After the success-series True Blood and Generation Kill, Alexander Skarsgård is suddenly playing in a whole different league. Now several prestigious projects are to come: from big budget movie Straw Dogs to comedy Puss. Martin Gelin follows Sweden’s latest Hollywood star during a normal Los Angeles day containing crazy agent meetings, late bar rounds and gossip thirsty bloggers.
Alexander Skarsgård’s silver Audi speeds down Sunset Boulevard. We drive past East Hollywood’s nightclubs, juice bars, scientology churches and vegan coffee shops. In the rear window of the car is a big rectangular sticker with a familiar green slogan: “Det svänger om Bajen!” (Bajen rocks!). We have 15 minutes to get to Beverly Hills, but traffic is moving slowly.
-Fuck! I hate being late. Growing up, my Dad was never taking us being late. If you were five minutes late for dinner, you’d better have a very good explanation.
Alexander has told us he doesn’t want this to be like a “Vincent Chase article” about his allegedly glamorous life in Hollywood. He claims, as all actors usually do, that such a life doesn’t exist.
-Really, all I do most of the time is work.
But in LA reality and fiction tend to get mixed up. Alexander is going to a meeting with the Endeavor Agency, grounded by (among others) Ari Emanuel – which Jeremy Piven’s character in Entourage is based on. Most of the scenes from the agency in the series are shot in their office, which is next to Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills.
When we get there Alexander is four, five minutes late. He bounces out of his car, throws the keys to the valet guy and we ride the elevator up to Endeavor. The office looks exactly like it does in the TV-series – airy space in grey steel, frosted glass and white furniture. Five girls who probably are models on the side sit in a symmetric row in the reception, taking calls wearing headsets.
Two Endeavor-guys with expensive haircuts, black suits and pastel coloured shirts greet Alexander, friendly pats his shoulder and imitates a scene from Entourage.
-You know how we are going to market you, right? “Apple! Pepsi! Alexander! We are going to make you a copyrighted brand!
Last spring Skarsgård’s agent lost her job with one of the middle sized agencies in the city, forcing Alexander to ask himself is he should stay with her working one of the smaller agencies, or sign with one of the bigger. And that is why he is spending this week with meeting half a dozen potential agencies – and he admits it’s a grateful ego boost to go from office to office where everyone tries to convince him how good he is and why they need to work together in the future.
But regardless of Endeavor’s part in Entourage, this is not the most prestigious agency here. This is a relatively new firm, nitched on representing younger and hipper actors. They are on top of their game, but not necessarily have the best networks or the most experienced staff.
A couple of years ago Endeavor would’ve been a great home for Alexander, but a lot of things have happened in his career recently. He’s done two of the biggest parts in the prestigious TV channel HBO’s vampire Series True Blood and Iraq-Series Generation Kill.
Among his upcoming movies are Straw Dogs, a re-make of Sam Peckinpah’s classic from 1972. In it Alexander works with Kate Bosworth (who plays his ex-girlfriend) and James Woods (his football trainer). During a break in filming, he flew to Visby to be in Johan Kling’s new movie Puss.
Right now, Alexander is balancing on the border to the exclusive group of actors whose names really are brands, and he aims high when it comes to changing agents. He wants to end up on one of the very biggest agencies.
-They have stamina, make things happen, makes sure that you get to meet the right director and producers. But at the same time you want to have an agent that priorities you. If you sign with the same agency as Tom Cruise there is a chance that you end up at the bottom of the list. I am not really interested in this part of the business, but have to trust my manager and my own gut-feeling when it comes to this. Kind of like: “Nope, that dude was just too much shallow LA-agent for my taste.”
Earlier that day we have lunch at the Hungry Cat, a fantastic seafood restaurant which – symptomatic to this town – is hidden behind a boring mall. Alexander just woke up, despite the fact that it’s 1 p.m. He was filming a scene in True Blood the whole night.
-We started at 11 pm and kept on going until 5 am. It is about vampires, so all the exterior scenes have to be filmed at night. The scene we were filming was pretty fun, because we were all supposed to be talking Swedish. It was a flashback to the Viking era and the director wanted to make it as genuine as possible, so they found a professor from Chicago who is an expert in how people talked 900 b.c. He wrote all the lines so it would sound like Swedish from then. You actually don’t understand a word of it, it sounds like Icelandic.
Can you give us a sample?
-No way (laughing). It would make no fucking sense!
How are the working conditions during True Blood compared to Generation Kill?
