After Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård rose to fame in the sexually charged, boundary-pushing HBO series True Blood alongside Australia’s Ryan Kwanten and New Zealand’s Anna Paquin, it was never going to be easy to find a follow-up. A lover of edgy material and greatly influenced by his similarly adventurous father, Stellan, he’d already entered the US independent realm during the series' breaks, making films like What Maisie Knew and The Diary of a Teenage Girl and afterwards moving on to the big budget studio movie, The Legend of Tarzan.
Now the New York-based actor appears in the British US-set production War on Everyone written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, Calvary), who has strong Australian ties because of his Australian producer wife, Elizabeth Eves (a co-producer here) and because he wrote the screenplay for 2003’s Ned Kelly starring Heath Ledger.
McDonagh calls War on Everyone a "jet black comedy” which follows two corrupt cops, Bob Bob Bolaño (Michael Peña) and Terry Monroe (Skarsgård) as they try to make as much money as they can.
Watch the War on Everyone trailer:
HB: Do you see this film as more European rather than American?
AS: I think it’s an interesting combination, which is why it’s so weird, because it’s about two American cops in Albuquerque, but seen through the eyes of a lunatic from London. It’s John’s homage to cop shows and movies from the '60s and '70s like The Sweeney.
It’s such a good title because they insult everyone, and even if they do horrific things, you root for these guys. In terms of police brutality there’s no racial profiling. It’s not like they target the rich, or poor, or people of colour. They insult and f..k up everyone, be they Jewish, or Muslim, or Irish.
You are very funny, yet you play the straight man of the piece.
The situations are so funny, I feel like it would be distracting if I tried to make it funny.
Terry is troubled.
Yes, he’s hiding behind his heavy drinking. He’s quite lonely and not very confident. He doesn't think he’s smart, especially around someone like Bob, who’s so well read, intelligent and way more sophisticated.
John says he followed his remit of only hiring actors who enjoy a good booze-up.
I don't know how he found it, but he saw a clip of me at a 2013 football game in Sweden when I went with my friends. I was singing and there was something about that energy that he liked.
Were you drunk?
Yeah, I was probably pretty drunk.
How much does it take to get you drunk?
I weigh 98 kilos, so it takes quite a bit.
A running gag in the film is that you can flatten someone effortlessly. Did he have that strength when at school?
No. It’s just the way War on Everyone is written. Instead of it being long, choreographed fight sequences, it’s a lot of posturing – then one hit and it’s over! Terry takes on the role of the muscle and lets Bob do the talking. His physicality, his posturing, is just something that came to me.
You make such eclectic choices with your movies. How do you choose your roles?
There’s no real strategy. It’s just gut feeling. I either get excited about something or I don't.
I saw you in drag at the premiere of The Diary of A Teenage Girl. Is anything up for grabs with you now?
Yes, I guess. We shot the movie in San Francisco and the first AD on the movie was Cousin Wonderlette, a famous drag queen. She hosts parties and stuff in San Francisco in drag and they were going to host the afterparty. They’d taken us to a nightclub and they were all talking about their outfits for the premiere and I was like, “That sounds like so much fun. Can I come in drag as well? I want to look like Farrah Fawcett with the gold-lamé and big blonde hair.” And Brian (Benson) Cousin Wonderlette said, “Yeah, we’ll make it happen.”
You are a gay icon. Do you feel their warmth?
Yes. I’ve always been very outspoken. My uncle is gay, so for me growing up since I was two, my aunt had a husband and my uncle had a boyfriend. The concept of gay being weird was already strange to me. When people in school made fun, like “Are you gay?” I didn't understand that because my uncle was super cool. So why wouldn’t you want to be like that?
Do you miss True Blood?
I miss it a lot. I miss the little family we created. But I’ve just done a HBO miniseries Big Little Lies in Los Angeles with a lot of the same crew members, the same catering guys and even the craft service dude is the same. I play Nicole Kidman’s husband and all seven episodes are directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who directed Dallas Buyers Club.
Does he want you to get into drag?
We’ll see. We might find a little scene for drag there. It’s great fun.
Are you an outdoors person?
Yes, I like to be outdoors and to go on week-long hikes.
What was it like going to the South Pole with Prince Harry?
It was a crazy experience. We were completely isolated for a month just skiing to the Pole. We were 21 skiers. Prince Harry was a normal guy like the rest of us, getting up at eight every morning and skiing all day.
How did that compare to shooting The Legend of Tarzan?
Oh that was not at all in the Congo. We shot it in Watford in north London. They built jungle sets and rivers in two enormous hangars. It was very impressive actually but hardly the real thing!
'War on Everyone' is out in Australian cinemas on Nov. 17.
Watch an Alexander Skarsgård movie at SBS On Demand
What Maisie Knew
What's it about?
Six-year-old Maisie is caught in the middle of a bitter custody battle between her mother Susanna (Julianne Moore), an ageing rock star, and her father, Beale (Steve Coogan), a major art dealer.