By Jamie Millar
Alexander Skarsgård is big. Very big. But that much was apparent even before GQ.com meets all 6’4″ of him in the flesh at a central London hotel, because when we announced on Twitter we were set to interview him we received an astonishing number of replies – mostly, it has to be said, from would-be fangbangers. Zoolander aside, the towering Swede first came to our attention as Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert in the exceptional Iraq war miniseries Generation Kill, adapted from Evan Wright’s book by The Wire alumni David Simon and Ed Burns. But it wasn’t until his turn as the broodingly menacing 1,000-year-old vampire sheriff Eric Northman in another HBO must-see, True Blood, that we really bit. A peripheral but compelling presence in season one, Eric comes to the fore with arguably the most satisfying character arc in season two, currently airing on Channel 4 ( season three has just finished in the States).
He’s since been shot by Annie Liebovitz for American fashion brand Hickey Freeman, crippled Lady Gaga in the video for “Paparazzi” and is now starring opposite Rihanna in upcoming big-budget blockbuster Battleship. “It’s pretty exciting. It’s a crazy production. I’ve never worked on anything of this magnitude. It’s so big. We’re shooting at Pearl Harbour on big ships. It’s a lot of fun.” Not least because he’s filming in Hawaii. “I went up to the North Shore and took a surf lesson and it was amazing. That’s definitely something I’m going to pick up. I’ve lived in California for for six years and I’ve never surfed.” Despite having been up since 4am (on account of jetlag rather than any nocturnal bloodsucking), he mainlined coffee and talked to us about fame, season four and why he “loves being naked”…
Alexander Skarsgård on…
Good vs evil
In season one, you don’t really get to know Eric. He’s in a couple of episodes and he’s in the background: the evil boss of Bill. Everyone was like, “You’re the villain.” To me, there was so much more to Eric than that. So it was great in season two to actually get a chance to show that people might be wrong when they label someone as good or bad. That’s what I find interesting not only in Eric but in any character I play. A character on screen that’s the “good guy” or the “bad guy”, they’re never interesting. There’s got to be an internal struggle, the duality is important to find. I had a lot of fun when you finally see this guy that is labelled as the bad guy can actually show compassion…
The books vs the series
We’re starting season four in two months. People are always like, “Tell us something, give us a spoiler.” And they think we’re lying when we say we don’t know but we honestly don’t! We get the scripts two weeks before we start shooting and then I just get episode one. While we’re shooting episode one, I get episode two. The show has got to take on a life of its own. There are tons of fans of the books out there, we want to entertain them, but if we did scene-by-scene or episode-by-episode following what happened in the books, then they wouldn’t be entertained. You want them to be on their toes! Plus for us working on the show we need to feel that the show is alive. It’s not like we know exactly what’s going to happen for the next seven years because things will change and things that might work great in the books but not on the set. Lafayette died in the first book but towards the end of season one everyone realised, “We can’t kill this character, he’s too good.” So they brought him back and he’s now one of the main characters.
Normal vs crazy
It wasn’t that crazy after season one. The show grew a lot in the States from season one to season two. The popularity kind of exploded. Season one, people didn’t recognise me because I was wearing this long blonde wig – I came straight from Generation Kill where I had a buzz cut. When season two aired I was in Sweden working on something else and then I flew straight from there to Comic-Con after about four or five episodes had been shown. I had no idea. It was insane! Thousands and thousands of fans that had flown in from other countries. We did a panel for an hour in front of all these people and that was such a weird moment because I flew straight from Sweden into San Diego and this madness. The other actors had been in the States so they knew the show had taken on a life of its own and they expected it more than I did. I had been isolated in Europe and it was overwhelming.
Eric vs Bill (who Skarsgård auditioned for)
The thing with Bill Compton is – this is a year before I started, so very early on – they weren’t auditioning for other characters, they were only auditioning for Bill. So you’d have to ask Alan but I’m pretty sure that he didn’t have Bill in mind when he brought me in to read. Eric shows up later, he’s not in the pilot. They were auditioning for the pilot. So I’m pretty sure Alan already knew that I was better for Eric than Bill. It wasn’t really a case of me and Stephen for Bill. I think Alan was just scanning the market and meeting actors and everyone read for Bill. But of course I couldn’t play him. I’m definitely not right for Bill.