-This is a piece of cake compared to Generation Kill. Sure, you might be working 16 hours in a row sometimes, but then you have time off and just chill for two days. Generation Kill was 145 days on the set in Africa, and we filmed 142 days of that, twelve hours a day. That was my life for seven months.
What’s the real story on how you got your acting career started in Hollywood?
-I was here on vacation ten years ago, when Dad was here filming. His manager heard that I was an actor back in Sweden. She suggested that I’d go to some auditions and booked me on some. The first one I did was for Zoolander – and then I got the part. I got my own agent. After that I was in Sweden for two years, doing theatre, but I got no interesting movie scripts. In 2004 I started commuting between Stockholm and L.A. I was thinking that since I already had representation here I might as well give it a shot.
Did you spend a lot of time here with Stellan as a child?
-He used to bring the whole family on with him when he was filming, so we did a lot of travelling, but he actually didn’t work much here in L.A. He was filming in Holland, Scotland, Ireland, France, Greece, Cambodia, Hungary… He wasn’t an international actor when I was growing up. It wasn’t until after Breaking the Waves that happened, but by then I had already moved out of the house. I have siblings almost 20 years younger than me, and they have lived a whole different life with him, they have experienced the Hollywood glamour much more than I ever did. When I was a kid he mostly worked at Dramaten (theatre). I never saw him, because he had rehearsals at night. If I wanted to see him I had to run around the catacombs of Dramaten.
Alexander Skarsgård has an ease over how he speaks that makes me think of people I’ve known in Stockholm, people who grew up in culture conscious families in Södermalm. Alexander’s language is slow and relaxed, with a lot of swearing and slang, mixed with quotes from Ibsen and Tolstoy without hesitation. Behind the easy-to-get-along-with guy from Södermalm in a Bajen-hat is also a thinker. A cultural well-read actor who seems to have spent a lot of years thinking about his profession, his inheritance and his own identity. Children of celebrities often have an air of hang-ups and a need of approval about them, but Alexander shows none of these signs. He is generous about stories about his old man and doesn’t deny that it was Stellan that opened the first door for him here in Hollywood, by hooking him up with an agent.
You said in Café last year that you were envious of your friends who had “normal” parents with 9-to-5 jobs and driving a Saab. Did you consider getting a more conventional career, and avoiding the acting world?
-Yes. I did do a bunch of child-acting but I never ever thought about making a real career out of it. When I got older and started thinking about how my friends and their families were living, about status and stuff like that, having the right jeans… That’s when I felt, what the hell, a red wine drinking theatre bohemia that sits naked in the kitchen smoking? At that time it was more appealing to have a dad with a shiny suit, driving a Saab and coming home every night. It was hard for me that Dad always was gone at night.
-But as I got older I saw the positive sides, that there was so many creative and interesting people in my life, thanks to the has-beens that Dad dragged home with him.
You did your military service as a marine – and that has got to be a reaction to the bohemian life? And at this time you were more or less given a choice to serve or not.
-Sure, I did apply for that by my own free will. I was 19 and felt that either I’d go back-packing for 6 months, or go to Bangkok and just hang, or I can do this. But of course I always wondered what the fuck I was doing every time I found myself in a ditch at a 4-day-long stakeout: Why am I doing this? Especially whenever I received a postcard from friends who were in Australia hanging with kangaroos. But looking back at it now, I don’t regret a second of it.
And then you took off to New York. What was that like?
-I was 20 and got accepted to a theatre school there. I was going to stay there and study for 4 years. But then I met a girl in Sweden, on the first summer break. So I quit school and went home for love. She was 17 and I was 20. We didn’t even know each other, we had only been hanging out for four weeks and were newly in-love. It ended after four days.
You moved to LA permanently two years ago. Can you think about staying here?
-No. I like it here as long as I’m working, the whole town is build around the film industry. It’s a very creative environment. But I miss the intensity from a regular city. There are 15 million people living in LA, but you see more people on the streets in Skövde (small Swedish town) than you do here. There are good restaurants, cosy coffee shops, all of it is here, but the spontaneity dies a bit when you have to drive everywhere. You have to park all the time. And then when you have dinner and you go: Let’s have another bottle of wine, shall we? But then you can’t because you have to drive home.
So who do you hang with here?
-Among others half of the team that was in Generation Kill, they live here.
They’re kind of your gang from the army?
-Yeah, that’s how it just is. It was such a special experience to be in the desert for seven months with these people, you didn’t have anyone else.
