Alexander Skarsgård Found Those Naked Big Little Lies Scenes To Be “Quite Liberating”
The actor talks his hit HBO miniseries, his first kiss, and more.
If you’ve watched HBO anytime in the last decade, you’ve invariably been charmed or terrified by Alexander Skarsgård. In fact, the Swedish actor has all but made a career on it, thanks to his breakout role as the irresistible vampire Eric Northman on True Blood and, most recently, starring as Perry Wright, Nicole Kidman’s abusive husband on this year’s breakaway hit miniseries In between, the Stockholm native has starred in a critically acclaimed indie film (2015’s s. In between, the Stockholm native has starred in a critically acclaimed indie film (2015’s The Diary of a Teenage Girl), made a cameo as Adam—to Karlie Kloss’s Eve, no less—in Zoolander 2, and played the titular role in last summer’s The Legend of Tarzan. It’s all certainly a far cry from someone who didn’t want to be in Hollywood in the first place, following a brief, uncomfortable stint as a child actor. “I guess I ended up going back to acting because I was shit at everything else. I tried desperately to figure out what I wanted to do, and I was quite mediocre at most things, so I was like, “Well, maybe this whole acting thing…” It certainly has seemed to have worked out.
Where did you spend most of your childhood?
I grew up in Stockholm, Sweden. My father’s an actor, so we traveled quite a bit when I was a kid. I spent a summer in Texas when I was eight, in Fredericksburg, which is like real Texas. It’s like cowboys and stuff. That was my first time in the States, and I was eight years old. It was also the first time I tasted Dr. Pepper, which blew my mind. And just to be around like horses and cowboys and a desert—we don’t have much of a desert in Sweden, so I thought it was so coo. I got my first real cowboy boots out there, and then I got back to Sweden a couple months later, I proudly wore those boots to school the first day of school. I thought all the girls would love me and like everyone would just faint when they saw those crocodile boots, and instead, everyone mocked me. In Stockholm, people didn’t really quite appreciate cowboy boots. They thought I was wearing women’s shoes, so it didn’t quite go down as I had hoped. It was traumatic. Actually, I haven’t worn cowboy boots since.
What was your dynamic like with your brothers growing up when you were moving around the world?
I’m the oldest. I’m four years older than Gus, who is the second oldest, and when you’re a kid, four years makes quite a big difference. So, when he was eight, I was twelve, and he was very annoying, but I couldn’t really hit him, because I was so much bigger, so I would just lift him on his ears. Like, I would grab onto his ears and, and then just lift him, because I couldn’t really punch him. It just didn’t feel right; he was so tiny. But to lift someone by the ears felt fine to me.
Did you always know that you wanted to become actor like your father?
When I was a teenager, I did not want to be an actor. I was very dead set on doing something else, because I was a child actor in Sweden and and I did not like it. It was fun, but then I did this small Swedish movie when I was thirteen that got a little bit of attention in Sweden, and it just made me very uncomfortable. Thirteen is a weird age for any kid, and to be recognized walking down the street made me very uncomfortable, and at school, it changed things. I wasn’t just one of the guys. Suddenly, everyone was like, “Oh, he’s from that movie.” So I told my dad, “This sucks. I don’t wanna do this.” And he said, “Well then, don’t. And that was that, and I didn’t act for eight years after that.
I guess I ended up going back to acting because I was shit at everything else. I tried desperately to figure out what I wanted to do, and I was quite mediocre at most things, so I was like, “Well, maybe this whole acting thing…”
Let’s jump ahead to Big Little Lies. How did that come to you?
When I got the script, Nicole [Kidman] was already attached, and that relationship just really fascinated me. It’s a very difficult one for two actors to kind of play for and to explore and find that dance, and, in a weird way, in that darkness to try to find some kind of humanity, or at least an internal struggle. I think [Kidman] is an incredible actress, so reading that with Nicole in mind, and to get an opportunity to have that dance with her for five months; I mean, what a treat.
And it was sexy. That’s the thing that was complicated.
