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Alexander Skarsgard is well aware that he can't be the scoundrelly yet, at times, amiable, vampire Eric Northman forever. That's not to say that he hasn't enjoyed his time on 'True Blood'; he has, even if that does include filming an occasional ménage à trois with real-life husband and wife Stephen Moyer and Anna Paquin. But he also realizes that continuing to play the versions of Eric Northman he's continuously offered -- "without the fangs," he admits -- is, as Skarsgard puts it, "creative suicide." In other words: nothing a Lars von Trier movie won't fix.
In 'Melancholia,' Skarsgard plays Michael, a man we meet on the day he's set to marry Justine (Kirsten Dunst), until every single thing that could wrong during a wedding does go wrong. Of course, all that happens before they learn that a rouge planet -- named Melancholia -- is on a collision course with Earth. Moviefone spoke to Skarsgard about what it's like to work for the controversial director, his game plan to avoid being typecast as a vampire, the details of filming a threesome with a real life married couple, and how 'Zoolander' changed his life forever.
This is a fucked up movie.
Yeah, it is. It is pretty fucked up.
When you read the script, is that what you were thinking?
I mean, it's a Lars von Trier movie, so it's a little romantic comedy about the end of the world.
You play, by far, the nicest person in this movie.
It was fun because Eric on 'True Blood' is an alpha male. And we shot this right after we wrapped season three, so I had spent seven months being Eric and it was so fun doing something that was very different.
Is that what drew you to this?
No. I mean, Lars von Trier drew me to it. I mean, it's a no-brainer. Whatever he wanted me to do, I would have done.
I do think that this shows a halfway realistic look at what would happen if another planet was going to smash into Earth. I mean, Bruce Willis doesn't take off in a spaceship to save the day.
Or maybe he is, but we're not seeing that.
And just the confusion of it all. Like, "What the fuck is this? What's going on?"
This is a hard movie to ask questions about.
It's a hard movie to talk about.
I don't know, it's just so... [pauses] It was just such an amazing experience shooting it, and it's difficult to describe, in a way. It was just so different. And [von Trier] is just so unconventional the way he makes a movie.
What's unconventional about him, in your opinion?
The way, like, you're so free. It's so liberating, in a way. There are no tape marks that you have to hit or 45 minutes of lighting because it has to look beautiful. It's all real. And you shoot a lot -- there's not a lot of waiting around. And you can have fun with it, he doesn't care about continuity.
What scene stands out in that respect?
Well, the first day was the limo scene. And Lars was like, "You guys, you're stuck, you talk about that for a while, and then Alex will get out of the limo to help the driver." And I was like, "Sure, which side do you want me to get out?" And Lars just looked at me and was like, "I don't know. You do whatever you want." And that's what was so liberating.
As an actor, can you take that too far?
Well, I felt like you're free to do whatever you want. And he'll reign it in if it's not working. But you want to feel that freedom as an actor. You want to feel that confidence that I can do whatever I want.
You play an extremely popular character on 'True Blood.' A lot of people have played popular characters on television and sometimes it winds up haunting them. Between a Lars von Trier movie and 'Battleship,' is there a plan in place so you're not known as Eric Northman the rest of your life? Or maybe you want to be known as that?
Well [pauses], it's not so much like a career move or a strategy that I have. It's more... I need that. Like, creatively. Of course, after 'True Blood,' I get a lot of scripts that are similar to 'True Blood' or very similar to Eric Northman -- because people want to pigeonhole you. So it's the same character, but in a movie set or whatever. First of all, of course it's not a good career move to do that, because then you become that. You'll get typecast doing that forever. That's creative suicide. But it's also, for me -- I'm not going to do a good job if I do something I've done 25 times before. Because I won't be inspired; I won't be encouraged. There's nothing in that script or in that role that I'll discover. I mean, it's already there, I know what I'm doing. I'll just go there and I'll show up and I'll be whatever I've been for the past 'X' amount of years. So that's why I actively look for guys like Michael in this movie, who is so different than Eric Northman.
Have you been offered other vampire roles?
Not other vampire roles, but definitely a lot of roles that are very similar to Eric Northman, even though they are not vampires -- but kind of the same type. Basically Eric Northman, but without the fangs. Pretty much the same guy.
I'm curious how much input you have in this: During the first season of 'True Blood,' I found Eric a bit frightening, but I feel like there's something more appealing about him in recent seasons -- even when he does something frightening, I still want to be his friend. Maybe it's the hair.
Well, that's what I loved about it. When people watch something, they're lazy. So they want to label the characters. Oh, "the hero." "The girl." "The villain." And they sit back and it's very convenient, you know? And what I loved about Eric -- I always love when it's because life is more complicated than that. In movies, I always love when there's darkness in the protagonist. You know? And there's goodness in the antagonist. When there's more of a grey zone than just black and white. What I love about Eric is that when you meet him, he's introduced as "the villain." And the audience is like, "All right, very well, here's the evil sheriff." But then, after a while, you're like, "Oh, wait a minute, that was kind of nice, why did he do that?" And I love that, that people had to revisit, "Oh, shit, well, actually, maybe he's not just the villain."
But, of course, when people see a vulnerability that he can be weak and sensitive and kind and loyal... it is tough, because you still want him to be dangerous; he's still a predator -- so you can't emasculate him too much.
I know love scenes on set are nothing but professional. But is it at all different when the other two members of the scene are married in real life?
Not really. We're good friends and professional actors. All three of us. So we know what we're doing. And it's like, I love Anna [Paquin] to death, but Steve [Moyer] obviously knows that our friendship is very platonic. So, sometimes it's more awkward if you don't know them. Steve knows that I'm not a threat.
Well, I'd be more like, "Oh, I hope I'm not imposing."
Nah. And Steve was very sweet before we got in to all of that stuff. He said to me, "Dude, I just want you to know that I want you to feel comfortable with this and it's not awkward at all. I love you and I know there's no one I'd rather have doing these scenes with Anna and me because we're friends. It's not awkward at all and I don't want you to hold back because then that's going to be weird. Like, do what you have to do." It was very great of him to say that.
What are your memories of doing 'Zoolander'? That was your first American movie, I believe.
It was my first job. I was here on vacation and I lived in Sweden. I was here on vacation visiting my dad and his manager was like, "Do you want to go and try an audition and see what it's like?" I was like, "Oh, that's fun. I'm in Hollywood and I'm going on an audition." And it happened to be 'Zoolander.' I was lucky enough to get it. It was surreal. I was this kid from south Stockholm on vacation in Hollywood. Two weeks later I was shooting a movie in Tribeca with Ben Stiller, you know?
And then you went back to Sweden and acted there?
Yeah. Because I was there on vacation. And I did that and got an agent and a manager because of 'Zoolander,' but I was working on stage in Sweden, so I went back to Sweden and I was there for another three or four years. And when you're on stage, you really don't really have time -- you work six days a week. So there's really no time to go to L.A. and take meetings and read scripts and stuff. But since I had an agent and a manager, they basically said, "Whenever you're done with your plays, come on over and hang out for a couple of weeks and take some meetings. So that's how, in 2004 and 2005, I started going out to L.A. because I was like, "I have an agent and a manger, but they can't do shit for me right now because I'm in Sweden doing plays. But whenever I have a little break, I'm going to go out and check it out.
All because of 'Zoolander'...
Yeah, it's weird. It's really crazy that happened. Yeah, it's extremely fortunate... in my very first audition.
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