What’s the thing about LA that you find most hard to adjust to, except the driving everywhere?
-People can be a bit vague. It’s a lot of “Great, let’s meet for lunch tomorrow!” and then you are typical Swedish and say “Sure, how about 2 pm?” But then it never happens. There is always something in the planning that never gets followed up and that is something I’m not used to. At the same time there is an incredible energy here. You are allowed to dream and have visions and doing things that might not always follow the norm to 100 %, which Swedish people find a bit harder to accept. Everything that isn’t the norm at home tends to be a bit scary.
After Alexander Skarsgård’s meeting with Endeavor, he looks a bit troubled. He explains that the meeting went very well, and that is the problem. That means that he most likely will have to dump his old agent. He nervously runs his fingers on his BlackBerry and says that the call he is about to make is going to be just as hard “as breaking up with someone”.
Alexander sets a meeting with his soon-to-be-ex-agent at a coffee shop in Beverly Hills and while waiting for her to arrive we go for some comfort shopping at Barney’s cross the street.
Barneys is five floors high filled with designer clothes, from traditional luxurious brands to new, younger designers. Marc Jacobs and Prada as well as Thom Browne and Band of Ousiders.
Alexander is fast to find his way to the APC-department on the fourth floor and starts to feel on a dark blue, hip length canvas jacket with a discreet collar in cord.
-It’s kind of like a Carhartt jacket for the upper class, he says and tries it on in front of a mirror.
It’s a great jacket, but the arms are too short. Not even a size XL is always enough for the 194 centimetres tall Alexander Skarsgård.
What do you think about how people dress here in LA?
At the clubs in Silverlake there are hipsters who look a lot like they do in New York or at Debaser (rock club) in Stockholm. In Hollywood it’s all about money. You need to show you have it, and they tend to go overboard with it a lot. Instead of a plain suit jacket, they buy one with a skull on the back and long frills hanging from the arms.
More is more.
-Exactly. They try to “toughen” up stuff a bit, they want shirts that show they aren’t boring agents who just sit in an office, and that is when the skull on the back becomes important. There’s a lot Ed Hardy fashion here, but it’s not my thing. It gives me a headache.
What type of clothes do you like?
-At the same time that I can be judgemental towards LA-fashion I guess they feel I dress fucking boring. I wouldn’t call my style conservative, but I guess I have a more of a Nordic way of dressing, clean and without fuss. I like Whyred, Fifth Avenue Shoe Repair, Acne, Raf Simons, Rick Owens.
Did you have a phase you are embarrassed over, fashion-wise?
-I was going through a period when I was revolting against Sweden being “lagom” (not-too-much-not-too-little). I bought pink pants, a lot of hair bands and sort of a purple children’s hat with “Alexander” written on the front. I wish I could tell you I was 14. But I was probably closer to 21. But fuck it, can we just say 14?
Later that night we meet up with a gang of Alexander’s acting friends from Generation Kill. Evan Wright, Vanity Fair-journalist who wrote the book that the TV-series is based on –have just released a new book and has an event at a book store at Farmer’s Market.
He was in Africa during the filming and has kept in touch with the actors after coming back. Wrights new book, Hella Nation, is about the US’ dark sides – he has spent a lot of time with Nazis, crystal meth junkies, porn stars and insane conspiracy theoretics.
At Barnes & Noble he is reading loud from his book while the Generation Kill politely listens, seated in first row. After that we head to a club nearby. Burritos and pitchers of Budweiser are ordered. The conversation swings from the serious (acting careers going up and down) to the less serious (one of the actors – not Alexander – brags about how he recently had sex with a dwarf in Las Vegas).
Most of the time, Evan Wright is the one speaking though. He seems to enjoy having another journalist present and the fact that anything you say might become public. Among other things he shares, half teasing and enthusiastic, details about Alexander’s private life.
According to Wright Alexander tries to play “hard Swede” by “arriving alone to parties and pitifully speaking about the hard life as being single”. The truth in this remains unclear. Alexander laughs, shrugs his shoulders and says: ”Sure….”
Later a girl, looking a lot like a young Audrey Hepburn, arrives. She comes straight from a model shoot and sits down next to one of Alexander’s friends, but mostly types on her BlackBerry. Evan Wright gets impatient and asks her if she is dating Alexander’s friend. Without looking up she replies: – Nope. We’re just fucking.
In the car on the way back home we talk about Alexander’s hope for the future. His two jobs for HBO has lifted him to a whole different league in Hollywood.
