Alexander Skarsgard Interview

Alexander Skarsgård Interview
By Abbie Bernstein
©Buzzy Multimedia
This interview may not be republished without the written permission of Buzzy Multimedia

Alexander Skarsgard Interview, True Blood

Exactly what the hell is Eric Northman doing? Viewers of HBO’s TRUE BLOOD, nominated this year for an Outstanding Drama Emmy, know that Eric has discovered that Russell Edgington, vampire king of Mississippi, was responsible for the deaths of Eric’s Viking royalty parents back in the days when Eric was still alive. Vikings are famous for taking revenge, and Eric, played by Alexander Skarsgard, is clearly determined to get some. However, so far Eric is being very cool and calculating, using Russell to rescue progeny Pam from the clutches of the Magister. King Russell doesn’t seem to have a clue – yet, at least – that Eric is anything other than a new loyal subject.

Don’t expect Skarsgård to provide spoilers, but during a break for a change in camera set-ups in the set of the Fangtasia basement, the Swedish actor sits down to tell us what he can about playing Eric in True Blood’s third season and his other recent projects.

“His new arc is vengeance,” Skarsgrd confirms. “Eric discovers pretty early on in season three that he lost someone many, many centuries ago and now suddenly he gets an opportunity to avenge this person, but he needs to be smart about it and do it right and be very tactical about it, because it’s not easy, what he wants to do.”

It would seem to be tough to outmaneuver a fellow vampire, especially one as old, experienced and unpredictable as Russell – case in point, the scene in the Fangtasia basement where the king turns the tables (and then some) on Zeljko Ivanek’s vampire Magister. “Exactly,” Skarsgard affirms. “So [Eric] needs to be smart about it.”

In Season Three, we see Eric before he was a vampire. Does Skarsgard play Eric’s human side differently than the vampire we’ve come to know? “Yeah. We see Eric as a younger human. It’s much more playful and youthful in a way – and, obviously, alive,” Skarsgard laughs.. “And more kind of naïve in a way, not that thousand years of experience. I love all those flashbacks. They’re so much fun. You have this plethora of opportunity with a guy like Eric, who’s been around for a thousand years; so hopefully, there will be more of those.”

In the Scandinavian flashbacks, as well as any scenes where Swedish is spoken, Skarsgard’s job on the show expands from actor to translator. “The writers obviously don’t speak Swedish,” he explains, “so they write it in English and then I translate it and then I teach Kristin [Von Bauer Straten, who plays Pam] or whoever needs to speak Swedish on the show. What I usually do is, I record it and send it to them, so they can listen to it on their iPods and practice it over and over again.”

Is Eric still affected emotionally by the death of his maker and mentor Godric last season? “Yeah,” Skarsgard confirms. “Absolutely, [but] this [quest for vengeance] is something now, as it comes up, from actually before he met Godric, it’s actually from even earlier than that, so it’s a pain that he’s been carrying for a thousand years. But it also affects his relationship to Pam, because he doesn’t care for many vampires or humans, but now that he lost Godric, his father, all he has is basically Pam, his daughter, and in what you’re seeing in the here and now – you’re seeing a different side, or you discover a deeper level, of their relationship. In season one and two, you see them bickering a lot and having kind of fun, and she’s kind of like his little spoiled teenaged daughter, but you can tell, you can sense that he respects her a lot. He kills a guy and he’s worried about if Pam’s going to freak out because he’s got blood in his hair, and those little things kind of hint that her opinion is quite important to him, but you can definitely see that that’s on a deeper level now in season three, because she’s obviously very, very important to Eric and in a lot of trouble.”

Bauer Von Straten has been quoted as saying that she patterned Pam’s mostly deadpan manner after what she saw Skarsgard doing, having her character react the way her character’s maker reacts. “Really?” Skarsgard laughs. So he wasn’t consciously providing an acting role model for his costar? “No, not really. I guess it was just an idea I had two years ago when I was playing around with creating the character and finding him.”

What’s Eric’s relationship like this year with Anna Paquin’s psychic Sookie Stackhouse? Skarsgard doesn’t want to give too much away. “Well, you know, it’s a long season, so there’s a lot going on. For now, with what we’re shooting right now, he’s very kind of preoccupied with this dungeon. But of course, Sookie’s always in his mind. She’s in his head and he’s still intrigued by her and that’s definitely something he will pursue in future.”

As for Eric’s relationship with fellow vampire Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), Skarsgard says, “Eric is more annoyed by the fact that Sookie decides to go after Bill, decides to go to Jackson to find him and she’s not giving up on that, and he knows there are wolves out there and he knows, even though they’re not a threat to an old vampire like Eric, they can definitely be a threat to Sookie. And that’s kind of frustrating that she’s risking her life for Bill, and he doesn’t get that, because Bill is not that interesting to Eric. He’s not worth it.”

It’s also fun for Skarsgard to share more scenes with some of TRUE BLOOD’s human regulars, such as Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette, who is trying to push V for Eric like never before. “We’ve had a couple of nice scenes here in season three and I wish we had even more, because I love working with Nelsan, I really do.”