Generation Kill vs the Swedish marines
I was in the Swedish marines for 15 months. I was a sergeant, the same as Brad Colbert is in Generation Kill. I did it for myself, because I was 19 and I wanted a challenge. I knew that I wouldn’t be shipped off to Afghanistan and have to shoot people out there. It’s very different when you enrol in the States because you know that a couple of months from now you might actually go out and be shot at. But it definitely helped me in terms of the structure of it, the banter between the guys, how you address your officers, how you address your peers, the gear, the weapons. In terms of making it authentic, we had a couple of real marines from First Reconnaissance with us who were in the book. It’s a true story: we didn’t want to Hollywood-ise it, fictionalise it, throw in a girl and a love story. We wanted it to be real and we didn’t want it to have a beginning, a middle and an end. We wanted it to be five weeks in what these guys are going through out there. It’s not like the show ends and the conflict is over. We made it for all those soldiers over there because you don’t really see what’s happening on a daily basis, what the soldiers are going through and what kind of baggage they come home with. So it was just important to make it right for these guys to go to their families, “Watch this, because this is pretty much what we went through out there.”
Modelling for Hickey Freeman vs Zoolander
I’d never done a commercial or an ad before in life, not even in Sweden when I was working there for many years. It just felt right. [Hickey Freeman] called and said Annie Liebovitz, who’s one of the best photographers in the world, was going to do it, so it was an opportunity to work with her. We had a couple of meetings and we said no first. Like I said, I’d never done it before so I was very hesitant. But then we met a couple of times and the way they wanted it to be sounded very classy and not too promotional. I really liked the way it turned out, I think the shots are great and I’m very happy that I did it. It was an opportunity to work with a phenomenal photographer.
Lady Gaga vs Rihanna
They were very different experiences. I worked with Lady Gaga for a day on a video shoot. It was crazy; we had a lot of fun. I had a great time. [Filming Battleship] is a different experience because Rihanna, we’re out there together for a couple of months. This is her first movie but she’s great, she’s really really good in it and her working… She’s got a crazy schedule. She’s really diligent and I’m impressed. We would work and then she’d fly to LA to perform at the MTV Music Awards and then fly back red eye, land, go straight to set, work all day. No complaints, nothing. She’s really solid.
Tall vs small
My height can be a problem. A lot of directors and photographers are sometimes not happy because I’m pretty tall and especially if I work with short actors the difference can be pretty massive. [Laughs] That’s definitely happened before. We use apple boxes for the other actors so they get up a bit.
Being naked on screen vs that cover shoot for Rolling Stone
Why do I “love being naked”? [Laughs] Because I was born that way? I didn’t write the scripts but I don’t mind it if it makes sense. It’s about being comfortable and if it makes sense story-wise. The only time it can get awkward is if you feel exploited, like, “Why am I standing here naked?” and I’ve never felt that. There’s always a reason for it on the show and it’s always at great moments: fun, crazy scenes. So I really don’t mind at all. The Rolling Stone cover just happened on the day. We showed up and we shot very PG-13 with our clothes on for basically the whole day, like six or seven hours. Then towards the end the photographer said, “I have this, these shots are beautiful and the magazine is going to be happy with them but I’d like to try something if you guys are game.” He explained it and it was just one of those things in the moment where we all looked at each other, we’d spent all day with the photographer, we felt comfortable with him, we knew that he was great and the atmosphere was right and we were like, “Fuck it, let’s do it.” No one thought that the magazine would go for it. They want to sell at Walmart. We thought this was going to be too offensive. But I guess they did. [Laughs] I’m glad they did! I liked it a lot. It was definitely more interesting than the safe version…
Season two of True Blood is on Thursdays at 10pm on Channel 4.
Source: GQ Magazine
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