Alexander Skarsgård: ‘There is courtesy with the Swedes. is a facade Deep down we are animals’ | Films

TOlexander Skarsgård is a disgraceful creep who tries to force women to party naked with him in hotel suites. Or so it would seem from the version of himself he played last year in Donald Glover’s comedy Atlanta. “I’m not saying I’m dancing in a leopard print thong in front of girls I don’t know,” he says. “But I’m not saying that I No. That kind of stuff works really well when there’s some truth to it.”

This scintillating, mocking joy represents the 46-year-old actor’s default settings. His natural self-loathing is what makes him so surprising when he appears on screen as another of the brutes and bastards that have become his specialty over the years. He was the violently abusive husband in the HBO series Big Little Lies and the violently abusive police officer in War on Everyone; a racist in Passing and a rapist in the Straw Dogs remake, as well as a sad, mustachioed scoundrel who sleeps with his partner’s underage daughter in The Diary of a Teenage Girl. Eric, the vampire he played in all seven series of True Blood, was an absolute match by comparison.

It could even be argued that Skarsgård seems lost or vague in those roles that don’t bring in some darkness to dim his natural brightness. He was fierce as a mud-covered proto-Hamlet in Robert Eggers’ savage Viking epic The Northman, but like the vine seesaw in The Legend of Tarzan, there was none of the usual depth present behind the beauty of he. While his character in the new satirical horror Infinity Pool – directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David – lives up to his incredulous eyes in vanity, amorality and stale privilege.

Skarsgård plays a novelist named James who lives off the wealth of his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), and struggles to write a second book six years after his debut. Searching for inspiration, he and Em visit a luxurious resort in an unnamed country. What begins as a mocking comedy about the horribleness of the 1% turns extreme when the couple falls for the hedonistic Gabi (Mia Goth) and her partner Alban (Jalil Lespert). All it takes for the impressionable James to hook up with these reprobates is a few compliments from Gabi followed by a sexual act displayed in graphic detail. “My job is so difficult,” says the actor with a smile.

Cronenberg and Skarsgård are the sons of talented men. (Skarsgård’s father is Stellan Skarsgård, who, like him, is part of Lars von Trier’s Cinematic Universe.) The director and actor also have a certain placid temperament in common. “There is courtesy towards the Canadians and the Swedes,” says Skarsgård. “But it’s all just a fucking facade. Deep down we are animals. We’re just really good at hiding it.” He gestures to me. “The British too. However, it’s all down there. You can just turn on the faucet and let it out. That’s what this movie does.”

Even as the film descends into gruesome horror, Skarsgård remains committed to the idea of ​​his character as a show pony with delusions of being a stud. “James is arm candy. His wife buys all these expensive clothes for him. The two look like something out of a travel brochure: the perfect vacation couple. And he’s trying to play that role while also wanting to be a serious author. But he is not a Charles Bukowski, he is not tormented or twisted. He is not in touch with the darker side of his personality.”

That changes when James faces the death penalty after accidentally killing a local farmer. The police assure him that there is a way out: for a high price, a clone of him can be created to take the blame on his behalf. This isn’t a dumb beast though; the sacrificial lamb will possess all the memories and feelings of it. It will be, in effect, indistinguishable from him. In a movie that features explicit sex and violence, there’s still nothing quite as unnerving as the moment James meets his own doppelganger when he wakes up gasping in a vat of red slime.

Skarsgard in True Blood. Photograph: Moviestore collection Ltd/Alamy

“The movie company gave me a prosthetic clone face with all that slime around it,” he says, shaking his head. “It is incredibly disturbing. What am I supposed to do with it? Should I just hang it on the wall? Put it in the fridge?” He decided to go the practical joke route. “When I have guests over, I hide it in different places around the house”.

Would he take the option of cloning himself, I wonder? “One hundred percent! I don’t blame James for going to the ATM. But it opens up other questions. If the clone keeps all his memories, how will he know he’s not the clone? Maybe they’re killing the real James. That fascinated me, and I love that there isn’t an answer in the movie.To throw another wrench in the works: maybe James has already been to the island.Maybe he’s done this kind of thing before.