That’s what makes it interesting and difficult for them, because it is that line between passion and then it snaps. It goes dark for Perry and he crosses that line, but because their sex life is very physical and sometimes violent, it’s more difficult for Celeste to move on, because she, at least initially, blames herself in a way, because she’s like, “It takes two to tango, and I’m part of this, and sometimes I encourage it, and do I lead him on?” He kind of feeds off of that animosity, that tension between the two of them.
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“In the show I play an abused woman, and I felt very exposed and deeply humiliated. I remember lying on the floor in the bathroom at the end of a difficult scene, and I wouldn’t get up between takes. I was just lying there, basically naked in half-torn underwear, and Jean-Marc Vallée [the director] would come over and place a towel over me. It was very hard.”
Kidman wears a Miu Miu dress and coat.
“As a girl, I was obsessed with the program 20/20—especially with the coanchor Hugh Downs. I thought I was going to marry Hugh Downs for a really long time. He was so dignified. Everything was going to be all right because Hugh Downs was going to tell you the important story you needed to know that Friday night. They just don’t do newsmen like him anymore.”
Marling wears a Prada dress.
“My first crush was Jessica Lange in Tootsie. I was maybe 8 or 9 when I first saw the movie, and I had never felt anything for a girl before that. I was just mesmerized by her. I watched the film over and over again because of Jessica Lange. I’m still not over her. Every time I meet someone, I compare her to Jessica Lange in Tootsie. That’s probably why I’m not married.”
Skarsgård wears a Cleverly Laundry robe; Schiesser Revival shirt.
“The Americans mostly takes place in the ’80s, during the Cold War. Anytime you’re wearing clothes that are unlike yours, it just heightens the moment. When I wear heels and silk shirts, slacks and blouses, it makes me feel like an adult. On the show, I wear a cat eye with black eyeliner, and it makes me feel like a panther. It’s so unlike me as Keri—this tired mom in flip-flops and jeans. And I love that transformation.”
Russell wears a Michael Kors Collection top; Philosophy briefs; Manolo Blahnik shoes; Louis Vuitton bracelet.
“For Homeland, I made an audition tape with a point-and-click camera and sent it in. The ratio was off. It was out of focus. I was also wearing the wrong thing, and I filmed it against a door that they later told me made it look like I was in a mental asylum. The producers were like, ‘Where the hell is this kid?!’ In the end, I did seven separate audition tapes of the same scene. They finally said yes.”
Friend wears an Hermès sweater; Sunspel boxers; his own ring and socks.
“I went to work on The Crown four months after giving birth. The queen didn’t wear a corset, but I did in the beginning. Now, in the second season, I have to wear a significantly padded brassiere. In the first season, it was all my own breast work, but now it’s ‘Ha! Where have they gone?’ The queen would be so ashamed of me.”
Foy wears a Louis Vuitton dress; Messika Paris bracelet.
“I usually get stopped in the U.K. before I board a plane. What’s funny is that Heathrow is in a heavily South Asian neighborhood, and the kids working at the airport are fans of mine. So while they’re swabbing me for explosives, they’re asking me for selfies. While they’re going through my underwear, they’re quoting my raps back at me. It’s quite a surreal experience that speaks to the insider/outsider status I’ve felt all my life.”
Ahmed wears a Bottega Veneta sweater; Jeffrey Rüdes pants.
“Even with the show, I still live at home in Liverpool. I can’t bring myself to leave just yet. My brother is 21 and he’s still at home, too. I said to my mom, ‘We’re going to be 30-, 40-odd years old and we’re still going to be living in the kids’ rooms.’ I’m hoping I will be able to leave the nest at some point.”
Comer wears a Marc Jacobs dress; Jennifer Meyer necklace; Larkspur & Hawk ring.
“During the screen test for Stranger Things, one of the directors came up to me and said, ‘Bzzz,’ over my head. He then asked, ‘Are you ready?’ I was like, ‘For what?’ And he said, ‘To cut all your hair off!’ The next day I got the job and I cut it. My hair was down to here, but it’s only hair. After that, I was called ‘boy’ a lot.”
