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…"
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.
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.