Alexander Skarsgard knew he might be on to something special when he joined the team on Alan Ball’s HBO vampire series, “True Blood.” But, he didn’t know just how successful the show had become until recently.
“I was in Europe for a month-and-a-half and it hadn’t started airing when I left. When I came back, the buzz was amazing. People were coming up to me on the street. It’s been kind of overwhelming,” admits the handsome, 6-foot-5, 32-year-old actor from Stockholm, Sweden.
The son of esteemed actor Stellan Skarsgard (as in Bootstrap Bill Turner of “Pirates of the Caribbean” fame, “Mamma Mia,” “Good Will Hunting” and dozens of other films), Alex has been a star in Sweden since childhood. He’s reportedly been named the Sexiest Man in Sweden five times by media there. He has grown in the North American public consciousness in the past year, thanks to his memorable portrayal of Sgt Brad Colbert in HBO’s “Generation Kill.” And now, “True Blood,” which concludes its first season with a bang Sunday (11/23). Only through a quirk of fate was he able to take on the series.
“I had met with Alan Ball two years ago and he told me about it,” Alex recounts. “Then, I went to Africa to do ‘Generation Kill’ for seven months, in Maputo, Mozambique. It looked like I wouldn’t be able to do ‘True Blood.’ But then, the writers’ strike happened, and it pushed back the production. I was able to finish ‘Generation Kill,’ because all of our scripts had already been done, and then come back in time to start ‘True Blood.’ Ironically, the writers’ strike helped me.”
In fact, he had a little time to visit his mother, father and siblings last New Year’s while prepping for “True Blood.”
“As an actor, you can’t ask for better than going from ‘Generation Kill’ to ‘True Blood,’” he says. “I was inspired because the guy I played in ‘Generation Kill’ was entirely different from Eric in ‘True Blood.’”
As for the challenges of playing a vampire king? “I wanted to find a level where he could be confident and a strong leader — without being too confident, or arrogant,” says Alex. “He’s too old to play games.” Having been around for a thousand years, that’s for sure.
Skarsgard started reading Charlaine Harris’ Suthern Vampire Mysteries, from which the series is drawn, after landing the role of Eric Northman — the bar owner, sheriff and possible former Viking who shares a blood bond with Anna Paquin’s character, telepath waitress Sookie Stackhouse. He considers Harris’ world, wherein vampires can dwell amongst humans day and night thanks to the invention of synthetic blood, “fascinating. The idea of vampires in mainstream society opens up so many possibilities.”
Skarsgard keeps homes in Stockholm and L.A., working in his homeland between Hollywood assignments. He especially likes working on low-budget projects with talented up-and-comers anxious to make their names in the film business. “I’m really glad to be able to do that. There are a lot of young, hungry filmmakers over there,” he notes.
Skarsgard himself has directed. His film, “To Kill a Child,” won the Grand Prix and Press Awards at the 2003 Danish Film Festival. He moves between continents with ease, a facility that is probably attributable to the fact, “We lived like a traveling circus when I was a kid,” he says. Skarsgard began acting professionally at age seven, and became a child star in Scandinavia — but he opted out of the business for a spell when he hit his teens. He credits a stint in an American school in Budapest — and another in New York — for helping him perfect his American accent.
Then, too, he notes, “Growing up in Sweden, we don’t dub anything, unlike other countries like France and Italy. We’d watch Cartoon Network shows and other things and hear the English. Only nine million people in the world speak Swedish — 0.1 per cent. We almost have no choice but to learn other languages.”
Still, Skarsgard has put extra effort into his vocal intonation, including work with a dialect coach. He notes, “When I made the decision to move out here and take meetings to get work, I knew that European actors who have strong accents tend to either get cast as Russian bomb-makers or evil Nazis. I’m not saying I’d never play an evil Nazi — it might be fun — but I wanted to be able to be cast as an all-American football player.”