The True Blood and Tarzan star has just turned 40. He tells us why he’s looking forward to marriage and babies. Any takers, ladies?
Alexander Skarsgard is gorgeous. This is the first thing everyone says when I tell them that I am going to interview the Swedish actor. Several follow up by sending me pictures of him topless: of his sweat-slicked six-pack lumbering through the jungle in The Legend of Tarzan; of his blood-spattered torso on the cover of Rolling Stone as the world’s hottest vampire in True Blood (even undead, Skarsgard looks good). I read interviews cooing over his blue eyes — “deep as a glacial fjord” — and “Viking physique”. Still, I insist, he’s not really my type.
Now he is in front of me, a hulking 6ft 4in of blond hair, tan and biceps, wearing a green shirt that makes him look like the hottest scoutmaster on earth. He smells so sweetly of expensive cologne that I gush out loud, “Who smells so amazing?” and he looks away sheepishly. When I catch sight of his chest, still chiselled as it was when he played Tarzan, I realise I was wrong — Alexander Skarsgard is absolutely gorgeous and incredibly hot.
I worry he will disapprove of all this perving. I read a quote from him, proclaiming rather haughtily: “I am an actor, not a sex symbol.” When I mention it, he laughs. “I never said that. If I said that, I’m too far gone.” Does he feel objectified? “No.” Rather like all incredibly good-looking people, he just wishes people wouldn’t go on about it. He doesn’t read reviews as they make him self-conscious. He feels the same about his looks. “I’ve seen actors that get a bit too vain,” he says, “a bit too worried they can’t play some roles. I would hate that to happen. When you read a script, you don’t want vanity in the mix. I would be doing myself a disservice if I got like, ‘Maybe I should go to the tanning salon, I don’t want to be too pale for this.’” I suspect he also has a case of ugly duckling syndrome: a geek who grew up to be a beauty, but still doesn’t know how hot he is.
Either way, he is certainly not obsessed with his image. He seems frustrated that actors, especially in superhero films, are now expected to do crazy chicken breast diets: “It didn’t used to be that way. Leading men didn’t have to be crazy fit,” he says. When he played Tarzan, the strict protein-only regime drove him mad. Usually he’s not one for diets or the gym grind. Today he’s happily munching a cheese sandwich and talking about wild swimming.
We meet in Stockholm, where Alexander Johan Hjalmar Skarsgard grew up. I half expected he’d speak Swenglish: harsh “Ja”s and ostentatious Vs. But he’s so fluent in English, he dreams in it. He sounds like he’s from the American South — a smooth drawl — but then, he’s lived in the US for 12 years, first in LA, now in New York. He hasn’t been seen with his supposed girlfriend, Alexa Chung, since the Tarzan premiere two months ago, and rumours from the front row at New York Fashion Week are that they have split. He doesn’t confirm or deny it, but they’re currently living what seem to be rather separate lives.
Skarsgard is back in Sweden on holiday, but after three weeks at home he’s already looking for a place to buy. Later we drive back to the flat where he grew up in Sodermalm, a working-class area that’s since been gentrified, and he talks about how much he misses it. His childhood was “very bohemian”. His home swung with actors, poets, writers. “We never locked the door, so people would just wander in. I would come home and there would be some artist in the kitchen drinking wine.” If looking back is wonderful, at the time he really just wanted to be normal. He remembers one friend’s dad had a briefcase, Saab and an office job: “I was like ‘F***, I want a dad like that.’” Instead, Skarsgard’s father, Stellan, was a “hippie” theatre actor, and now he’s Hollywood famous (see Mamma Mia!, Pirates of the Caribbean, Good Will Hunting). “It was very important to find my own path,” Skarsgard says. So he joined the army, serving for 18 months. He then studied political science, before eventually returning to acting. “I was shit at everything else.”
He may not sound very Swedish now, but he is. He says the longer he lives in the US, the more Swedish he feels. He has a dark northern European sensibility that contrasts with LA’s sunny style. “Swedes are a lot like Brits. You might only tell your mum you love her once in your life. In the States, the woman working in the grocery store will be, like, ‘I love you.’”
He likes “a certain modesty” Swedes have that Americans lack. He tells me that the owner of Ikea drives an old Volvo, while America has “a presidential candidate living in a gold tower with his name in gold letters, giving interviews from a golden throne”. He laughs: “It’s the making of a Monty Python sketch.”
It seems very Swedish that when I ask him if he’s a feminist, he is shocked. “If it’s about equality, then of course. We should all be,” he says. He thinks the Hollywood equal-pay debate is ridiculous. “It’s 2016. It’s absolutely crazy it’s taken so long.” And, of course, Sweden’s nude sauna culture is why he’s so comfortable getting his kit off. “It’s a less puritanical society, for sure.”
Perhaps it’s Skarsgard’s otherness that has helped him win such interesting roles in Hollywood. Having appeared as Ben Stiller’s Swedish male-model flatmate in Zoolander, careering down Broadway in a Jeep, singing Wham!; he then made the True Blood vampire Eric Northman oddly irresistible. He appeared in the thoughtful Melancholia, the no-budget Diary of a Teenage Girl and as the unusual hero Tarzan. In his latest film, the dark comedy War on Everyone, he plays detective Terry Monroe, a hard-drinking, nihilist, bent cop. “It’s fun to play a guy that’s so crazy,” he says. He just doesn’t give a f***.”
American actors might have been wary of a film some see as a critique of US law enforcement. Variety magazine suggested police unions might boycott it. Skarsgard knows it tackles important issues such as police brutality: “We have a police force in America that doesn’t really represent the community. You create a huge gap between your community and the police when they militarise and drive around in armoured Humvees. They don’t look like the people or communities they police.”
Skarsgard also thinks the film speaks to a wider distrust of government in the US. “Growing up in Sweden, you feel like the government really is for the people, by the people, of the people.People don’t feel that in America. They don’t trust politicians. That’s why Donald Trump is doing so well.” Yet ultimately, he points out, the film is a satire. “It’s more about making fun of people’s political correctness.”