Like most of us, Alexander Skarsgård made his acting debut in a grade school play. Unlike most of us, he went on to develop an international career.
The first small step in that direction, the role of Kalle Nubb in “Åke och hans varld”, didn’t feel like an acting job to the young Alexander.
“Even though my dad had one of the bigger roles we never had any scenes together. I had a blast. I was so young so I did not have to keep character, I could just have fun and eat cookies and play in front of the camera.”
Alexander had originally auditioned for the role of Åke and won it, but due to his rangy body and dark circles under his eyes, director Allan Edwall felt he was a more natural fit for the sickly Kalle.
“With Inga röd” (1987) and “Hunden som log” (1989) Alexander became a Swedish teenage heartthrob. “Hunden som log” was a television series that literally transformed the young actor into a public attraction. Being only thirteen at the time, though, was an extremely hard transition to make. As a normal teenager, he had poor self-image. Instead of thinking the girls giggled out of attraction, in his head he turned it around.
“When I was out in the city and I heard a girl laughing I immediately thought she was laughing at me. And then I started wondering what would happen if I got bigger roles. Would it get even worse?”
Alexander decided that being a teenager was the only job he wished to have. So for the next seven years that is all he did. At the age of twenty he served the mandatory two years of military service. His choice as a Swedish marine now seems prophetic.
“I joined that company [marine anti-terrorist unit], and was there for 18 months, became a sergeant and platoon leader. It was very rigorous and demanding, the things they put us through. … But I learned a lot about myself and my limits. I’m happy I did it, but the day I graduated, I never looked back.”
In 1997 he attended both Leeds Metropolitan University, and university in Stockholm (studying political science and architecture) before enrolling in Marymount Manhattan College to study theatre in New York. Unfortunately for his academic career, after only six months a lonely girlfriend had the frantic Alexander returning to Sweden, only to find himself a bachelor once again when the girl changed her mind about him.
“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.”
By 1999 Skarsgård was once again a working actor, taking the role of Marcus Englund in the television show “Vita lögner” and Bamse Viktorsson in the film “Happy End”.
The next year was an extremely busy one for Alexander. He worked in the film short “Hundtricket”, the films “Dykaren”, “Järngänget” and “Vingar av glas” plus some television shows including a Lars von Trier project entitled “D-dag.”
2001 saw him not only in “Drakarna över Helsingfors” but also his move into American movies with a small role as a short-lived male model. Alexander was on vacation visiting his dad when Stellan’s agent set him up with some auditions. The first one he went to he got the role, in Zoolander. The experience left him with a rather skewed view of the American acting process.
“I was a little naïve when I came back because I was like, ‘Piece of cake you go in, you read, you get the job, you go do the job.’ But then I faced reality and realized it’s not that easy.”
Over the next several years, Skarsgård traveled widely to make a variety of television and film projects.
In 2002 the short “Hundtricket” was made into a full-length feature film in which he reprised his role as Robinson Micke. In 2002 to 2003 Alexander also starred in the Södra Teatern production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” as Nick. 2003 also saw him doing more theatre work in his role as Leonardo in “Blodsbröllop” at Göteborgs Stadsteater.
Alexander spread his creative wings in 2003 working both as a writer and director. Working with friend Björne Larson, they produced a commercial for Optical Telecom. The pair then went on to create the award winning film short “Att döda ett barn” which was not only narrated by father Stellan but also starred his younger brother Valter Skarsgård.
2003 also saw him nominated for a Guldbagge for his role in “Hundtricket” and saw him winning both an Odense International Film Festival Grand Prix and Press Awards for “Att döda ett barn”.
Tribeca Film Festival said of “Att döda ett barn” – “Based on one of the most widely read short stories in Sweden, this visually captivating story moves with finesse and eeriness.”
By 2004 Alexander was ready for a change professionally, seemingly being cast perpetually as the hunk in his native Sweden. So he made the move to Los Angeles. At first he had trouble finding work, and in order to keep working he often found himself travelling back home for roles.
