Alexander Skarsgård says making new ‘Tarzan’ was an ‘amazing experience’

08.06.15 2 years ago

Anyone worried about how Alexander Skarsgård”s career was going to turn out after “True Blood” can breathe easy.  He”s doing just fine.

The 38-year-old actor has wrapped a number of intriguing films since the HBO TV series shuttered including David Yates” “Tarzan” (Yates first film since the “Harry Potter” series ended), John Michael McDonagh's “War on Everyone” (McDonagh”s follow up to “Cavalry”) and the horror flick “Hidden.”  Most importantly, he's earned a ton of critical acclaim for his work in Marielle Heller”s “The Diary of a Teenage Girl” which debuted at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival and is finally hitting theaters in limited release this weekend.

Based on Phoebe Gloecker”s autobiographical graphic novel,  “Diary” centers on Minnie (Bel Powly), a 15-year-old girl exploring her sexuality in 1970″s San Francisco.  One of the objects of her affection is her mother”s boyfriend Monroe (Skarsgård) and their eventual affair turns out to be a major event in her adolescence.  Realizing the Sony Classics release probably needed all the publicity help it could muster, Skarsgård created quite a stir Tuesday night when he appeared in drag at the movie”s SF premiere (although there is also a much more organic explanation as well).  

Just how proud Skarsgård is of “Diary” was also evident during our interview last week.  He”s certainly never been a bad interview subject in the past (at least with this writer), but there was a positive energy emanating through the phone that was pretty impressive for a movie that has taken almost eight months to get to theaters.  Skarsgård talks in-depth about why Monroe would be so fixated with Minnie, the unexpected friend who turned him onto the project and a tone of new “Tarzan” details.

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HitFix: Hey man.  How are you doing?

Alexander Skarsgård: I'm good.  Thanks.  How are you doing?

Not too bad.  So, congratulations on the movie.

Thank you.

I was lucky enough to see it at Sundance and it sort of stuck with me ever since which I guess is now almost seven months later.  How you got involved and what convinced you to take the part?

Well, I got involved not in the traditional way through my agent, it was actually my friend Jack McBrayer, a comedian that was on “30 Rock,” I don't know if you know who that is…

Absolutely.

So, he's a dear friend of mine and when I was back in L.A. we were neighbors.  He basically said, 'My friend Marielle wrote this script, it's her first feature and I think she's really cool and really smart.  She wants you to read it.  Can I give it to you?'  And I said, 'Sure.'  And I read it and I just fell in love with the script.  I thought it was such a unique story and I loved the character.  I saw it as a real interesting challenge to try to figure out how to play Monroe in a way that wasn't too predatory — just kind of make him real and find some life in that.  And then I met Marielle and I was kind of blown away by her energy and her enthusiasm.  I mean this project has been her baby for almost a decade.  She adapted the comic book for the stage first and did a play off Broadway in New York where she played me Minnie herself and wrote the script.  It was a combination of that kind of just like being really just fallen in love with Marielle and her energy and feeling like this could be an interesting challenge to find a way of making Monroe layered and real.

You referenced how Marielle's stage play and that was her first screenplay, but at what point did you realize that her vision was so cinematic?  Because this does not have a conventional look to it at all.  It's so strikingly different.  When did you realize that that's what you guys were making?

Kind of pretty early on just by talking to her and talking about the characters and the story.  She had already started working with Sarah, the Icelandic animator who did all the animation movie.  She already had sketches and ideas like drawings from Sarah that she showed me.  I just loved the way it looked and the style. You never know but it was just a really strong gut feeling like I just felt like I really trusted her and in talking to her about Monroe and the relationship between Monroe and Minnie and the one between Monroe and Charlotte [played by Kristen Wiig].  I felt very confident that she's going to be amazing to work with.

My next question was actually about Monroe and Minnie's relationship.  Were you conscious of making sure he didn't seem predatory?  Did you want to keep him light?  Specifically during the more sexual scenes or romantic scenes, how were you framing Monroe's thoughts?

[My approach was] I think in many ways he is like a teenager himself.  I think he is desperately holding onto his youth and doesn't really want to grow up and take responsibility.  And I think there are moments where he like tries to be mature and tries to do the right thing.  When he goes to Charlotte it's like 'I'm going to work on myself and become the better man that.'  And when that doesn't work he gets drunk and pulled over for a DUI instead.  He's got all these like grand [business] plans but nothing really comes to fruition.  And I thought that could be an issue way into the character and a way of making their relationship genuine in moments.  And wanted to find those beats where it was a strong connection where it was lovely and it was beautiful and they actually saw each other and they were on the same page and really, like, connected.  It's finding moments where maybe Minnie was the one that was more responsible and in charge and he was weak and vulnerable because I wanted it to be uncomfortable for the audience.  I always think it's more interesting how [for some people] it would've been so easy to just label him as the bad guy and then to sit back, but then there's no drama.  It wouldn't be an interesting relationship to watch then.

