May 26, 2022
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LONDON — In Alexander Skarsgard’s telling, the concept for what finally turned his newest movie, “The Northman,” has its roots on a protracted, slender island off the coast of Sweden known as Oland, the place his great-great grandfather constructed a picket home 100 years in the past.

“A few of my earliest recollections are from strolling round with my grandfather on Oland and him displaying me these huge rune stones and the inscriptions,” he defined on a current wet Monday over lunch at a lodge tucked away in central London. “Telling tales of Vikings that sailed down the rivers, right down to Constantinople.

“So, in a method,” he continued, “you can say that the dream of sooner or later making or being a part of a Viking film was born in that second.”

Sporting a grey crew-neck sweater and darkish denims, he was centuries away from the bloody, muddy berserker he performs in “The Northman,” the much-anticipated action-adventure that marks the director Robert Eggers’s leap into big-budget filmmaking.

Six-four, blond and indisputably good-looking, Skarsgard would appear a no brainer to launch a Viking movie, however getting this movie made took awhile. Skarsgard mentioned he spent years working with the Danish movie producer Lars Knudsen attempting to find out what form the mission would take. Then, in 2017, he met with Eggers, who had fallen in love with Iceland throughout a go to two years earlier, to speak about one other mission.

Skarsgard and Eggers each describe that assembly as “fated,” and it will definitely led Eggers, together with the Icelandic poet and writer Sjon, to jot down “The Northman.” Eggers, who mentioned he had $70 million to make the movie, took some inspiration from the 1982 “Conan the Barbarian,” which he watched as a child.

Skarsgard’s character is a Viking prince, Amleth, bent on vengeance after his father is murdered. Skarsgard is a producer of the brand new movie, which opens on April 22 and in addition options Anya Taylor-Pleasure, Nicole Kidman and Björk, amongst others.

“It was an actual deal with as an actor to be a part of the mission from the genesis,” Skarsgard mentioned. “To be a part of that journey and to have the ability to constantly have these conversations with the screenwriters as they’re shaping the story, speak in regards to the arc of Amleth, the story, the essence of it — that was very inspiring to me.”

The star, 45 and unfailingly well mannered, has performed a Viking earlier than. The truth is, he’s performed a Northman earlier than: Eric Northman, the proudly undead, ultrasexy Viking vampire on the HBO collection “True Blood.” However the title character of “The Northman” is a Viking after Skarsgard’s personal coronary heart — one devoted to the medieval lore of the Icelandic sagas, one who doesn’t query destiny or religion. And one who, by design, doesn’t have quite a bit to say.

The sagas on which the movie relies are “very laconic,” he mentioned. And the characters “don’t actually converse until completely essential.”

Skarsgard himself is open, with a simple smile. He’s conscious of the world round him, together with being up-to-date on the newest information from Ukraine and figuring out that asparagus season is upon us. He gave questions his full consideration, pausing to collect his ideas earlier than answering — and never as soon as glancing at a cellphone.

Although he grew up listening to Viking tales, Skarsgard learn books and watched lectures on them to organize for his function. He mentioned essentially the most attention-grabbing factor he discovered was that Vikings believed every individual had a feminine spirit guiding them.

“I believed that was fairly fascinating, the juxtaposition between that and the brutality you see whenever you first meet Amleth,” Skarsgard mentioned. He added, “That he would have believed that there’s a feminine spirit inside him that guides him, I actually preferred that concept.”

His preparation full, it regarded as if every thing was coming collectively on the movie. Simply as capturing was set to start, the pandemic hit.

“For about 48 hours we had been nonetheless transferring ahead, however everybody was like, ‘Is that this taking place? Are we doing this? What’s happening?’ After which lastly, they pulled the plug and mentioned we’ve got to interrupt and that we’re going dwelling.”

Although Skarsgard considers New York his base, going dwelling meant heading to his hometown, Stockholm.

He holed up together with his massive household at his mom’s nation home. He’s the oldest son of the actor Stellan Skarsgard and his first spouse, My, and one among eight siblings. Three of his brothers are additionally actors, together with Bill Skarsgard, who performed Pennywise, the creeper clown within the “It” motion pictures; one other brother is a physician who stored them apprised of developments within the Covid disaster. Skarsgard mentioned that regardless of the scary circumstances, he loved attending to spend time together with his household.

“We cooked dinners and frolicked, labored within the backyard,” he mentioned, including that gathering the entire household could be tough as a result of work will get in the way in which. “I actually loved it. Then I felt virtually responsible as a result of it was a pandemic and other people had been dying.”

Household and Sweden, the place Skarsgard grew up and spent a while within the navy, are vital themes in his life.

“We’re all a really tight group,” he mentioned. “Everybody lives inside two blocks of one another in South Stockholm and we see one another on a regular basis once I’m dwelling.” (He isn’t married however answered with a powerful “no” when requested if he was single.)