During the next several years Skarsgård made several movies and television mini-series, both in the United States and abroad, including “Om Sara” (2005) and “Cuppen” (2006).
However his big break came when director Susana White cast him as the “Iceman” in the HBO mini-series “Generation Kill” (2008). It was a fight for White to get Alexander the role however.
“’I threatened to quit as a director if he didn’t get the part in Generation Kill,’ Susanna White tells us [Nöjesbladet]. Script writer David Simon and HBO were against a Swede playing the all American hero in the TV series about the Iraq war. But the director stood her ground.
‘I thought Alexander was such a phenomenal actor and he had all the right qualities to play the part of Colbert. HBO was very nervous having a Swede in the lead role,’ she says.”
“Generation Kill” was a life changing experience for the actor. The film cast and crew worked closely with real Marines to make sure the story, told from the viewpoint of an embedded journalist in Iraq, would be an honest one. They were fairly isolated and due to the long shoot time, they became close. Skarsgård is very proud of his work on the project.
“It was such a profound experience for me,’ he says. ‘Being away that long, the friendships I created with the other guys out there, and how important it was just to tell that story. People don’t know much about what’s going on, on the ground in Iraq: what you see in the media is heavily censored. I’ve never worked on a project like that before and I don’t know if I’ll ever get the chance to do it again.’”
It was during this same time Skarsgård auditioned for the part of William Compton on the upcoming HBO series “True Blood”.
“I thought, ‘Oh, vampires—I don’t know,’ he admits. ‘But then they said Alan Ball was behind it, and I was a huge fan of Six Feet Under and American Beauty. I auditioned on tape from my hotel room in Mozambique.’
The audition was actually for the part of Bill Compton, which went to Stephen Moyer. ‘Alex wasn’t quite right for Bill,’ recalls Ball, ‘but I remember that he was giant and also beautiful. So when it came time to cast Eric, I thought of him. He’s got the most amazing eyes.’”
Ironically enough, Skarsgård would have had to, at first, refuse the role of Eric. Filming for “Generation Kill” would take seven months of daily work in Africa, and was set to end after filming for “True Blood” was set to begin. But the universe has a way of working things out.
The Writer’s Guild in the United States went on strike for several months, bringing the television and film industry to a grinding halt in Los Angeles. Because of this, Alexander was able to complete filming on “Generation Kill” and then move onto his now famous role as the thousand year old vampire Eric Northman.
“True Blood” has fast become one of HBO’s biggest hits in its history, breaking viewing records consistently. In 2009, Alexander Skarsgård won the Best Villain at the Scream Awards, which are voted on by fans through their website. Alexander dedicated the award to his fifth grade woodshop teacher in Sweden.
Recently he has worked on smaller independent movies such as “Beyond the Pole” (2009) as a gay Norwegian cross-country skier and “Metropia” (2009), an animated film noir in which he gave life to a voice inside another character’s head, which debuted at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival. On the creation of “Metropia”:
“It was just the two of us [Tarik Saleh and I], basically. It wasn’t animated yet, so I had nothing to watch. It was pretty good, in a way, because it gave us a lot of creative freedom to do whatever you wanted. It’s not about lip synch or hitting certain beats. You could just play around with it and be very creative. If we wanted to change something or just add something, we could do that …
It was quite surreal. I saw the movie in Austin in October , something like that, over a year after we recorded it. It’s really weird, because you sit down and you watch it and suddenly, there’s a face and interaction with other characters. I record my stuff, I went away to Africa, where I was working on something else at the time, and you come back, and [the movie] comes to life. It’s pretty amazing. I’m still blown away by it.”
Skarsgård has several upcoming films that are waiting release including “13”, “Trust Me” and “Straw Dogs.” Another voice over project “Moomins” is set to debut at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival. In the near future Alexander is set to work on a Lars Van Trier film with his father Stellan Skarsgård, entitled “Melancholia.”
Written by Maeve. Do not reproduce without permission.