These questions of authenticity, dilution and duplication are especially intriguing for an actor who pitched that twisted alternate version of himself in Atlanta, and who claims to suffer even now from impostor syndrome. If you had been on the set of Generation Kill, the HBO miniseries about the Iraq war written by the creators of The Wire and filmed in Namibia, Mozambique and South Africa, in 2008, you might have noticed him sitting to the side between takes. and take. calmly adding figures with pencil and paper. “It was my first big job,” he explains. “I was so convinced I was going to get fired that I started calculating the cost of changing the role once they realized it wasn’t good enough. A month or two later, I was still convinced that every time the phone rang, it was my agent saying, ‘Pack your bags, you’re not going to hang up.’ It was only when we did some big battle scenes that I knew it would be too expensive to replace me.”

It wasn’t like he had a history of failing, though there was the job at the Stockholm bakery he was fired from at the age of 16. that was the only thing we could do, ”he says pleadingly, as if he were building the case for his defense. “When you put chocolate on your fingers, it’s tempting to put little stains on your friend’s white robe. That turned into a kind of food fight.” He smiles shyly. The chocolate would not melt in his mouth.

A few years earlier, he had abandoned a career as a child actor after feeling scared by all the attention he received. “When people recognized me, or thought they did, it made me very uncomfortable. I also believed everything I heard about who I was. Most people at the age of 13 have no idea who they are. He was going from a boy to a man, which is a crazy transformation anyway, but doing it while in the spotlight wasn’t healthy. That’s why I didn’t work for eight years.” What could he learn now as an actor from his younger self? “There was a lot of joy,” he says. “That makes me sound bitter now! But there was something innocent and charming and wide-eyed. It’s worth remembering that it can still be a great dumb game.”

On becoming God in Central Florida.
On becoming God in Central Florida. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

His continued appetite for comedy bears this out. He went on a rampage in the opening episode of On Becoming a God in Central Florida, where he played a goofball who gets involved in a pyramid scheme before being eaten by an alligator. (His on-screen wife was Kirsten Dunst. For more proof that their marriages never end well, see Von Trier’s Apocalyptic Melancholy.) He’s also having glorious fun on the new season of Documentary Now! He is esque director filming an epic in the Urals while simultaneously hosting an American network comedy pilot called Bachelor Nanny. “I’ve met Herzog several times over the years, but I don’t know if he’s seen this before,” he says, a bit sheepish. “I’m curious to know what he thinks.”

In fact, it was comedy that tempted Skarsgård to return to acting after so many years of absence. He was vacationing in Los Angeles in the early 2000s when his father’s agent suggested that he try out for an audition. Six weeks later, he was cruising around New York in the back of a Jeep with Ben Stiller, pouting happily like goofy Swedish model Meekus in Zoolander. Landing that job was so easy that he was dejected to be repeatedly turned down from other Hollywood auditions. He returned to Sweden to continue acting; It was another six years before Generation Kill launched its career in the United States.

These days, it seems somehow ubiquitous and judicious. He is preparing to make his directorial debut with The Pack, in which he and Florence Pugh star as documentary filmmakers in Alaska. And he’ll return this month in the fourth and final season of Succession, which reportedly places even more emphasis on Skarsgård’s character, Lukas Matsson’s tech brother. Another kind of bad boy.

With Brian Cox and Kieran Culkin in Succession.
With Brian Cox and Kieran Culkin in Succession. Photography: Graeme Hunter

“Some of the projects I’ve chosen are about the juxtaposition of someone trying to function in modern society, and at the same time dealing with that atavistic primal question of who is he at heart and what happens when that blows up and you can’t do it. suppress. for longer,” he says. “It’s incredibly cathartic to play those roles. Maybe because I’m pretty soft in my disposition. These darker, more twisted characters give me a chance to howl that primal scream and let it out, which I rarely do in everyday life.”

James in Infinity Pool has his head turned by the slightest compliment; Skarsgård knows that, for all his own protests about refusing to read what is written about him, he is equally amenable to praise. “I don’t really read reviews,” he says. “That said, it’s so nice when people enjoy your work enough to come over to say something or take a picture. I prefer that to the alternative, which is crawling in the mud for seven months and giving it your all and then it’s just… crickets. I like people to appreciate what I’ve done. I’m a vain son of a bitch!

Infinity Pool launches on March 24. Succession’s new series is on Sky Atlantic and NOW on March 27.

Leave a Comment