Who Is Alexander Skarsgard?
Alexander Skarsgard was born August 25, 1976, in Stockholm, Sweden. After acting in several minor film and television roles as a child, he had a breakthrough when his 1989 film, The Dog That Smiled, became a surprise hit. He made his American film debut in 2001 and later, after filming Generation Kill for HBO, he became more widely known to U.S. audiences through the network’s vampire series True Blood. Skarsgard went on to star in The Legend of Tarzan (2016), and earned both Emmy and Golden Globe wins for his performance in the 2017 HBO series Big Little Lies.
Early Life and Career
Actor Alexander Skarsgard was born on August 25, 1976, in Stockholm, Sweden. His mother is My Skarsgard and his father is Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard, who has appeared in such films as The Hunt for Red October, Good Will Hunting, Pirates of the Caribbean and Mamma Mia! With such a pedigree, it was only natural for Alexander Skarsgard to pursue acting as a child. At age seven, in 1984, he appeared in his first film, an adaptation of the popular children’s book Ake and his World.
After acting in several other minor film and television roles as a child, Skarsgard had a breakthrough when his 1989 film The Dog That Smiled became a surprise hit and made the young actor, still only 13 years old, a national celebrity. Unlike most teenage boys who would be thrilled to become famous, Skarsgard was put off. “The fame was scary to me,” he recalls. “When people stare at you and you read about yourself in papers — at 13 it just got very confusing. I thought that if this is what it’s like to be famous, I don’t like it one bit.”
Marines and School
Skarsgard quit acting and for the next seven years, he says he “did nothing.” After this prolonged period of goofing off with his buddies, at the age of 19 he joined an antiterrorist unit in the Swedish marines. “It was national service,” he says. “Although when I did it, it was quite easy to get out of. Most of my friends didn’t do military service. But they spent those 15 months hanging out drinking and smoking pot. The reason I did it — I was 19 and grew up in downtown Stockholm. It’s like any other European city, and I was a city kid. If it rains, you don’t go outside. I wanted the challenge. I was curious. I wanted to see what it would do to me to go through all of this.”
During his 15 months in the marines, he trained in hand-to-hand combat, small-squad battle tactics and anti-sabotage attacks. “I hated it most of the time,” he admits. “A lot of the guys I served with wanted to be James Bond, whereas I was a hippie. But it was good for me.”
After his stint in the military, Skarsgard and a friend decided to enroll at Leeds Metropolitan University in England. After those tough months in the marines, he explains, “I just needed a break, to be able to chill. So did my friend. So we went there and studied, but it was basically just hanging out and having fun. We lived in this basement with no heating, sleeping in sleeping bags, and shared a bathroom with a drug dealer, who was obsessed with the queen of Sweden for some reason… It was kind of scary.” Skarsgard spent six months mostly partying at Leeds until, he says, “These thoughts came up — what do I want to do with my life? Acting came up again and I thought maybe I should give it a last go.”
Return to Acting
Skarsgard moved to New York City to study theater for a year at Marymount Manhattan College and then returned to his native country to resume his acting career. In 1999, a full decade after he quit acting, Skarsgard began pursuing a variety of Swedish film and television roles. He made his American film debut as an airheaded male model in the wildly popular 2001 comedy Zoolander. He then returned to Sweden to write and direct To Kill a Child (2003), an acclaimed short film featured at the Tribeca and Cannes film festivals.
Although he was very successful in Sweden over the next several years, he longed to return to the American screen. The opportunity came when he was cast as Marine Sergeant Brad “Iceman” Colbert in the acclaimed HBO miniseries Generation Kill, which was based on Evan Wright’s book about the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. The show was shot over seven intense months in Namibia, South Africa and Mozambique. It received rave reviews, and Skarsgard earned critical acclaim for his performance.
Asked whether his experience in the Swedish marines prepared him for the role, Skarsgard says, “My training was very similar to what those guys went through — the details, the level of respect and how you handle your weapons and gear. It was very helpful for me to have gone through that in the Swedish marines… That being said, it’s still the Swedish marines. We don’t go to Iraq. People don’t shoot us… Our last war was 200 years ago.”
Very shortly after filming Generation Kill, Skarsgard was cast in Alan Ball’s HBO series True Blood. He took on the role of Eric Northman, a powerful 1,000-year-old Viking vampire locked in a love triangle with another vampire (played by Stephen Moyer) and a human waitress (Anna Paquin). Skarsgard frequently appeared in the buff in love scenes on the show, boosting his popularity among adoring fans.
‘Big Little Lies’ and Other Projects
Long a critically acclaimed and popular actor in Sweden, his prominent role on HBO’s True Blood helped make Skarsgard a full-fledged star in the United States as well. He went on to appear in the American films Straw Dogs, with James Marsden and Kate Bosworth (2011), and Battleship (2012), with Liam Neeson. He also appeared on the big screen for the first time with his father, Stellan, in Melancholia (2011), directed by Lars von Trier.
In 2016, Skarsgard starred in the remake of The Legend of Tarzan, alongside Margot Robbie. While the flick gave him the chance to flex his abs as an action hero, he also flexed considerable dramatic chops the following year in the HBO series Big Little Lies, earning both Emmy and Golden Globe wins for his villainous turn as Perry Wright.
In 2018, the actor starred in the Netflix feature Mute, as a bartender who searches for his missing girlfriend in the futuristic seedy underworld of Berlin, Germany, with help from two Americans, played by Paul Rudd and Justin Theroux.
Skarsgard, who is unmarried, was said to be dating True Blood co-star Evan Rachel Wood at one point, and has also been romantically linked to Bosworth and Elizabeth Olsen.