By Andrea Mandell, USA TODAY
NEW YORK – Alexander Skarsgard isn’t the first acting hunk to be compared to Brad Pitt.
But the Swede might be one of the few who’s up to the task. Known as True Blood’s icy-hot Viking vampire, he is preparing to take a bite out of the box office with an impressive slew of flicks.
First up is Friday’s remake of Straw Dogs, which transplants the chilling 1971 Dustin Hoffman-led story into the sweaty, close-knit Deep South. Skarsgard, 35, plays local football hero Charlie, whose lust for actress ex-girlfriend Amy (Kate Bosworth) turns violent once she returns home with writer husband David (James Marsden).
“It’s about territory,” says Skarsgard, whose powerful physique, known well to HBO’s True Blood fans, is showcased in the film. “(Amy) shows up with a writer from Hollywood who’s completely different, completely cerebral and not a real man in Charlie’s eyes.” Charlie puts David to the test, convinced Amy is his.
“From an acting point of view, he reminds me of Paul Newman in Hud. And from a charisma point of view, he reminds me of Brad Pitt in Thelma and Louise,” says director Rod Lurie. Like the 1971 Straw Dogs original, Charlie assists in a violent siege on David and Amy’s home, but because of Skarsgard, “you understand finally what she saw in the guy in the first place,” says Lurie.
On a stormy afternoon at the East Village eatery Gemma, Skarsgard has just woken up after a late night of shooting What Maisie Knew with Julianne Moore. Although Hurricane Irene is near, he shrugs off any imminent danger as he eats a late breakfast.
It’s the same attitude he has toward photographers who follow him daily.
“I don’t get it,” he says of the tabloid scrutiny, which intensified in the two years he dated Bosworth (they broke up this summer). But “I’m trying not to let it affect my life. I don’t want to be hiding behind walls.”
Part of his strategy is not talking about relationships, but he says promoting the film with his ex is fine. “I’ve got nothing but love for Kate,” he says. “She’s phenomenal in the movie.”
Skarsgard has come a long way. As a child actor in Sweden (his parents are actor Stellan Skarsgard and his first wife, My, a doctor), he quit the business at 13, uneasy with fame. Instead, Skarsgard finished school, spent time in the Swedish Navy, attended college in England and moved to New York at 21 to begin theater training. After returning to Sweden to launch his acting career as an adult, he visited Los Angeles, where his father’s manager suggested that he audition for a film for “fun.”
That movie was 2001′s Zoolander. The small part led to others, including his breakthrough role in HBO mini-series Generation Kill. The rest is shirtless, fang-induced history. When Lurie, who had never seen True Blood, first met Skarsgard in Hollywood, he looked “very European,” the director recalls. “Tight clothes, all white. He had long blond hair, that sort of sweet smile. Almost the opposite of the character he was going to play.”
Lurie told him he’d have to beef up to play Charlie. Skarsgard promised he’d eat a lot of red meat. “I didn’t realize the Adonis-like nature of what I was going to see,” Lurie says. On location in Shreveport, La., “women were driving down from as far away as St. Louis just to sit in the lobby and watch him walk out.” But under the veneer of the film’s good looks is an emotional rape scene, which Skarsgard says is a stark difference between the modern film and its predecessor. To his character, Charlie, the violent act is not a rape but rather ” a love scene,” Skarsgard says.
Next, Skarsgard is “a very sweet guy” with Kirsten Dunst in the apocalyptic Melancholia (due Nov. 11). Battleship, in which he stars opposite Rihanna, arrives next year.
In December, Skarsgard returns to the True Blood set to begin Season 5. With fans, Skarsgard has only one rule: “No, I don’t bite,” he says with a laugh. “If I do that once and there’s a picture of me biting a fan, then I’m going to end up doing that for 30 years.”
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