Why Alexander Skarsgård Always Thinks He’s Going to Be Fired

“It’s not about wanting to show I’m versatile. It’s just feeling that excitement of not knowing who a character is but figuring it out and finding him.” – Alexander Skarsgård

Despite being the son of successful actor Stellan Skarsgård and an actor with an impressive, Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgård says that he doesn’t actually “feel” like an actor. He tells The Guardian that part of that comes from a lack of confidence, and another part comes from a certain embarrassing video from his past… one that has actually helped him more than it has hurt him.

Skarsgård recalls a particularly noteworthy “performance” from his past at a sporting event that he  initially wished wasn’t made public. He says, “I was shitfaced. I went up in front of the crowd and started doing this chant. Someone put it on YouTube. I’m very drunk, going: ‘You fucking cunts, listen to me!’ I thought: ‘This is real embarrassing.’”

But Skarsgård’s agent turned that negative into a positive when Skarsgård was up for the role in The Legend of Tarzan. He explains, “Warner Bros had said they needed someone primal and animalistic. So my agent sent them the video, saying: ‘Isn’t this motherfucker primal enough for you?’”

Even after Tarzan the vulgar video continued to help Skarsgård’s career. The Guard and Calvary filmmaker John Michael McDonagh cast Skarsgård as an alchoholic detective in his movie War on Everyone after seeing the video. He says, “He saw the video and went: ‘That’s the guy.’ It got me the job. The moral of the story is: Make a fool of yourself and people will love you. Remember that, kids.”

Though the well-built Skarsgård had done plenty of roles that require him to be shirtless, he has made an effort to play different types of roles throughout his career. He admits, “It’s not about wanting to show I’m versatile. It’s just feeling that excitement of not knowing who a character is but figuring it out and finding him.”

Even when he is starring in a big-budget film like Tarzan, Skarsgård says he doesn’t approach his roles any differently. He says, “I work mostly in independent movies so the scope of Tarzan was definitely different. I didn’t feel pressured [by the box office demands] though. It wasn’t like: ‘Oh fuck, this is a big movie.’ It was an incredible experience, but it was also nine months of just gym, work and bed. I didn’t have a sip of alcohol. It was robotic.”

That doesn’t mean Skarsgård has confidence in his ability as an actor. When he was cast in his first major role on the TV mini-series Generation Kill, he was constantly worried that he was going to get fired. He recalls, “It was only after four or five weeks I realized they weren’t going to recast. Before that all I could think about was how much it would cost them to re-shoot the big fight scenes after they fired me.” He still felt that way when shooting Tarzan, explaining, “That shit doesn’t change. I felt like that on Tarzan. I was on set thinking: ‘When is the director going to come over and say: Dude, you can go home. We’ve got Tarzan here now.’ That was 10 years after Generation Kill.”

In fact, Skarsgård doesn’t think he’ll ever be able to shake that feeling of being something of an imposter. He says, “I mean, fuck, I still wake up shivering in the fetal position. I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunities I get. Getting drunk on someone else’s dime listening to Abba is brilliant, but my life is still shit. I’m still agonizing. What the fuck am I doing with my life? Where do I belong? Who gives a fuck? Let me assure you, it doesn’t get any better.”