So what about Skarsgard’s own background made his character? He’s one of seven children of actor Stellan Skarsgard (Good Will Hunting, Breaking the Waves), and he acted as a kid in films and TV. The early notoriety “made me really insecure,” he says. “I got paranoid—it actually got to the point where I assumed if someone was giggling, it was at me.” But eventually he decided to give it another shot. “I didn’t want to wake up 65 and bitter,” he says. As an adult, “I found it to be such an interesting exploration. All the characters I play are all inside of me in a way, and they’re all different, the darkness, the lightness, whatever that is.”
These days he’s come to terms with the attention, though he’s not entirely comfortable with it. At lunch, he stops talking every time the waitress comes near, and after the six or seventh time she’s refilled our water, he jokes “That’s one of the perks, when you get famous,” he says dryly. “You get a lot of free water.” And in interviews, he reveals almost nothing.
In Straw Dogs, there’s a scene where Marsden, who plays a nebbishy screenwriter but still possesses the physique of the Versace model he once was, rams up against Skarsgard’s bare-chested villain. It’s like watching a cocker spaniel run into a glass door. He bounces right off him. Talking to Skarsgard is a similar experience. When I ask him what he reads, “Everything from fiction to nonfiction” was his non-answer, and when I pressed, he resisted elaboration for a full three minutes. “I just think I have very eclectic taste, from like, fucking Nabokov to Tom Friedman, his stuff, Hot Flat and Crowded or something.” Silence, piercing stare.
Skarsgard has either figured out a way to avoid falling into the trap actors all say they want to avoid—where their personality overpowers the characters they play—or maybe he’s just kind of empty. As I’m pondering this, another long silence falls across the table. Then he breaks it with a chuckle. “You feel like you know me now?” he asks.
Not really, I say, no.
“Good,” he says with a fangless grin. “Then I have succeeded!”