Alexander Skarsgård vs. Jonas Åkerlund


By Editors

The star of 'True Blood' and Lars Von Trier's upcoming 'Melancholia' talks with the filmmaker about the Swedish conquest of Hollywood, national differences in etiquette, and why Swedes get so much sex.

Out: Is there anything that helps define a Swedish sensibility or identity?

Skarsgård: I think it has to do with minimalism in terms of everything. There's a lot going on under the surface. It's something hidden. And that's always interesting to me. You have to dig deeper. It’s like a duck -- calm on the surface, but paddling like a motherfucker underneath.

Åkerlund: It all depends on where you are in the world. It's easier for a Swede to stick out in America than, say, Italy or France, because their personalities are so different. The one thing we learn is we don't really talk much about what we’re doing -- we just do it. And that's the biggest difference between us. In America, people talk a lot. I never talk; I just work. To me, to be on time and to deliver on time and stay on budget, and not just say, "Let's do lunch," but actually call up and book a lunch -- that makes you different.

Skarsgård: There's something about the sincerity that I miss in America. When someone asks, "What do you think of this painting?" or "How do you like these shoes?" I would take a second and actually look at the shoes or painting and say, "I like it." Some people are kind of uncomfortable with that. When you ask, "How do you like my shoes," they say, "I LOVE THEM." They say, "YOU LOOK AMAZING; I LOVE IT!" At the same time, the reason Swedes can hold back is just because they don't want you to think that you're special or great or better than they are. At least when people in the U.S. like something, they say it.

Åkerlund: That’s very true. There aren't many compliments flying around Sweden. I worked a good 10 years in Sweden before I came to America, and not once did anyone tell me I was good or that my stuff was great. And then I came to America and I heard it every day. That was the first time I actually believed in myself. But you can never return home a hero. Whatever you do is not really interesting in Sweden.

Skarsgård: Even if you have money in Sweden, it's frowned upon to show off. In L.A., you see all these people driving around in yellow Hummers and wearing rhinestone dresses, and they live in fake palaces. Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Ikea, was riding around in a beat-up old Volvo from 1980 until just a couple of years ago.

Out: Many of us have this impression of Sweden as this utopian paradise, but a lot of the arts culture is characteristically dark, from death metal to Bergman.

Åkerlund: I wouldn't say it's just that, is it? Maybe. I always thought we had a different shock level there. I didn't realize, until I came abroad, that some of the stuff I did was controversial or different or dark.

Out: So that probably makes something like True Blood, which is seen in America as pretty dark, seem relatively mild in Sweden?

Skarsgård: Very tame, very tame, by Swedish standards.