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Alexander Skarsgård on The Giver, True Blood, and the Sack of Destiny

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Actor Alexander Skarsgard attends the Calvin Klein Collection post fashion show event during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Spring 2014 at Spring Studios on September 12, 2013 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)
Alexander Skarsgård. Photo: Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

As the oldest of eight siblings, Alexander Skarsgård has always had a way with kids, which may have helped him on the set of The Giveran adaptation of Lois Lowry’s dystopian novel that arrived in theaters this weekend. Playing a character known as Father, he’s responsible for taking care of genetically engineered babies before they are placed into their assigned family units. Of course, if any of these infants fail to thrive right away, Father gives them “release” — something Eric Northman, the vampire Skarsgård has portrayed on True Blood for seven seasons (and who refers to children as “teacup humans”), would call the True Death. While Father doesn’t recognize the concept of death, Eric has confronted it many times over — but it’s not the prospect of his own death that troubles him anymore, now that he has been cured of Hep-V. With Bill (Stephen Moyer) refusing to take the cure himself, effectively deciding to commit suicide, Sookie has grown increasingly distraught, and Eric does not like his love interest to be distraught. Skarsgård, who has spent the last two months shooting Tarzan, called Vulture up from London to chat about dispensing death, his racy scenes on True Blood, and what he’s going to do next.

So, you’re shooting Tarzan, True Blood is ending, and The Giver hits theaters, all at once.
Yeah. [Laughs] That’s why, unfortunately, I couldn’t make it to the premiere in New York a couple of days ago. I really tried to make it over there. It would have been so much fun, but we’re shooting nonstop here, so the schedule is pretty hectic. I’m stuck in the jungle.

At least you’re not stuck wearing a loincloth, at least at first, because your version is already at the point where he’d gone back to civilization, and then he goes back to the jungle?
Exactly! Yeah. The movie begins in London in the late 1800s, and he’s already there, he’s been there for about eight years with Jane, and then he goes back to the Congo where he was born and raised with Jane, so at least in the beginning, he’s dressed as a British lord. And then a lot of things happen in Africa, obviously. But no loincloth, no. [Laughs]

For True Blood, did you not like to wear your equivalent of a loincloth? Your modesty pouch, your cock sock, your sack of destiny, or whatever you liked to call it.
Sack of destiny! [Chuckles]

Stephen Moyer was saying for that iconic full-frontal shot at the end of the last season, where Eric starts burning in the snow, you actually chose not to wear your sack of destiny. That it wasn’t scripted that way. 
Ah … I wear it sometimes. Obviously, if it’s a love scene with an actress, I’ll wear it, absolutely. But that scene was just me on a rooftop in Hollywood — that’s where we shot it, with a green screen. And it was a very hot day, so I didn’t need the sock. It was supposed to be, when the scene was written, Bucky [Brian Buckner], the showrunner, and I talked about potentially trying to go back to Sweden, to shoot it there. We were very excited about it, and then we realized that it might, you know, be a little bit expensive [laughs] to fly the crew over to Sweden just for that one short scene. Then we were going to shoot it in the Rocky Mountains instead, and then that didn’t happen, for many different reasons, so then we ended up shooting it on the parking structure on the lot where we shoot the show in downtown Hollywood. And it was in June, so it was like 100 degrees. Yeah. Not quite like the mountains of northern Sweden!

What was it like being the baby whisperer on the set of The Giver
In a way, it was difficult, but not because of the babies, who were adorable. Emotionally getting to that place, knowing what I had to do, it was difficult but it was also kind of what I found fascinating about the character, what drew me to the project. Obviously working with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep was pretty exciting as well, but in terms  of the character, I thought it was really interesting to play someone who does what he does in the film — horrible things, but without being a bad guy. If you don’t know what you’re doing, what is the morality? Where does that come from? If you don’t understand the concept of death, is what he doing wrong? Of course it is, in a way, but at the same time, he doesn’t know — he thinks they’re going to a better place. He doesn’t know what “elsewhere” is, what that means. It was also a challenge to play someone who embodies “sameness,” as Father does in the movie. He’s a perfect citizen, in a way. But you also have to, as an actor, find something to not make him a robot. You just want to find a little spark, somewhere in the story beneath that, where there is a connection, where you kind of understand him. So when I first read the script, I thought, “Wow, to play someone who does what he does, but to try to find some sort of empathy from the audience …”

Because he seems like a caring, loving guy, but he doesn’t even know what love is.
Exactly! And how, under different circumstances, he would have been a fantastic dad. I think his instinct is to kind of take care of baby Gabriel and all the other babies at the Nurturing Center, but he doesn’t understand the concepts of love or what real feelings are. Being so sedated just takes the edge off of everything. But I do feel like toward the end of it, you do see a little something, at least.

