Alexander Skarsgård vowed not to become an actor. He failed
The Infinity Pool star looks for roles that 'dig into the dark crevices' of his personality
For a long time, Alexander Skarsgård didn't want to be an actor. The Infinity Pool star and son of Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård was thrown into it as a child, playing the occasional role in Sweden — not the classic Hollywood child-actor story by any stretch. After a TV movie he was in at 13 began to get him some attention, he swore off acting, determined not to follow in his father's footsteps.
"That made me very insecure," the Swedish actor tells Tom Power in an interview on Q. "I didn't like the attention, so for the rest of my teenage years, I was very much a dead set on not becoming an actor. But I've failed."
Despite being a second generation actor, Skarsgård says he doesn't really think much about the current discourse around "nepo babies." In part, he says, it's because "I'm old and I've been in the game a long time," but he acknowledges that he worried about nepotism accusations when he was younger. But the reality was, being Stellan Skarsgård's kid didn't actually open a lot of doors for him when he first moved to Los Angeles in the early '00s.
"I could not get a job," he says. "Like, any job."
In fact, his struggles to book gigs left him with a kind of imposter syndrome. So much so that when he booked a major role in Generation Kill — a 2008 miniseries about the invasion of Iraq by The Wire creators David Simon and Ed Burns, based on a non-fiction book of the same name — he spent the first several months of the production convinced he would be fired.
"Like, this is clearly a mistake," he says. "If I can't get the job as Jock Number Five in a bad TV series, why would they give me [the role of real life Marine Staff Sgt.] Brad Colbert on Generation Kill?"
It was only when he realized that it would be too expensive for the production to replace him that he finally felt safe.
"I would calculate how much money they had spent on big set pieces and on the production, how expensive it would be for them to replace me," he says. "It wasn't until the second half of the shoot that I was like, 'I might actually be able to finish this. Wow.' I still have moments like that, but it's getting better."
In his new film, the Brandon Cronenberg-directed Infinity Pool, Skarsgård plays an American tourist in the fictional country of Li Tolqa. When he kills a local in a drunk driving accident, he's given two options: either he can be killed by his victim's first-born son, or he can pay to be cloned and have the clone killed in his place.
It's the kind of role that feels on-brand for Skarsgård, who has taken a lot of strange, dark roles in the last several years, including, but not limited to: a cult leader, an abusive husband, a man possessed by wolf demon, a racist cop, and a fictionalized, cannibalistic version of himself.
"I don't have a shrink," the Swedish actor says. "So maybe it's cathartic? That's my therapy, to kind of get all that darkness — dig into the dark crevices of my personality. That's where I get that out."
Catharsis aside, Skarsgård says he takes an attitude that every role might be his last, and so he tries to seek out projects that "get me thinking, get me where I'm thrilled when I think about the opportunity to go to work."
"I've never really thought about my career as like a five year plan or a 10 year plan," he says. "I'm not very good at strategizing or like, taking the job because it might advance my career. It's all very gut-driven. Do I connect with something or do I not? That's kind of how I choose my jobs."