-I actually got the True Blood-part before Generation Kill, but it took such a long time before we started filming that I ended up doing Generation Kill first. Then they called me again about True Blood when I was in Mocambique doing Generation Kill. Luckily for me there was the writers strike. This led to True blood being put on hold, so I could still be part of that. Pure luck for me.
Can you sit back and relax, career wise, now?
-No. I thought I could at first when I got these two parts, that now I’m kind of….in. But now I notice that I still have these thoughts about what’s going to happen later. What will I be doing in six years from now? This uncertainty is something you have to live with as long as you are a freelance.
What director would you rather work with?
Gus van Sant. Paranoid Park was so extremely good, it hit me with such a power. I would love to play someone less alpha male, someone more insecure. It’s been a bit too much of that sort lately.
Closer to the fall, a couple of months after our interview in Los Angeles, I call Alexander when he is on location in Louisiana to shoot the new movie Straw Dogs. His part: another alpha male.
-I play the part of Charlie, a football player who was the star of his team in college, a “jock” with a promising future. But he injures himself and gets stuck in his hometown and begins to work as a carpenter. He is bitter that he never made it out of there. After a while his ex-girlfriend moves back with a new guy, an intellectual script writer from Hollywood. The movie is about how Charlie deals with the fact that his ex is with someone he doesn’t consider being a real man.
Straw Dogs is shot in Shreveport, a town in the classic American South. It’s only a couple of hours away from New Orleans, but culturally it’s in another galaxy.
-Everything here is about religion, football and weapons, Alexander states.
Compared to Hollywood, how was it to film Johan Kling’s movie Puss in Gotland?
-Huge difference of course. As many people taking care of the catering here in Louisiana, they are the whole production in a Swedish movie.
In Sweden Skarsgård has gotten used to being recognized, but these days it’s the same thing in the US. True blood has had a successful summer and Alexander is just known as his character “Eric” in the streets of L.A.
It has its pros and cons. The day we are speaking there is gossip about Alexander dating Evan Rachel Wood (also in True Blood) after the two of them being seen in Louisiana. The blogger Perez Hilton wrote in despair that Skarsgård “deserves someone better”. Alexander sighs.
-We are just friends from the Series. That is the kind of bullshit you have to live with.
Alexander has chosen a new agency too. He didn’t go with Endeavor and not with the smaller agency where his old agent works but he signed with the giant Creative Artists Agency. They handle stars like George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Sean Penn, Bob Dylan and Shakira.
The talk with his ex-agent is done and didn’t turn out to be as hard as Alexander had expected.
-She understood me. Really….if I would’ve stayed with her agency it would’ve been kind of like if Zlatan would’ve decided to play with Brommapojkarna (Swedish soccer team – not in the A-league) instead of Ajax after Malmö.
Tarik Saleh, Director Metropia
-On the surface Alexander seems to be carefree – he’s got a great job in Hollywood, he is a tall guy that all the girls want, many guys envy him. But if there wasn’t something else to him he would never get the parts he gets. He can play an ungrateful character, but you like him anyway, because it feels like there is always something inside of him that is so fragile. Something that could break anytime. A mysterious vulnerability. Another thing I know about him is that he really knows how to booze! If you try to keep up with him you easily end up getting alcohol poisoning and making a fool of yourself, without a doubt.
Anders “Moneybrother” Wendin, Artist and friend
-I had hated Alexander my whole life because he’s so good-looking. But ever since I met him seven years ago in Gotland, it is impossible to not like him. He is an insanely intelligent, good person. A couple of weeks ago he did something marvellous. He invited me along to the derby between Hammarby and AIK at Råsunda. Hammarby lost. After the game we were offered a ride back by a guy from Hammarby, but Alexander insisted that we take the subway. We ended up in the middle of AIK-supporters who yelled and cheered for their team. I had neutral clothes on but Alexander was dressed in green-and-white from top to toe. Suddenly everyone got quiet. That’s when Alexander started cheering for Hammarby. I thought we were going to die. Everyone was staring at him. First there was nothing but hate, but after a couple of stops the mood changed and everyone became friendly. The supporters for the other team yelled “Bajensvin, bärs och kokain” (Bajen swines, beer and cocaine)…. And Alexander yelled the same back.
New photos from Sweden’s Cafe magazine….
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Not a player
Things are going well now
SOURCE: Tack Swedie J!!! (and again for the translation Tack så mycket!!)
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