Brown wears a Balenciaga dress and tights; Chanel shoes; Jennifer Meyer ring.
“I worked at McDonald’s for a few months, and I got a couple of dates from taking orders at the drive-through window. I was enrolled in an acting class, and I would practice different accents. I was really bad, but people believed me. A young lady would say, ‘Oh, I forgot to order the strawberry milkshake’ and ask me about my Italian or Irish or Brooklyn accent. We would go out on a date, go back to the McDonald’s parking lot, and make out. Eventually, I had to break it to them that I wasn’t Italian or Irish or from New York. The girls would usually end it right then and there.”
Franco wears a Prada shirt.
“In playing Albert Einstein, I found out that he was not the archetypal absentminded professor. He was an energetic, slightly rebellious, rakish, sort-of-bohemian poet. And he was quite amorous—he had many lovers. Einstein wasn’t exactly a ‘player,’ but he enjoyed women, and when his first marriage fell apart, he became what you would call a ladies’ man. He gave up on monogamy.”
Flynn wears a Calvin Klein Jeans Established 1978 jacket and pants.
“My dad, Stan Lathan, was one of the first black TV directors. He used to direct Sesame Street, and he blindfolded me once, and when he took the blindfold off, I was on the set. I got to meet Big Bird. It was my birthday, and the whole cast sang to me. That was the biggest thrill of my life.”
Lathan wears a Lanvin coat.
“I’m not a big crier. But family stuff gets to me. Fathers and brothers and children. If I wasn’t on This Is Us, I’d be a wet noodle watching the show. I’d be crying along with everyone else.”
Ventimiglia wears a Current/Elliott shirt; his own chain.
How was it filming your nude or nearly nude scenes?
It’s quite liberating. It’s the nature of their relationship. It is very primal and very physical. You kind of have to let go and just dive in.
Have you watched the show yourself?
I started watching it this morning, actually. You know what? I think it’s pretty good. I recommend it.
Did you have any television or movie crushes growing up?
Jessica Lange in Tootsie. And it was not only my first movie crush, but my first crush period. I saw her at an event two years ago, and I was quite drunk, because otherwise, I wouldn’t have had the courage to tell her, but I told her that I love her. I was maybe eight or nine, the first time I saw Tootsie. I had never felt anything for a girl before that, and I was just drawn to Julie, her character in the movie, and I was just mesmerized by her. I wanted to watch it over and over again, I was like, “Dad, one more time, just like a little hit. Give it to me” I was so in love with her, and I’m still not over her.Now every time I meet someone, I compare them to Jessica Lange in Tootsie. And that’s probably why I’m sitting here unmarried.
Where was your first kiss?
It was in the archipelago of Stockholm. It wasn’t consensual. She just kissed me. Freya was her name. I wanted no part of that. I was maybe ten or something like that, and she was a year older. She had kissed someone before, and asked if I had any experience, and I said, “No, I’m not interested.” She was stronger and bigger than me, so she just grabbed me and kissed me. I cried a little, but then I got over it, and I think we dated for a couple weeks after that, and then she left me and broke my heart. I haven’t seen her since. She walked out of my life at age eleven, and she never looked back.
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Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern enjoy a beach sunset while on vacation during the weekend of the Big Little Lies finale.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern enjoy a beach sunset (and wine) while on vacation during the weekend of the Big Little Lies finale.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern take selfies and drink wine while on vacation during the weekend of the Big Little Lies finale.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern know how to have a good time while doing press tours for both Wild and Big Little Lies.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern celebrate Mother’s Day together. Their mothers watched the movie premiere of Wild while holding hands.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern know how to have a good time while doing press tours for both Wild and Big Little Lies.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern know how to have a good time while on set for both Wild and Big Little Lies.
Actors Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern became close with Cheryl Strayed, the bestselling author of Wild. (And her dog, clearly.)
Back in 2014, actors Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern became very close with Cheryl Strayed, the bestselling author of Wild.
Reese Witherspoon and Laura Dern while on the press tour for their 2014 film Wild, in which Dern plays Witherspoon’s mother.