He began out as a baby actor however took a break starting in his early teenagers earlier than totally embracing an performing profession in his 20s. He has mentioned previously that he didn’t like the eye performing introduced him when he was younger.

His path to “The Northman” runs by way of dozens of roles in movie and TV, some seemingly completely different sides of the identical coin. He’s performed an Israeli spy (“The Little Drummer Lady”) and a German man coming to phrases with life after World Conflict II (“The Aftermath”). A younger Marine who helps the USA invade Iraq (“Technology Kill”) and a sadistic Military sergeant who leads younger recruits astray in Afghanistan (“The Kill Group”). An abusive husband (“Huge Little Lies”) and an achingly candy stepdad who steps in to look after his uncared for stepdaughter (“What Maisie Knew”).

He additionally snagged a small however pivotal function in HBO’s prestigious dramedy “Succession,” taking part in Lukas Matsson, a Swedish tech billionaire.

Mark Mylod, an govt producer on the present who directed Skarsgard in two of the three episodes wherein he seems, mentioned the actor “was actually the one selection for the character due to the intelligence of his work.”

The makers of “Succession” had envisioned a personality with “that type of Elon Musk” charisma however not essentially based mostly on the Tesla chief govt. The Matsson character needed to have the gravitas to be a real rival to the household behind Waystar Royco, the fictional firm on the coronary heart of “Succession,” Mylod mentioned.

“He discovered a strategy to make that character so implausible and watchable and completely credible,” Mylod mentioned. “With a small variety of scenes, he made such an influence.” (Mylod wouldn’t say if Matsson is returning in Season 4.)

Rebecca Corridor, an actor who had labored with Skarsgard on “Godzilla vs. Kong,” mentioned she had struggled to get financing for her personal ardour mission, “Passing,” her adaptation final 12 months of the 1929 Nella Larsen novel in regards to the friendship between two Black girls in New York, one among whom is passing as white.

Whereas engaged on “Kong,” Corridor bought up the braveness to ask Skarsgard to learn her script. He did and agreed to play the a part of a racist husband. “I bought the sense that he cares about good artwork being on the planet and can do what he can to help that,” Corridor mentioned in an interview, including that the character was the sort he had performed properly. “He’s no stranger to sophisticated characters who do dangerous issues.”

For Skarsgard, “there may be zero technique or plan” to his profession. “The candy spot is once I’m intrigued by the character, and I perceive points of him and he makes me curious to be taught extra,” he mentioned. “That’s superfun as a result of then that signifies that I’ll most likely take pleasure in diving in and exploring {that a} bit deeper.”

On “The Northman,” diving in meant bulking up. He’s additionally reunited within the movie with Kidman, who performed his spouse in “Huge Little Lies,” for which he gained an Emmy, a SAG Award and a Golden Globe. This time she’s his mom.

The 2 actors traveled with the remainder of the forged to Northern Eire, Eire and Iceland for the grueling “Northman” shoot. Skarsgard described it as “seven months within the mud.”

Eggers, an exacting and meticulous director, mentioned that he was “not a sadist to be a sadist,” however that he was lifeless critical about element and accuracy, which can come as no shock to viewers of his earlier movies, like “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse.”

Skarsgard has spoken in interviews about being shackled and dragged through the muck. However Eggers mentioned that, like him, Skarsgard wished the most effective outcome. “After we launched into this collectively, he was after nothing however perfection.”

Eggers added, “Alex has kind of talked about me driving him to the sting, however there have been many occasions that I can bear in mind him asking for one more take as a result of he’s simply as a lot of a perfectionist as I’m.”

The director acknowledged that the working situations had been tough. “I’m not attempting to make issues onerous for us,” he defined, “however whenever you’re telling the story of the Viking Age in Northern Europe, you’re going to hunt punishing places, with excessive climate and terrain. And that’s simply what it must be to inform this story.”

Working with such a big finances and forged had been perks, Eggers mentioned, but additionally meant a substantial amount of stress. “If this film doesn’t carry out, that shall be an issue,” he mentioned.

After the entire work, Skarsgard mentioned, “I simply need individuals to see the film, that’s it,” including, ideally on the large display.

As is fairly customary fare for a Skarsgard mission, he’s bare in elements of “The Northman,” together with throughout a combat scene in a volcano.

Does he ever simply say no to taking off his garments? He mentioned he had just lately achieved simply that at a photograph shoot after being requested to take his shirt off, saying, “I believe there’s sufficient nudity within the film.”

Skarsgard, who had spent the morning doing press by Zoom and had traveled round Europe selling within the days earlier than we talked, had by the tip of the interview type of slid down the banquette, resting his head towards the cushion. He mentioned he realized his movies are typically heavy. “I may need to do a comedy quickly,” he mentioned, including that he wish to work with the satirist Armando Iannucci or the British comedian actor Steve Coogan.

“‘The Northman,’” he mentioned, “was so intense. It was the best expertise of my profession however, God, it was intense.”

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