Alexander Skarsgård Reveals How Extreme Challenges Ground Him

Techno thriller ‘The Hummingbird Project’ tells a tale of two tech entrepreneurs who want to hack time by building a fibre-optic cable line from Kansas to New Jersey, in order to get the drop on electronic exchange traders and make millions. Alexander Skarsgård, the 6ft4 Swede whose big break was in HBO’s gritty Iraq War series, ‘Generation Kill’, transforms into the nerdy Anton for his role.

We met him to find out why he quit acting and joined the Swedish Army at 19, how it felt to ski 208 miles to the South Pole with Britain’s Prince Harry, and whose idea his dodgy barnet was in ‘The Hummingbird Project’.

RSNG It’s almost hard to recognise you in The Hummingbird Project – that hair! How was the physical transformation for you? AS ‘That’s what we do. It’s part of the job and that’s how I saw the character when I read the script. Fortunately, Kim felt the same way and it wasn’t difficult to convince him to go in that direction. It was incredibly fun to shape that and work with Kim on that and with Valérie (Levesque, the film’s costume designer) on his outfits and work on his posture and it was great, I loved it.’

We would go on these survival training missions that were just brutal

RSNG What are your thoughts about the technological theme of the movie? AS ‘It’s not the scope of what they are actually doing, although that is fascinating – and I’m not into technology either. But the fact that these two guys embark on this endeavour to build a tunnel from Kansas City to New York is just so insane, that it’s just so difficult not to find that mesmerising.’

RSNG Long before you became an actor as an adult, you were a child star in Sweden? AS ‘I always loved acting as a kid and the reason I quit acting at 13 was because of all the attention and everything that had nothing to do with acting. I did a film in Sweden The Dog That Smiled and it was a big success – that's when the problems started.

‘The paparazzi were camping outside our house and I noticed that people at school were treating me differently, and that was making me very comfortable and miserable. I wanted to be a regular kid and be able to go out drinking and playing football with my friends. I also hated the idea that magazines and newspapers were printing stories about me. So, I went to my dad and told him that I wanted to quit. And I did.’

RSNG What was your father's reaction? AS ‘He was great about it. The main thing he said to me was that if I was going to quit, I should be completely sure about my decision. He also told me – which was kind of a warning about the acting business in general – that if I was lucky, I would be able to make movies all around the world. But the chances were that I wouldn't be able to earn a living at it, which was the case with almost all his actor friends who were very talented but couldn't find enough work.’

RSNG Your dad has enjoyed a very successful Hollywood career and is a legend in your home country – do you ever feel that you're operating under his shadow? AS ‘No. I've always believed that it was very important for me to find my own way in the business. I wanted to be able to make my own mistakes and not rely on my father's advice even though he's very supportive of me and would have gladly helped me in any way he could. I was very stubborn about wanting to find my way on my own because I have so much admiration for my dad and he's really a friend as much as he is a father to me.

RSNG What was the best advice your father ever gave you about acting? AS ‘He always said, “Do it if you love it!” I was a child actor and quit when I was thirteen, but he never pushed me to keep going. He said to me, “if there are options out there, if there are alternatives, go explore those. Go and do this if you have absolutely no other option.”’

‘I quit for eight years and I found my own way back, and that was definitely the best piece of advice he gave me because when I was thirteen, I was getting offers after I did something that got some attention in Sweden. But back then, if I did do it, I would have done it just to please my father and I'm pretty sure that would have turned me off acting for good.’

RSNG How important is it to speak up in Hollywood for strong women? AS ‘The next few years are very important because the spotlight is on, but when it’s not the novelty wears off. When it’s in the news for a while, how do you sustain that? So, what happens when it wears off and people say that it was just something that happened in 2017 and now, we’re back to status quo. That’s why I think that it is important to keep focusing on it.’

RSNG You joined the Swedish military when you were 19 – what was behind that decision? AS ‘It was something I needed to do and wanted to do for myself. It involved very tough training and we would go on these survival training missions that were brutal. But it made me much tougher and more disciplined and I also met a lot of interesting guys. The mentality was very aggressive, though, and after a while I knew that I wasn't going to pursue a military career. Still, it was a very valuable experience.’

RSNG You spent some time living in England after your military service in Sweden. Why did you decide to go to Leeds as opposed to London, for example? AS ‘I had a lot of friends in London and many Swedes like to go there after they finish college. I decided to go to Leeds because it was not as cosmopolitan or international as London and there aren't as many tourists or foreign people living in Leeds. I wanted to live in a very English kind of environment, and I had an amazing time in Leeds. I'll never forget that.’

You need to separate yourself from a place in order to truly appreciate it

RSNG What about your Antarctic voyage? Did you remain close with Prince Harry? AS ‘Really great experience, we were out there for a month with literally nothing, unbelievable experience, we all became so close because it was such an extreme situation. Now I really want to do the North Pole, which I guess could make me bipolar but that window is quite short, you can do that for a few weeks in April because of the ice. I'd like to go up to Northern Iceland.’

RSNG You clearly like to challenge yourself to the extreme, is that something you've always been interested in? AS ‘I think the extremes are really those things that connect us with the familiar. That may sound like a strange thing to say, but there is nothing that can feel more like home when you return from having been away. You need to separate yourself from a place in order to truly appreciate it.’

‘Growing up in a very urban, busy, hectic, concrete-type place like South Stockholm was a good thing for me because it grounded me right from the start. I would much rather have grown up in. a place like that with the contrast being to go off and discover different places and different landscapes, than to have done it the other way around where being in a busy place was in some way scary or alien. I like the contrasts of different places and am glad I have experienced them in the order that I have, as well as doing things such as joining the Navy for a year-and-a-half down in the archipelago which is a very different environment to what I'm used to.’

‘The trek across Antarctica was another wonderful extreme – being disconnected from everything, being without a cell phone or Wi-Fi signal; that will always be good for me.’

WHAT NEXT? Watch the trailer for The Hummingbird Project.