An Overdue Appreciation Of Alexander Skarsgård, Hollywood’s Tallest Silly Little Guy

At 6’3, I’m often the tallest person in the room, especially if I’m in a room with notoriously short actors. But I’ve never felt shorter than when I was next to Alexander Skarsgård. It was years ago, back during the early (good) seasons of True Blood. I had a friend who worked at TV Guide magazine and he tipped me off that Skarsgård would be visiting the office in Manhattan for an interview to discuss the HBO vampire series, and if I loitered outside around so-and-so time, I might be able to meet him. Which I did.

This is stalker-y in retrospect (sorry!), but Skarsgård couldn’t have been nicer. He autographed my bottle of Tru Blood that I purchased at the HBO Store and we spoke about… I’m not sure what we talked about. All I remember is looking up and feeling like I was talking to a mountain. Skarsgård is only an inch taller than me, but he has the presence of someone who’s pushing 7 feet. That handsome presence, along with his obvious talent, is one of the reasons why he’s become an in-demand TV and movie star.

The other: he’s up for anything.

In Brandon Cronenberg’s (sadly R-rated) Infinity Pool, Skarsgård plays James, a struggling novelist who’s able to stay at fancy resorts after marrying rich. While on vacation in a fictional European country, James and Mia (Cleopatra Coleman) meet another couple, Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), who convince them to leave the resort compound for a day of drinking and eating — and a secret handjob. While driving back, an intoxicated James hits a farmer and instead of calling the cops, they leave his body on the road. The next day, James and Mia, as well as Gabi and Alban, are arrested. James has two options: he can be executed, or he can get cloned and have his body be killed instead, assuming he can afford it. He — well, his wife — can afford it. The cloning procedure requires James — and by proxy, Skarsgård — to be stripped down, wear a piece of plastic in his mouth that makes him look like Homer at the Re-Neducation Center, and step into goo. This is not the most physically and mentally demanding thing that happens to him in the movie. There are orgies, James has to fight a leashed dog-like version of himself (Skarsgård seemed to really enjoy this), and in a moment of public emasculation, he drinks milk from Gabi’s breast.

Mia Goth is the one being asked about “provocative” performances, and don’t get me wrong, she’s incredible in Infinity Pool (she also deserved an Oscar nomination for Pearl, but alas). The scene where she’s on the hood of a car, holding a gun at James, and nearly in tears when her bottle of wine rolls away? That’s cinema. But the scene wouldn’t be possible without a beleaguered-looking Skarsgård being open to humiliating himself.

Throughout his career, Skarsgård has shown a willingness to do whatever. Get blown up in a gasoline fight? You bet. Naked volcano fight with CGI genitals? Sure. Swing from ropes during a wildebeest stampede to rescue Margot Robbie? Obviously. Hell, I’d do that last one. But the others, not so much. He’s also watched Kong fight Godzilla; joined a Lars von Trier movie without reading the script (always risky); filmed a neo-noir thriller in freezing conditions; and been called the “king of sex scenes” for a movie where he takes a teenage girl’s virginity. On the TV side, he’s played Nicole Kidman’s abusive husband (Big Little Lies), a lascivious of himself (Atlanta), a marine (Generation Kill), an Israeli intelligence officer (The Little Drummer Girl), a Werner Herzog-type (Documentary Now), and an over-it tech mogul who’s really good at fake crying (Succession).

Then there’s the IMDb photo.

“The year before, Zac Efron had taken his shirt off. He is so sexy. I decided to also show a little bit of skin. I couldn’t take my shirt off, ’cause Zac had already done that. So I thought, well, then I’ll take my pants off, ’cause it’s equally sexy,” Skarsgård explained about the pantsless profile pic. Even when he’s being “sexy,” he’s doing it with a wink. Or as he told GQ, “I just don’t give as much of a f*ck any more.”

That not-giving-a-fuck attitude is why Skarsgård will show up to a premiere in drag or shave half his head. He won’t allow himself to be typecast as a boring hunk; he’d rather have another man suck his toes in an orgy scene than become the next Chr*s Pr*tt.

It took awhile for Skarsgård’s full range of perverse-to-playful talent to be explored, but it’s always been there. After watching Infinity Pool, I found the Tru Blood from our years-ago encounter and remembered that when he signed his name on what’s supposed to be a literal bottle of blood (perverse), he drew goofy vampire teeth into the autograph (playful). Let’s give it up for Skarsgård, Hollywood’s tallest silly little guy.