Alexander the great... and lovely
Alexander Skarsgard may play a 1,000-year-old vampire and King of the Jungle, but he's really 'quite lovely'
It was just about the very last thing I expected. Alexander Skarsgard blushing! This is a man who doesn't appear to have any problem getting his kit off and getting up close and personal on screen.
Fans of True Blood, the TV series in which he played thousand-year-old vampire, Eric, were never denied a good look at the Skarsgard physique. And what a physique it is.
Depressingly, despite having an absolutely killer body to start with, Skarsgard still had to diet and exercise to perfect his Tarzan torso for his latest movie The Legend of Tarzan.
Director David Yates - who directed the last four Harry Potter films, as well as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them - had told me earlier that finding a great actor with an equally good body was a big ask, but Skarsgard was always his first choice.
Skarsgard wanders in to our meeting unannounced, taking me quite by surprise. There's no fanfare, no team of PRs, just this blond, 6'4" man looking like something dreamt up by the Swedish Tourist Board.
The new Tarzan is the eldest son of actor Stellan and his first wife, My, a doctor. Skarsgard began acting as a child and became quite well-known in his native Sweden before quitting the business when he hit his teens.
"Thirteen is a rough age for any kid. I was insecure, so to be in the spotlight at the same time was very uncomfortable for me," he explains.
After completing compulsory military service in Sweden, Skarsgard and a pal moved to Leeds. Why Leeds, of all places?
"We just wanted to go to England to have some fun," he explains. "A lot of people in Sweden in their 20s go to London to work in a café, or sell shoes in Oxford Street, so we wanted to avoid that. We wanted a real British experience, so we just looked on a map and went 'right, let's go to Leeds'. We had a blast, I loved it, great people. I really enjoyed it."
It was while he was in Leeds that Skarsgard decided to give acting another go, and he explains: "I remember it being fun as a kid, and I thought 'well, I'm 20 now, maybe it'll be easier - maybe I can handle it differently and deal with it and maybe see (attention) as a good thing'. That (attention) means that something that you were so invested in meant something to someone else, which is quite lovely, isn't it?"
Skarsgard uses the expression "quite lovely" a lot. That, and the fact that he blushes, are both at odds with his striking appearance and his ability to shed his clothing for the camera. Then again, like a lot of people, maybe I've been mixing Skarsgard up with his character Eric Northman from True Blood. Small wonder, as it's the role that made the actor famous and one he played for seven series over six years.
In real life there's absolutely no chance of Skarsgard lunging across the room and biting my neck (more's the pity), as he appears to be an ordinary guy - one who is quite sweet and quite funny (although his isn't a name the public immediately associate with comedy, one of Skarsgard's early roles was in Zoolander, playing dim model Meekus).
Unsurprisingly, the actor has been linked romantically with a host of gorgeous women, most recently British fashionista Alexa Chung - who is allegedly his current girlfriend. Unfortunately, he won't be drawn into telling one way or the other.
Like many emigrants, Skarsgard still regards the country of his birth as 'home', although he has lived in the US for over a decade. He says he doesn't get back to Sweden as often as he'd like but, when he does, he stays with either his mother or his father. "They both live on the same street in South Stockholm - they're divorced but the best of friends," he says.
In Sweden, Skarsgard gets to leave behind the trappings of fame, and says: "It's so lovely. I still have my childhood friends that I grew up with in South Stockholm. It's now quite trendy and expensive, but growing up it was a working-class neighbourhood. All my childhood friends are from working-class families and none of them are in the movie business - my best friend is a carpenter and another guy works at a retirement home. They know me since I was six, so there's no bullshit - they don't take that."
The Hollywood movie star doesn't get any special treatment at home either, as he is the eldest of eight (he has five siblings from his parents' marriage and another two from his father's second marriage) and three of his younger brothers are also actors. When I ask Skarsgard how he chooses his roles, he says "Money! It's true. Next question!"
He laughs and then adds: "No, it's a combination of the script, the part and the director."
With Tarzan, Skarsgard had an added incentive, one that made the "misery diet" he undertook for the role worth it. "I wanted to please my father," he confesses. "He's a massive Tarzan fan. He grew up watching Johnny Weissmuller in the 1950s and 1960s. He would save his money and every Saturday he would go to the theatre in Sweden and watch Tarzan. He was more excited about this than I was when I got it."
The rigorous 'Tarzan diet' and physical regime lasted for the length of the shoot, but the actor quite enjoyed the physical challenges.
"I had the pleasure of working with Wayne McGregor, who is one of the greatest choreographers in the world," he says. "He was with us every day on set. Exploring the physicality of the character was so much fun. It was more than just lifting weights and eating chicken breast, it was important that he was flexible and nimble, and I was doing Pilates and yoga and mapping it out."
The diet, on the other hand, was more problematic. A week before the shoot ended a lady in the costume department brought in a giant banoffee pie, and he recalls: "I didn't know what it was but everyone was enjoying it. Sam Jackson was walking around with his cake and I was like 'oh, you motherf**ker', but when we wrapped the movie they had a cold beer and a massive banoffee pie waiting for me. I started crying."
Given his history with onscreen nudity it appears he doesn't mind being objectified. It's at this point he starts to blush. To make matters worse, in my shock I say: "You're blushing!"
Of course, that makes the poor chap worse. I apologise profusely and he's incredibly gracious about it - which is really 'quite lovely'.
The Legend of Tarzan is in cinemas from July 8
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