20 may 2022

Interview with Alexander Skarsgård, the Swedish actor who invites the Vikings to Hollywood

Stellan Skarsgård’s elder son, who shone in his performance of an abusive husband for the HBO series Big Little Lies (2017), and who starred in The Legend of Tarzan (2016), now mesmerizes us as a muscleman-Viking in the new blockbuster directed by The Lighthouse screenwriter Robert Eggers. 

Those who have watched it, will remember it forever. First, the insults, the arms grabbed violently, the faces slapped with a firm hand that suddenly grabs her neck, the brutal pushing around, the punches in the stomach, the painful crawling… Then, the ecchymoses covering her body, the shame, the rage, the denial, and finally the savage doggy-style reunion in a hot shower… In the outbreak of the #MeToo movement and within two seasons only, Big Little Lies has traumatized both men and women, teenagers as much as the elderly, the rich and the poor. With its awful depiction of an apparently perfect couple – he owns a large house on the West Coast, has two precious little girls and a well-filed bank account – the show unveils some forms of domestic violence, at times frontal or insidious, and shuts down the omerta surrounding abusive and out of hand sexual, domestic, and romantic relationships. 


This disturbing, wicked, but realistic liaison has also sealed Nicole Kidman and Alexander Skarsgård’s first union on set. The two actors, with their perfect body, enact those cracks in their appearance and the slow downfall that follows in front of late Jean-Marc Vallée’s camera, who tragically died in December 2021. Stuck for an entire season in their gloomy love story, the couple will eventually grow out of the situation. Even if nobody ever questioned the Australian actress’ abilities to portray an emancipated but captive woman, no one knew that the unforgettable Tarzan could get in the skin of a true monster – a man with a chilling, almost Hitchcockian beauty, who turns out to be half-evil a gentleman and half-ideal a demon.  


Not only did Big Little Lies get him accustomed to major roles and awards, but it also turned him into an actor ‘made in Hollywood’. The Swedish man belongs to a family of actors – his father Stellan played for the greatest directors, such as Ingmar Bergman, Lars von Trier and Denis Villeneuve, and his brother Bill embodied a frightening killer clown who goes after children in It. However, Alexander Skarsgård wants to detach himself from this label by using and messing with his image, as well as by advocating for hard work and persistence as keys to success in each of his interviews. While he was awarded the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor for a mini-series in 2017, the latter who claimed in the American magazisne Interview that he would read the whole scenario of a project the day before going on set, came up with an audacious project ten years ago. And it was none other than the direction of a film about the Vikings, which according to him would avoid gender stereotypes and debunk the myth about the “Northman”. He states: “We would dream about directing a great epic adventure that would match the historical reality. A thing that was quite impossible to do, because a lot of facts, cultural aspects and resources about the Viking mentality remain in the dark. So, we wanted to make a film that would teach us about that and would give the audience the feeling of being brought back to that era.” 

Released on Wednesday, May 11th, The Northman (2022) directed by Robert Eggers – the Icelandic author of The Lighthouse, a low-budget thriller with Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe – drives us into the Scandinavian folklore. With a $90 million budget and a five-star guestlist including Björk, Nicole Kidman, Anya Taylor-Joy, and Ethan Hawke among others, this blockbuster is the result of the actor’s and his Danish partners’ hard work in finding the adequate director for the film. With impeccable taste, it stands as a gourmet version of blockbusters from the entertainment industry. It took over five years for the team to meet with executives in Hollywood and independent directors, for Alexander Skarsgård to follow an intensive training to almost triple his muscle mass months before the shooting, and once on set, to constantly rehearse and rewrite entire choreographies for the fight scenes. Fruit of his efforts, the Swedish actor embodies Amleth, a prince who seeks revenge for his father’s death, as if he hadn’t already done that a hundred times before.  


Is it because he comes from the Northern lands and has been raised with these myths and tales as any classic Scandinavian product? To him, his success has to do with relentless research about the story behind Shakespeare’s Hamlet – which aroused interest in the pop culture – and with the film director’s method. “It is not a mere scenery; it is a real Viking village. Having the chance to move along for an entire shot without stopping is an incredible feeling that I have never experienced before on set”, the actor says with a bright smile on his face. For the role, he immerged himself into the dark world of revenge, hostility, and jealousy, like he previously did in Big Little Lies. Diving into an unknown dark and toxic universe, exploring the wicked aspects of the human psyche and finding the origins of rage, are topics that must torment the actor a lot for his interpretation to be so captivating. And when the so-called primitive masculinity of the Vikings is questioned, Alexander Skarsgård’s jumps in with a surprising answer: “There is an interesting dichotomy in the Viking state of mind. All of them possess abilities that we could assign to both men and women on an individual level. There is a feminine spirit named Fylgja existing in each one of them according to the Vikings’ belief. Anya Taylor-Joy’s character Olga says these words at some point in the film: ‘Your strength breaks men’s bones; I’m coming to break their minds’. The links between women and spirituality in Norse mythology fascinate me”. To him, the Vikings might have been the very first feminists.  


The Northman (2022) by Robert Eggers out now.