Working with Allan Hyde, who plays Godric, has been another source of satisfaction for Skarsgard, who says he particularly liked the scene where Skarsgård breaks down in the face of Godric’s impending suicide. “It was quite liberating in a way, because Eric doesn’t show feelings very often, so it was nice to let that out. I don’t want to do that very often, because I don’t think that’s Eric’s personality, but you’ve got to find a couple of right moments where you show that he can be quite emotional, he’s not a robot. So I really had fun when I worked with Allan Hyde. It was actually the first time you got to know Eric a little better and got to see a different side, that he wasn’t just this tough guy running Fangtasia like a businessman. [With new characters], you learn a lot about your character, even though when you’re three years into the show, and I believe that always you have to let that excite you.”

The addition of Denis O’Hare as King Russell to the cast has likewise allowed Skarsgard to expand his portrayal of Eric, the actor reports. “I think it’s important as an actor to be able to discover new sides and new aspects. I mean, I wouldn’t want to be on a show for X amount of years, create the character in episode one and just stay with that. You have to be open when you have new and amazing actors like Denis O’Hare come on this show to play a different character; you’ve got to be open to see where that will take you. You learn a lot about your character, even though when you’re three years into the show, in those situations, in those meetings, and I believe that always you have to keep that open and let that excite you. I think that’s very important.”

O’Hare and Skarsgard have teased each other about their dedication to working with their vampire fangs, though Skarsgard says any talk of an actual competition about who practiced with them longer is exaggerated. “I told him I slept with my fangs for a year, which was obviously a joke!”

There are some very gory scenes in TRUE BLOOD (remember when Eric ripped that prisoner up from limb to limb?), but Skarsgard says there’s nothing in the show he finds particularly disturbing to see: “Not at all. I’m not very squeamish. We’ve got some pretty graphic stuff this year – violent, sexual and bloody – it’s a lot going on, but I’m enjoying it all.”

Occasionally, cast members still get drenched with the red stuff. “There’s a lot of fake blood,” Skarsgard allows. The biggest danger for the actors may be laughing when a bucket of it is tossed on them. “You’ve got to keep a straight face.”

During the break between Seasons Two and Three of TRUE BLOOD, Skarsgard acted in the remake of STRAW DOGS (the 1971 original, set in England, stars Dustin Hoffman and Susan George). “That was great,” Skarsgard says of the feature film project. “It was an amazing journey. We actually shot it in Shreveport, Louisiana, where this takes place. And it was fun. I’ve never been there before. I was down there for three months and it was a fantastic experience, completely different from this, but I’m very excited about that project.”

Charlie, Skarsgard’s character, could be described as a home invader, but the actor says, “If you ask my character, he feels that it’s his home that was invaded by David [played by X-MEN’s James Marsden], the other character, so that’s how he justifies it, because he stole his girlfriend.”

Hey, it’s what Eric would do, right? “Yeah,” Skarsgard laughs.

Is there any sort of philosophical or sociological aspect of TRUE BLOOD that has occurred to Skarsgard since he began work on the series that wasn’t obvious to him at the outset? “Well,” Skarsgård replies, “I was intrigued by the writing from the very beginning, because I thought it was an interesting world that [series creator] Alan [Ball] and [the writing staff] and Charlaine Harris [who wrote the books TRUE BLOOD is based on] had created, because there are just so many parallels to our society and minorities in our society and their struggles and I think that’s one of the reasons the show works so well, because it’s fun and sexy and pretty inviting for an audience, but also, I think it’s intelligent. The writing is very, very good on this show and it appeals to my fourteen-year-old brother and my fifty-year-old mother. Obviously, there’s more than the sex and violence.”

The show also raises interesting issues about the nature of power and authority, especially within the secret vampire hierarchy. “All the conflict between the Authority on one side and the kings and queens on the other side, and how people or vampires feel about the whole Great Revelation, when [vampires] came out two years ago and actually said, ‘We do exist and we want to co-exist with you humans,’ because a lot of vampires don’t want to co-exist with humans, they want to conquer them.”

Does the audience know where Eric actually stands on this issue? “No,” Skarsgard says, “we don’t. Not at this point. He needs to be smart about it now, in Season Three, what he says about that, his standpoint, basically. It kind of has to do with his quest here and you’ll understand when you see the season that he might not be completely honest when he talks about the Great Revelation or humans or his thoughts on the American Vampire League or the Authority and all that stuff.”

TRUE BLOOD is having a fan reaction that has broadened into the mainstream – this past week; it was the Number One show in the Nielsen ratings, something that almost never happens in the universe of pay cable. Skarsgard says of the public’s response to the show, “It’s definitely increased. I definitely feel like the fan base is just growing. It is fun. You meet fans and people you haven’t met in awhile and they’re obsessed with the show, and some discovered it recently. All those fan interactions are great. I love them. When we go to Comic-Con and stuff like that to meet fans who are so invested and devoted to it, it’s really flattering.”

Is there anything else Skarsgard would like to say about TRUE BLOOD this year? “It’s going to be a pretty interesting season, I think. There’s a lot going on.”

By Abbie Bernstein
Entertainment Reporter – Buzzy Multimedia
©Buzzy Multimedia
This interview may not be republished without the written permission of Buzzy Multimedia


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Abbie Bernstein

Abbie Bernstein

Abbie Bernstein is an entertainment journalist, fiction author and filmmaker. Besides Buzzy Multimedia, her work currently appears in Assignment X.
Abbie Bernstein