True Blood alum on coaching gay sex scenes, his outsider perspective, and Tarzan vs. Farrah Fawcett
Alexander Skarsgård sure knows how to offset the uproar over his missing loincloth in The Legend of Tarzan.
“I’m actually wearing it right now,” teases Skarsgård, joking about the brouhaha regarding this Tarzan’s more civilized article of clothing as he portrays the jungle warrior in Warner Bros.’ new take on a classic tale.
“I do all my phoners in a loincloth.”
“Phoners or… ?” I ask, hinting at the obvious rhyme.
The 39-year-old True Blood alum beams, cracking up. “Exactly! I do all my boners in loinclothes.”
And that’s just the beginning of our revealing conversation, which leads to all sorts of places: being poisoned by Lady Gaga, how other straight men should approach a gay sex scene (“dive in”), and why – after giving us his best Farrah Fawcett impersonation last year – shooting The Legend of Tarzan “was nothing compared to that night in drag.”
So, I don’t know if you know this, but gay men love you.
They do. Is that surprising to hear?
Well, I don’t know. I’ve always been… I don’t know how to answer that question, but thank you. That’s very flattering to hear. It’s always been the most natural thing to me because my uncle and godfather is a gay man and so growing up, even as a little toddler, it was just as natural as being straight. My aunt would show up with her husband and my uncle would show up with his husband. He was, by far, out of my father’s four siblings (Alexander’s father is actor Stellan Skarsgård), the most fashionable and the most trendy, cool guy. So, when I was a kid, he was the one I looked up to. I thought he was really badass: fit and awesome and cool, and obviously not because he was gay.
When I became a teenager and the kids made fun of other teenagers who were gay, I never really understood that. It just baffled me because my idol, my godfather, was gay, and he was the coolest guy I knew. I just couldn’t understand how that could be an insult.
That kind of personal relationship can change everything for somebody.
I agree. And I think a lot of the xenophobia and fear comes from that, from not having a personal connection. People that know someone close that they love who is homosexual or bisexual are more likely to sympathize with people in the LGBT community.
The Legend of Tarzan is, in part, about making your own family. How might that resonate with the LGBT community?
In a way, he’s lost between two worlds, he doesn’t fit in. He’s adopted by these apes, and even though emotionally he’s an equal and he’s loved, he can feel that he’s different. Then he goes to London and it’s kind of the same. He looks like people around him, but he also doesn’t fit in there either. That sense of being an outsider and trying to fit in or finding your home and your place in the world – it’s interesting to explore that. He’s a character who, on the surface, has it all – this gorgeous, wonderful wife; incredible wealth; beautiful mansion – but people don’t understand him, really, and his heart is still in the jungle.
Have you ever felt like an outsider?
I can relate to the feeling of being somewhere between two worlds. I was born and raised in Stockholm, but I’ve lived in the States for 12 years. In a way, I feel at home when I go to Stockholm, but it hasn’t been my permanent home for 12 years. So, there are a lot of things that make me feel like an outsider: cultural references, the music scene, the arts scene, theater, what’s going on back home in movies; other references make me feel out of touch too.
The States have been my home for the last 12 years, but I also don’t have any deep emotional connection to the place because I wasn’t here as a kid. So walking around the streets of Stockholm, every single street corner will mean something because it had a profound impact on my formative years. I’ll be like, “Oh, that street corner is where that girl broke up with me when I was 13,” or, “That’s where I had that fight with my best friend.” I live in New York now and all my memories in New York are from the past 10, 15 years. Obviously, in Tarzan the two worlds are a bit more extreme! (Laughs)
There are no apes on the loose in New York that I am aware of.
(Laughs) Yes, it’s slightly more dramatic. But that is my job as an actor – to find something, even if it’s on a more microscopic level, that allows me to tap into and understand the character on a larger scale.
What do you think starring alongside Lady Gaga in her “Paparazzi” video did for your gay following?
I have no idea – I wasn’t famous at all. I wore a wig in the first season of True Blood, so no one ever recognized me. But my friend Jonas Åkerlund is a tremendous music video director and called me and said, “Hey, I’m directing this video for an artist. Her name is Lady Gaga.” I’d heard her name but didn’t know much about her. He just basically pitched me the idea: “You throw her off the balcony and then she comes back and she poisons you.” (Laughs) It sounded like a fun love story, so of course I said yes. I had a super fun day.
How did portraying someone who is pansexual on True Blood, a show rife with queer characters and storylines, influence the way you view sexuality?
