New Alex interview: Alexander Skarsgård gives ‘Legend of Tarzan’ body and soul
by Randy Cordova
Thanks, Randy, for letting us know about this great interview!
Alexander Skarsgård, best-known for playing a bad-boy vampire on HBO’s “True Blood,” takes on the title role in “The Legend of Tarzan.” For him, it’s something of a dream come true. His father, actor Stellan Skarsgård (“Mamma Mia,” “Good Will Hunting”), introduced him to the stories as a child, and he took them to heart.
Skarsgård, 39, was born and raised in Stockholm, but has lived full-time in the States since 2004. That duality makes him a good fit to play Tarzan, who survives among both jungle creatures and the British elite in the 1800s. A friendly Skarsgård called to plug the movie and discuss the killer workout routine that gave him the Tarzan physique.
Question: You’re Swedish, and you usually speak like an American. In this film, you have a British accent. What’s your natural way of talking?
Answer: (Sounding American) It would depend where I am, I guess. If I’m in the States, this is it. If I’m in Sweden, it’s (speaking Swedish). I don’t speak English in Sweden, so it’s hard to say. And I’d never played a Brit before. Not that Tarzan is British, but he comes from a British family. I figured it was important to give him a good British accent because he’s good at mimicking and sounds in general.
Q: Is it true your father is a big fan of Tarzan?
A: That’s the only reason I did it. (Laughing.) No, not really, but I am a big fan of Tarzan because of my father. He is the one who introduced me to the Johnny Weissmuller movies. When I first heard about this role, my first thought was, “Oh, my dad is going to love this.”
Q: What did you think when you got the script?
A: It was so different the old movies, and so different from the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels. I thought Adam Cozad wrote an interesting script, and very surprising. I didn’t let my dad read it. I’m going to Stockholm in about two weeks, and they’re going to do a premiere. Everyone is going to be so excited.
Q: So, did you try to get your dad a small part in the movie?
A: (Laughing.) He auditioned for Akut (Tarzan’s ape “brother”), but he wasn’t quite tough enough.
Q: Speaking of Akut, were you disappointed that there were no live animals used in the film?
A: No, I knew that early on. They can’t really shoot scenes like that with real animals. Even in the first meeting, I didn’t know if it would be motion capture or CGI, but I knew it wouldn’t be real animals. I did have an opportunity to work with real animals before in preparation. I went to this place in California and spent a day with some big, massive male lions and couple of cheetahs and leopards. Then I got to go to a gorilla sanctuary in England, which was just the most incredible experience. It was just kind of a humbling experience to be that close to a gorilla. When you lock eyes, it’s very profound.
Q: Is it scary?
A: I was a couple of inches away from a silverback, and it’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever experienced. It wasn’t scary at all. When he looked at me … I don’t know how to describe it. It felt like he kind of understood me, and saw straight to my soul (laughing). Really, it’s like he just cut through all the bull (expletive) and I felt completely, emotionally naked. It wasn’t intimidating at all, but had he wanted it to be, it would have been, obviously. It was very pure.
Q: You’re always in shape, but you look amazing in this movie. Did you have to train?
A: I’ve never done anything to this extent before. I’m quite an active guy in general. I like to go for a run or go the gym, but I’d never worked with a trainer before or with a special diet before. It was all new to me, and it was kind of all-consuming. It was eight months of a very strict way of eating and very regimented training.
Q: How does that work?
A: We did it in phases. For about three months, it was 7,000 calories a day. I would just eat and lift weights to put on weight. I put on muscle mass and fat. Then about six to seven weeks before we started filming, it switched to six smaller meals a day, and the training changed quite a bit as well, to more agility work, more yoga, more Pilates. This guy is not a body builder, and when he’s back in the jungle, it has to look like he’s in his natural habitat. It was very important to me that every muscle had to be there to serve this person in the wild.
Q: Do you still have that body?
A: (Laughing) No, the day we wrapped the movie, I was back on a normal diet and drinking alcohol. Then about six months later they added a short scene, and asked if I could go back on the diet and training for maybe three months, so I had to go back and do it all again.
Q: Do you miss that body?
A: Not really. I miss the experience. Well, that’s maybe not right. I was very glad to do it, and I got to work with some phenomenal trainers and a wonderful movement guy and choreographer. I enjoyed the challenge, because I had never done anything like this before. It was kind of exciting in a way, but yeah, I think I more prefer a somewhat more balanced lifestyle, where I can stay somewhat healthy but I eat what I want and drink what I want.
Q: That’s the physical side of Tarzan. How do you make him feel like a real person?
A: Growing up with the apes, he is one of them: Akut is his brother, and Kala is his mother, but he knows he’s different. He’s an outsider. When he goes to London, he’s kind of lost between two worlds. On a more psychological level, he is both man and beast. That is a dichotomy that kind of defines what it’s like to be human.
Q: That feeling of being outsider — do you have that as a European who now lives in the States?
A: A little bit. In a way, I’m (lost) between two worlds. I was born and raised in Stockholm, but the United States has been my home for 13 years. In the States and in Sweden, I’m a little bit of an outsider in both places. (Laughing) It’s not quite as extreme as it for Tarzan, but as an actor, you try to find something you can relate to, even at the (tiniest) stage.
Sources: Randy Cordova for azcentral.com (x), Photo: TeamCoco twitter (x)