Alexander Skarsgard: ‘I’ve always cherished this dream of seeing a great epic Viking movie’
As he prepares to unleash hell in The Northman, we profile the Swedish actor who makes his lifelong dream come true with this Scandinavian epic.
wooHen Alexander Skarsgrd was a child, his family spending their summers on the idyllic Baltic island of land. Sweden’s second largest island is incidentally home to their royal family’s summer residence. In a way, Skarsgrd creates a dynasty of his own, with Patriarch Stellan being one of the most recognizable Swedish actors of all time, and four of his eight children – Alexander, Gustaf, Bill and Walter – also film and Pursuing a career in television. In fact, it was a friend of his father who gave Sikandar his first acting role at the age of seven, in Aake and His World (he played AK’s best friend Kalle Nab). But during his childhood holidays in land, he became more interested in the runestones that adorn the island’s landscape.
“I remember looking at those runestones, and the inscriptions telling tales of the Viking campaigns to Constantinople, and it impressed me greatly,” he recalls.
Down the line from Stockholm, where he is spending time with his family before embarking on a press tour for The Northman. “Since then I nurtured this dream of one day watching a great epic Viking movie.” With its ambitious scale and classic tale of betrayal and revenge, The Northman is the product of that fad, but it wasn’t the most direct path for Skarsgard to realize his ordinary childhood dream.
After playing the lead role in a Swedish television film as a teenager (Hundan som log aka The Dog That Smiles) Skarsgrd found himself uncomfortable with being in the public eye, and told his parents that he I don’t want to act anymore. He stayed out of the limelight for seven years, completing his Swedish national service and, eventually, moving to England, where he attended Leeds Metropolitan University and studied English for six months. “I intentionally wanted to go to Leeds because I wanted the quintessential British experience,” he says. “A lot of my friends went to London, and I knew that if I had to go to London I would hang out with a lot of Swedes. Leeds was changing when I was there but 20 years ago it was quite a provincial city, and that’s something It was what I wanted. I didn’t want to move to a big metropolitan city, I wanted something very British.”
Yet the acting world once again attracted, and after his time in Leeds, Skarsgard moved to New York to study theatre. He returned to Stockholm six months later but his studies had confirmed that he wanted to pursue a career in front of the camera. After various roles in Swedish film and television, a scene-stealing small part in Ben Stiller’s Zoolander as the retarded supermodel Mikus, who is destroyed in a gasoline fight explosion.
It was in 2007 that Skarsgard was cast in HBO’s Generation Kill, a dramatic mini-series about the 2003 invasion of Iraq, based on the book of the same name by reporter Evan Wright, who worked for the US Marine Corps. Had spent time embedded with. He played Staff Sergeant Brad ‘The Iceman’ Colbert: a giant, unremarkable soldier admired by his contemporaries for his calm performance under pressure. Skarsgard was a natural fit: His Colbert is the linchpin who holds the unit together, and his fearless, almost unnoticeable screen presence keeps audiences at bay, though never to the show’s detriment. Instead we get a sense of the strangeness of being a man at war who is literally responsible for the lives of others, operating under the constraints of a regime that to begin with never having soldiers in the Middle East. Was Needed. Generation Kill only appears more harrowing in rearview, almost 15 years after its first broadcast, knowing so little about American (and, to an extent, British) geopolitical rhetoric. But Skarsgard’s performance as a man trying to do his job in the most impossible of circumstances still shines—it’s one of pop culture’s enduring reminders that war is a mundane, masculine-infested hell.
Yet it was another HBO series that really propelled Skarsgard to stardom: Alan Ball’s lusty vampire saga True Blood, in which Skarsgard played Viking vampire prince Eric Northman. “When we shot the flashbacks on True Blood, when Eric was human during the Viking Age, they were some of the highlights of the entire series for me. I had such an incredible time,” recalls Skarsgard. Northman’s sarcastic sense of humor And the ruthless slyness he quickly became a fan favorite. After seven seasons of blood-sucking hijinks, with a strong fan base online and offline (Skarsgard was a mainstay during the height of his powers at San Diego Comic-Con). This makes The Northman a second time to play the Viking prince (noting that his Danish co-star, Claes Bang, played Dracula in the BBC’s 2020 miniseries). Is there the kind of Scandinavian rite that requires his acting esports to play Vikings and vampires at some point in his career? “Those are two boxes you have to check and then you can retire as a Scandinavian actor,” says Skarsgard Laughs.” Vampires and Vikings. Preferably both at the same time as I did on True Blood. Grand Slam.”
Skarsgard’s Northman is a pleasant contrast to True Blood’s more dour central vampire presence, Bill Compton, though the two maintain an uneasy alliance throughout the show. For Skarsgard, it was a lot of fake blood and real nudity. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around the fact that violence isn’t a problem, but I have to sign these legal documents if I show my ass on screen,” he told Newsweek in 2009. Told before the third series of True. blood transfusion. “It’s not really like that in Europe.” Despite the Hollywood star’s emergence with the vampire boom and his small-but-cute cameo in Lady Gaga’s “Paparazzi” music video, Skarsgard continued to play interesting roles in off-kilter films. During a weekend filming Generation Kill in Namibia, he returned to Sweden to lend his voice to Tariq Saleh’s inventive sci-fi animation Metropia, and in 2011 had a supporting role in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, the depression amid the impending apocalypse. a haunting picture.