It was more interesting if we can find a way where people felt like moments where they're like 'He's a creep.  I don't like him,' but then like followed by like something really sweet and genuine and intense and like beautiful.  It's like you're not sure how to feel about him or how to feel about the relationship.

I think one of the things that makes it works so well are there's those moments where it feels like she's breaking his heart more than he ever broke hers.  It's so unexpected and as an audience member it's sort of shocks you a little bit because you're like, 'He's this stud and whatever like he should be able to get any girl he wants'  Did you talk to Phoebe Gloeckner at all about the guy who Monroe must've been inspired by?  Did you want any of her thoughts before you shot?

Not before we shot.  She came to set so I had the pleasure of hanging out with her a bit there, but in discovering the character I didn't talk to Phoebe at all.  Marielle had obviously already knew her and had a relationship with her so for me it was more just coming up with [the character] myself and obviously based on the comic book, the Monroe from the comic book, but mostly like just talked to Marielle about him and then when Bel came on board and like just kind of figured that relationship out.  But it's obviously a fictionalized version of Monroe from the comic book.  It didn't really bother me that much.  I felt like this might be very different, but it's okay.

One of the awesome things about this film is now I'm running into members of the press who are finally seeing before it's come out and all they keep talking about is how amazing Bel is and how blown away they are by her performance.  And I'm just curious, when did you get a sense that she could pretty much pull this off?

Pretty much the first time I met her.  Marielle and I was talking about how without the perfect Minnie the movie won't work.  If you have a Minnie that's too young and too naive it will be to predatory and it won't work no matter how much I try.  It's going to feel like creepy and you just won't like him.  But at the same time you can't have someone who's too precocious or to mature and Bel has this amazing ability to play both and she kind of oscillates between that naive youthfulness and something more kind of mature and a wisdom beyond her years.  And so it was so obvious the first time I met her she had that quality.  And I'm happy to hear that, but that said I'm not surprised because she's just phenomenal in the movie and I really do think she's going to blow people away.

Before I let you go I have to ask have you finished shooting 'Tarzan' yet?

Yeah.  We're wrapped already on that one.

How did it go? How was the production?

It was an absolutely incredible experience.  We shot it in London.  It was six months of like just all consuming.  Like I didn't see friends and family for that long but it was worth every second of it because I loved the script and I loved the people I worked with.  And David Yates, the director, is just a genius. I thought it was a really interesting take on a classic story.  It's slightly different from the novel and from the old Tarzan movies where in this one you meet John Clayton when he's already in England and he's been there for almost a decade.  He's like a very much civilized cultivated Lord in Victorian England in the late 1880s.  And then he goes back to the jungle to Congo where he was born and raised and the adventure begins and slowly the layers come off.  So it's more about the beast within and kind of trying to keep that inside and then slowly it comes out rather than taming the beast.  So it's just an interesting take on it and I thought it was something that I think we could all relate to.  Because I think that dichotomy is what it's like to be a human being like having that both be, or at least trying to be civilized human beings but being civilized but at the same time also having this primal instinct of being an animal, which I think we all in a way.  So, it was an amazing experience.

One quick follow up on that.  You make it sound like you were getting into something tougher than you even thought it might have been from the beginning.  Would that be correct? 

I wouldn't say tougher, I knew that it was physically and emotionally going to be like a crazy adventure and very, very intense and a job where you kind of say goodbye to your friends and family and say, 'I'll see you in six or seven months.'  I kind of knew that it was going to be all consuming that way.  But again, when you're so passionate about what you're doing and you're working with amazing people, it's so worth it.  And it was interesting like I loved those moments, because it was pretty much back to back with 'The Diary of a Teenage Girl' and going from that like little tiny super small intimate movie to Tarzan, which is like a massive studio film?  I loved those contrasts going from something to something completely different.  Because also after 'Tarzan' I went to Albuquerque and shot a comedy with John Michael McDonagh who did 'Calvary' and 'The Guard,' pretty strange huh?

Yeah.

It was with Michael Peña and we just wrapped.  Totally and completely different from 'Tarzan.'  'Tarzan' is very intense.  The guy Terry that I play in 'War on Everyone' is a corrupt cop in Albuquerque that just does blow and drinks constantly and beats up criminals and steals their money, completely over-the-top.  I mean, when you're lucky enough to do that? Actually that's the dream.  When you're on a set and you're like, 'This is completely different from the movie I just did,' that's an ideal scenario for me.

“The Diary of a Teenage Girl” opens in New York and Los Angeles on Friday.

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