Alexander Skarsgård, born in ’76, is the oldest of eight children. Two of his brothers are working actors, with Bill appearing in the Netflix series Hemlock Grove and Gustaf playing the role of Floki in the History Channel’s Vikings. Skarsgård’s mother, My Skarsgård, is a physician in Stockholm who specializes in working with addicts. His father, Stellan Skarsgård, is a veteran of the Stockholm stage and such Scandinavian films as Lars von Trier’s Breaking the Waves.
In recent years, Stellan has made a place for himself in Hollywood as a key cast member in two separate blockbuster series, The Avengers and Pirates of the Caribbean. At the same time, after 35 years of marriage, he and his wife split up. Stellan now has two sons with his second wife, Megan Everett Skarsgård.
Stellan and Alexander faced off against each other, to good effect, in von Trier’s apocalyptic nightmare, Melancholia, a 2011 film that includes a line that pushes the bleakness of Scandinavian drama to its limit: “All I know is, life on earth is evil.”
In the movie, the Skarsgård père plays a gamey rogue, while Alexander, smiling sweetly, is a submissive groom who understands little about his bride-to-be, a spirited depressive played by Kirsten Dunst.
As actors in that one, both Skarsgårds did what they usually do to win over audiences: Stellan went out and grabbed them, Jack Nicholson–style, with his sharp tongue and glinting eyes, while Alexander drew them in by keeping himself quiet in his body and gentle in his speech. The father conquers. The son seduces.
Henry-Alex Rubin, the director of Disconnect, compares Alexander to a long-ago Swedish actor-director who got his start in the silent era: “He’s less like his father,” Rubin says, “and more like Victor Sjöström in Wild Strawberries—a great Swedish actor who did a lot with very little. As opposed to a lot of Americans, who come from the Stella Adler school, Alex comes from the Swedish school of doing a lot with very little. There are a lot of shots [in Disconnect] where he does absolutely nothing on screen. Just a tiny shift in the eyes. And that’s his choice.
“True Blood capitalizes on his brooding, mysterious quality, but in real life Alex is very sweet and thoughtful and even kind of boyish. At festivals or when we’re out socially, I watch as he spends his time taking pictures with these middle-aged housewives and grannies. It’s little things like him bending at the knees, not to dwarf them in pictures. It reminds me of what I’ve read about James Dean, how respectful he was around women, which is a contradiction, because he was such a handsome boy. In a similar way, Alex doesn’t act like a handsome lady-killer. He’s very respectful, and that’s something you wouldn’t expect, because women find him to be a sex symbol, and he’s got these screaming True Blood fans. But he doesn’t exploit or even take advantage of his looks, and I think that’s telling.
“He has never said this to me, but I imagine he is tired of playing a vampire and wants to explore different sides of himself. I think, in the past, he has been underestimated, which is a great place to be, because then you can blow people away.”
Rubin has been out on the town with Skarsgård as well and reports, “He’s a really loving drunk. I probably shouldn’t say that, but you know how people’s personalities come out when they’re drunk.”
The director also talked about the filming of a key scene in Disconnect, when Skarsgård’s character finally loses it: “When he broke down and cried like a baby, even the crew was shocked. He really cracked—and when he cried, it was real. It wasn’t fake crying. He reached inside. He went in deep and he found it and he cracked. It was very emotional to experience, watching him do that on set. I imagine that it is difficult for anyone in Swedish culture, because they are incredibly restrained people who don’t often wear their emotions on their sleeves.”