It was just one of the most profound experiences ever. Just liberating. Even though there’s shit loads of nudity on the show, it never felt gratuitous. I think that’s when, as an actor, you feel uncomfortable, if you’re standing there with your clothes off and you’re not quite sure why.
Like if you’d been wearing that loincloth in Tarzan.
That’s why I wear nothing in all the flashbacks… because that would make sense! If it makes sense, it’s not an issue; you just have to do it.
In 2006’s Kill Your Darlings, you played a transvestite. Then, during the premiere of Diary of a Teenage Girl last year, you went in full-on drag as Farrah Fawcett. How would you describe the feeling of putting on women’s clothing?
I loved it. It was so much fun. On that movie, Diary of a Teenage Girl, our first AD was a drag queen by the name of Cousin Wonderlette, who’s on the San Francisco scene, and there was also Lady Bear, another drag queen who was the casting director for extras on the movie. Marielle (Heller), our director, wanted to do a big premiere at the Castro Theatre because she’s from San Francisco, a lot of her friends live there and she has a lot of friends in the gay community.
So, Cousin Wonderlette and Lady Bear were gonna host the premiere and do a number from Rocky Horror Picture Show and then throw the afterparty at a gay club. Everyone was planning their outfits and talking about these crazy drag outfits they were gonna come in with. I was sitting there with my grey suit and I just felt like, “Fucking hell, this is so boring; can I play as well?” I said, “I wanna look like Farrah Fawcett.” I showed them that iconic image from the early ’80s in that golden dress with the blonde hair, so that’s what we went for. I can’t quite say that we nailed it. I mean, they did an incredible job, but I think it’s tough with a dude who’s 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. (Laughs) And with those heels, I was like 7 feet tall.
As physically demanding as shooting Legend of Tarzan was, it was nothing compared to that night in drag. Oh my god; walking around in those heels, in that super itchy, hot wig and the fake nails, I felt like Edward Scissorhands. I couldn’t even grab a drink.
Once we got to the after party at the gay club, I just kicked my heels off and walked around barefoot because I was just dying. So, I have tremendous respect for all the drag queens out there. I got a little taste of what it takes to look that fabulous.
True Blood was groundbreaking for pushing many envelopes when it came to LGBT issues and sexuality. How does it feel knowing that you were a part of a show that some deemed “too gay”?
Well, that’s ridiculous. What was so interesting about the show was that it wasn’t on the nose. It’s obviously a cultural reference and a metaphor. A lot of the storylines are metaphors for the strife people in the LGBT community experience, but it’s done in a very subtle way where people who have never met anyone who’s gay or who have prejudice toward that community would still embrace the show and would still come up (to me) and be super excited about it. They would love Lafayette – I mean, a black, gay man. What (creator) Alan (Ball) did was beautiful and it was groundbreaking because, for myself, since I was a toddler, I’ve had someone very close to me that I admire who was gay, which made that lifestyle as normal as any other lifestyle. In this instance, a lot of people who didn’t have anyone close to them in the LGBT community suddenly had someone in their living room every Sunday night that they loved.
What tips do you have for other straight men who are doing gay sex scenes?
You just have to embrace it. I had two gay sex scenes on the show. They’re incredible scenes. I loved this scene and I remember talking to Theo (Alexander), who played the Greek lover of Russell Edgington (portrayed by Denis O’Hare), and that was the first gay sex scene I had on True Blood. He’s also a straight guy and he was nervous; he had never kissed a guy before. I just said, “Look at the scene. It’s this nemesis and he comes in and then it gets seductive and you think they’re gonna make love and it gets into that and then suddenly my character stabs him in the back and he explodes. In two minutes, look at this emotional rollercoaster we’re taking the audience on. If we commit to this, it’s going to be an amazing scene and we’re going to be very happy with it forever. If we hold back, that’s when it gets awkward.”
Same thing shooting the other scene with Ryan (Kwanten) – we knew that it was coming because we shot a scene the previous year where I hypnotize him and say, like, “When you dream, dream sweet dreams of me.” Because we did it in a very seductive way, when they said “wrap” and I turned around and I saw the writers, I could just see in their eyes that they were like, “We’re definitely gonna see this dream later on in the show.” We knew it was coming. You have to think of the scene and how it fits in and hopefully be excited about the scene. Then, just dive in.
When can we expect you to do something as gay as True Blood again?
(Laughs) Well, I mean, next time I get drunk probably.
Chris Azzopardi is the editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBT wire service. He’s also the proud recipient of an “I adore you, daaahhhling!” from Mariah Carey. Reach him via his website at chris-azzopardi.com and on Twitter @chrisazzopardi.