Alexander Skarsgard is hungry for flesh. “I need some protein,” the actor best known for playing a vampire says, scanning the menu at Vandaag in the East Village. He’s just completed 30 six-minute-long interviews via satellite to promote his new movie, Straw Dogs, and he is ravenous. “It was insane,” he says of the local-TV feeding frenzy in between gulps of a hen smørrebrød. “They can see you, but you can’t see them. So you just sort of watch the camera, and it’s nonstop: Here’s Tony in San Diego. You’re like, ‘Hey, Tony! You have five questions!’ ‘You’re on with morning news in Houston.’ ‘Good morning, Houston!’ ‘Meredith in Minneapolis!’ ‘Meredith, what’s up!’ Then Access Hollywood runs in …” he pauses for breath and apologizes. “Right now my brain is so fried. I’ve been talking about myself since eight this morning. And I’m a narcissist, so of course I love it, but it also gets to the point where …” He trails off. “I mean, it’s all good, but it’s so surreal. It almost feels like you’re watching yourself, like you’re in a movie. You’re just like, Is this really happening?”
It is, in fact, really happening, and he’s also in several movies. Skarsgard, a Swede, had had small roles in America (notably as a happy but witless male model in Zoolander) before his career-making gig as Eric Northman, the vampire sheriff on True Blood, started in 2008. He might have been able to get by on the strength of the fact that he is, in Zoolander parlance, really, really, really ridiculously good-looking, a Norse god with abs of steel and the delectable coloring of vanilla ice-cream. But his Eric also has a hint of a soul behind the eyes, a sensitive curve to his lip, and an expression that suggests he’s not sure if he wants to kiss you or eat you alive. And he’s sorry, but he might end up doing both.
Women dig this shit. Ask our waitress. In person, Skarsgard is less physically imposing than he is on-screen. He’s tall but gangly, with a goofy Scando-Cajun accent and two-day stubble covering an overbite that might, come to think of it, be partially responsible for that on-screen vulnerability. Still, the server’s hand trembles as she fills his glass, until she stops abruptly when he informs her that actually he was drinking sparkling. There’s something a little intimidating about a man who can channel evil so convincingly. “Don’t worry, it’s fine,” he says, looking up at her with his unsettlingly blue eyes. She looks like she might dissolve into a pile of ash. “Really,” he insists, smiling gently.
For the remake of Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 shocker Straw Dogs, the action has been moved from the English countryside to a small town on the Katrina-hobbled Gulf Coast. Skarsgard plays Charlie Venner, the local underemployed alpha male, whose clash with a yuppie couple (Kate Bosworth and James Marsden) that cruise into town in a Jaguar to renovate an old house turns horribly violent. As in the original, the class resentments that underpin the film make it unnervingly relevant to Our Time, and that the cast is stacked with pouty-lipped young things, including a girl from The O.C., also seems cheeky in the Us Weekly era: What are celebrities if not the sacrificial beasts of the title, treated with reverence, then cruelly tossed aside when their time is up?
Skarsgard could be one of them. He’s been among People’s sexiest men alive for two years running. Newly single after breaking up with Kate Bosworth, he spent Labor Day weekend downing shots in the Hamptons “surrounded by adoring women,” according to the Post. But he’s adamant about being more than the sum of his pecs. “I’m not interested in parts where they are looking for a good-looking guy,” he says. “I want to be a weird little sidekick in a crazy comedy and then play like a dark drama or a thriller.”
Most actors typecast as weird little sidekicks would probably kill to have such problems, but it’s true that other than his lead in the upcoming action flick Battleship, in which he insists he plays a “a real character,” he’s gone for fairly unconventional projects. He’s in New York filming What Maisie Knew, a Henry James adaptation, with Julianne Moore. Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, in which he plays a befuddled man getting married to super-depressive Kirsten Dunst on the eve of the apolcalypse, comes out this fall. Even Straw Dogs is something Brad Pitt might have done when he made Kalifornia. Skarsgard’s character, Charlie, has shades of Eric: even though you know right away he’s bad news, he still manages to glamour you into trusting him right up till he commits a brutal rape. This is a difference from the original, in which Charlie is a menacing lug throughout. “When I read the script, I saw that the character could just be a villain,” he says. “I wanted him to be more three-dimensional and understandwho he was ten years ago, the dreams and ambition—what he has lost.”