Skarsgard’s taste for choosing a mix of high-profile and more left-field roles has quietly made him one of cinema’s most interesting actors, and he has a particularly sharp eye for talented directors, as of 2015. The Duffer Brothers would go on to produce Netflix’s smash hit Stranger Things, but first Skarsgard starred in his presentational pandemic thriller Hidden, and When Marielle Heller starred in her biopics Can You Ever Forgive Me. Pulled up to big names? And A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood, his debut The Diary of a Teenage Girl—in which Skarsgard plays the rambunctious Monroe Rutherford who begins a relationship with his girlfriend’s teenage daughter—remains an unseen masterpiece.
Moving fluidly between portraying archetypal heroes (The Legend of Tarzan) as charming dirtballs and outright psychopaths (Straw Dogs, Hold the Dark) is no small feat, though Skarsgard makes it easy. Her filmography spans an impressive range of genres, and in 2018 she received Emmy, Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for her portrayal of abusive, abusive husband Perry Wright for Nicole Kidman’s Celeste Wright in David E Kelly’s television series Big Little found. Lies (surprisingly, and perhaps telling of Hollywood’s aging standards, Kidman now plays Skarsgard’s mother in The Northman). While others may condemn the changing shape of the entertainment landscape, Skarsgard remains optimistic.
“The landscape has changed over the years and it has moved more towards exclusive IP and bigger franchises and spin-offs and sequels and remakes, but I have been very lucky,” he says. “Television today is a lot more interesting than it was 30 years ago, so the fact that we can oscillate between television and movies in a way that was a little tricky a few decades ago, when you were either a television actor or a Film actors. The behind-the-camera talent in television is amazing. There are always billions of streaming services out there, there’s so much content that I find it quite an exciting time to be an actor, to be honest. For mid-range films Difficult, if they’re about $20-30 million, is hard to be today, because the movie watching experience has veered a little more towards the experience of a big tent.”
It is undoubtedly Skarsgard’s pragmatic approach to the industry that has sustained his career spanning three decades. Not to mention his versatility, which saw him portray a dangerously racist husband in Rebecca Hall’s Passing and a mild-mannered geologist in Godzilla vs. But The Northman is an obsessive project, with Skarsgard serving as producer and executive producer. The culmination of a lifetime. At the end of a career playing difficult, often outright unexpected characters, Prince Amleth is a hero, yes (Shakespeare chose the story for “Hamlet”), but in true Skarsgardian fashion, it’s that simple. never happens. He is also a battle-hardened berserker who will stop at nothing to take revenge on those who destroy his family.
It seems like a natural fit for writer/director Robert Eggers, then, with The Witch and The Lighthouse having two equally weird and poetic movies under his belt. Eggers came to the project through a happy accident. “I teamed up with Lars Knudsen the producer, who is also a fellow Scandinavian, who is also from Denmark. Our intention was to make an authentic Viking epic, and we were bouncing around ideas, but around that time I had another Had a meeting with Rob about the project,” he explains. Then came Sjón – Agers’ co-writer – Icelandic writer, poet and musician who also co-wrote 2021’s Lamb with Valdimar Johansson. “I love it. Was very excited about this being an American film with a Scandinavian team behind,” Skarsgard reflects. “Lars being Danish, himself being Swedish and Sjon being Icelandic – that’s a lot for a writer who understands the culture. was important.”
The Northman gives Skarsgard & Co the opportunity to create something they haven’t seen before in Hollywood: a Viking epic on the scale of Spartacus or Gladiator, but one that blurs the line between myth and reality. “Thousand years ago for each character, the gods were as real as the horse we sat on, or the trolls in the woods, the norm who would lead the fate of men. It was not a choice to believe. We tried to capture that in the film. That these supernatural elements in the minds of these characters are completely real.”
Given the lack of distinction between the supernatural and the natural in Eggers’ previous work, this track: mermaids, witches and talking goats is all presented as fact. Skarsgard has some theories as to why the Vikings remained in popularity after all these years: “They were such fearless explorers who went into the unknown, they came across the oceans a thousand years ago to foreign lands, not knowing that beyond the horizon.” What is. In Norse mythology, the gods are fallible. They are deceitful and they are not omnipotent, which makes them more trustworthy.”
Skarsgard could easily talk about the many characters he plays, who are steeped in flaws and oscillate between charming and dangerous at a moment’s notice. But The Northman – in homage to the homeland he loves and the craft he once thought he should take away from – represents something truly special within his body of work. Amleth, the Viking prince wronged, will have his vengeance – and Skarsgard will receive the prize.
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