Do you think he’s a little like Eric, during his amnesia? Since he’s deprived of the memories of humanity that the Giver has …
In a way, when Eric went through that, it was almost the opposite. Living the way he did for 1,000 years, having seen and gone through all that pain and suffering, he had almost shut down, emotionally. That’s why I thought it was an interesting love story between him and Sookie, because she was one of the few he ever let in. So when Marnie cast that spell on him, he suddenly opened up in a way. It’s the opposite of what Father does in The Giver, because Eric let his guard down and he was very open and very curious — he wanted to feel, he wanted to experience things in a way that I think, deep down, Father wants, but he’s medicated, and he’s not in touch with his emotions, at all. In the beginning of the film, it’s almost utopian, because it’s so clean, there’s no crime, and it seems perfect on the surface. But then once you get inside that home with them, you realize, “I would never want a family like that.” There’s no love. There’s no spontaneity. And there are no surprises. Everything they do, they’re assigned. They’re assigned spouses. They’re assigned children — those aren’t even their own kids. They’re assigned a job. They’re assigned playtimes.

But what’s so great about being alive is that you can make plans, and then just change them! And they’re in a society where you can’t. All your plans are made for you, by someone else. And he doesn’t know. He doesn’t know the concept of history. He doesn’t know what happened before “Sameness.” That’s why that comes as such a revelation for Jonas, when he feels what war is, and pain and suffering, but also love and beauty and the sunset and music. And for him to realize that, as painful as life is, it’s worth living. And because Eric kind of enjoys life and tries to milk everything out of every single second, so I think he would just feel sorry for Father, and he’d probably do his best to help him come out of his shell and teach him a thing or two. Eric’s been around for 1,000 years, so he’s seen a lot. If that didn’t work, he’d probably just drain him. [Laughs]

You told me before that you wanted to move to New York after True Blood was done. Is that still the plan?
Yeah! I’m actually looking at apartments in New York now. I’m in London for another three months for Tarzan, and then my plan is definitely to move to New York. I’m really excited about it. I don’t really have any plans in terms of what I want to do — movies, television, theater — but I’d love to do a play in New York. Anything that would be a break from what I’ve been doing, something different. I mean, my dad did Mamma Mia!, just after he had done a couple of dark indie films, and he had a really good time doing that. He loved it. He was like, “Fuck it! This is fun. This is different. There’s nothing wrong with fun. I’ll do it!” You know? It’s all about trying to find those projects where you get to enjoy yourself, because I think that’s when you create as well, when you’re genuinely excited about something. Then you’re not just doing it because it’s your job. After seven years on the show, where every break before was a hiatus from the show, there’s something quite exciting about not knowing what I’m going to do next. It’s a feeling I haven’t had in seven years, and I’m pretty excited about it.

I think people were rooting for one last Eric and Sookie love scene, but they got one with Eric and Jason instead.
[Laughs.] We just aim to please! We thought that’s what people wanted, so we gave it to them. That was incredibly difficult to shoot, because Ryan [Kwanten] is so funny. He’s hilarious. So trying to do that scene and trying to keep a straight face was really tough for me that day. But I love working with him.

Director Howard Deutch said his only direction was for you to take it as far as you wanted to.
Yeah, and we took it pretty far. [Chuckles] That scene obviously wasn’t written when we shot the scene last season where I give him my blood, and they didn’t really have a plan to go anywhere with that. But when we shot it, and the way Ryan reacted to it, it was suddenly, when we shot it, it became more sensual than we thought it would be. And when they yelled, “Cut!” everyone was like, “Oh, we’ve got to see more of this.” [Laughs]

Alexander Skarsgård on True Blood and The Giver