wrote Six Feet Under and American Beauty was behind it won him over.
The show was a surprise hit, with its fifth season due to air mid-year.
“The biggest thing was Alan Ball, because I am a big fan of his work,” Skarsgard says.
“I met with him and I really liked him a lot, and I liked the character a lot, a guy who starts out, what you think is the villain, but then you can kind of understand him, and there’s a softer side to him as well and a sadness that I really liked.”
The films Skarsgard has made during his breaks from True Blood couldn’t be more different, which is just the way he likes it.
“I’m fighting really hard not to get typecast, because to me that’s creative suicide in a way,” he says.
He recently appeared opposite Kirsten Dunst in controversial director Lars Von Trier’s end-of-the-world drama Melancholia, which also gave him the opportunity to act with his father again after many years.
“Dad is one of my best friends, so I love him so much,” he says.
“He is a really, really cool cat, and we worked together in 1983, my first movie (Ake och hans varld), back in Sweden and we have done an animated movie – where we don’t work together you just do voices. But this was the first time we actually had some scenes together, and it was an amazing experience.”
At the other end of the spectrum is Battleship, the big-budget, effects-driven blockbuster based on the boardgame of the same name in much the same way as GI: Joe was inspired by the action figure. Which is to say not much at all.
Appearing alongside Liam Neeson, Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna, Skarsgard plays Stone Hopper, a commanding officer of a US Navy Destroyer called into action when aliens attack Earth during naval exercises on the high seas.
Parts of the film were shot on battleships using US navy personnel as extras and Skarsgard and his castmates also spent time in Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor talking to military brass and visiting the enormous USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier, an experience the actor describes as “spectacular”.
Skarsgard says he took the role not for the big bucks, but for the challenge and the contrast it would give him coming straight off the art house of Melancholia.
“I read the script, it’s big, epic, fun, a really cool story, but I care more about the brothers, the relationship than the explosions.
“The process of making the movie, that’s what’s fun as an actor obviously, and this is my first big studio movie, so I didn’t really know.
“I heard stories from other actors on other movies where sometimes they feel that they are being micromanaged and there’s no creative freedom, they can’t really have fun with it.
“It’s all about ‘say your lines and then wait for the explosion’.
“Pete Berg, who is an actor himself, is very open.”
Skarsgard says he is still adjusting to the LA lifestyle and its wide open spaces but misses his family and friends from Stockholm and returns when he can.
“In Stockholm, all my friends live within five blocks of each other, we wouldn’t even have to call each other, I would just go down to the local coffee shop and I would run into friends and see them,” he says. “In LA that doesn’t really happen to me.”
At 35, he is much better equipped to deal with the fame acting has brought him than he was when he quit as a teenager. Part of his coping mechanism is to keep his personal life private – something he learned from his famous father.
“He was always very protective of the family, and us kids and he could be very open and talk about his work and himself and his characters, but you wouldn’t see like 25 house tours or ‘welcome to the Skarsgard family and this is my home, what’s in my fridge’.”
“I think that keeps you kind of sane, and that’s important for me as well, to not share every thing with everyone.”
source: Play Magazine from the Herald Sun Newspaper