The scene requires Skarsgård and fellow cast member, English actress Rebecca Hall, to endure an explosion that violently rocks the craft, positioned on a gimble, then survey the battle scene below. Before the scene begins Skarsgård listens intently to notes from director Adam Wingard and takes some deep breaths, as if he’s preparing for a 150kg deadlift. Someone yells action. The gimble rocks furiously for a few seconds before steadying. “Looks like round two goes to Kong,” says Skarsgård, before Wingard yells cut.
Between takes Skarsgård sprays himself with an Evian bottle before turning to young co-star Kaylee Hottle, who’s seated in the back of the cockpit.
“Have you ever tried menthol for tears?” he asks. “If you have to pretend to be sad about monsters that aren’t here, use menthol. Take a menthol stick home and every time your parents say you can’t do something, you spray.”
For the next take, Wingard instructs the actors to appear both “relieved and stunned”. The gimble duly starts shaking and Skarsgård repeats his line. “Nailed them both,” he jokes to Hall afterwards.
After the scene wraps, Skarsgård walks across the soundstage floor and is briefly silhouetted against the studio lights. You’re instantly struck by his rangy frame. He’s wearing a latex suit with parachute straps to play geologist Dr Nathan Lind, a geek with a love of ’80s action movies, who finds himself with ringside seats to the biggest rumble in the so-called ‘MonsterVerse’.
“I wanted to find his idiosyncrasies and avoid the stereotypical action hero because that wasn’t very appealing to me and I thought it would be way more interesting if the guy is not equipped for that and is thrown into that role,” the 44-year-old says later of his mild-mannered character. “It makes his journey more interesting if he’s not a tough guy, he’s not an ex-marine. He’s a geologist, so for him to get thrown into this is scary. I thought it would be fun to play him that way because then the stakes would be higher for the audience as well. They can see he’s out of his depth there. He has no idea what he’s doing.”
The son of legendary Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård (Breaking The Waves, Good Will Hunting, Avengers: Age of Ultron), Skarsgård divides his time between Stockholm and Hollywood. His siblings are also actors, most notably, Bill (Pennywise), who was due to star alongside Alexander in upcoming Viking saga The Northman, but had to drop out due to scheduling problems.
The two haven’t appeared together since 2000’s White Water Fury and are rarely up for the same films, let alone roles, Skarsgård says.
“That could be tough if you were super excited about something and you want it and then your brother gets it,” he jokes. “Because if you don’t get a job, you don’t want to be at Christmas dinner hearing your brother talk about how amazing that experience was.”
As it is, it looks like this Christmas he’ll be telling Bill about his experience watching two iconic monsters duke it out in the mother of all monster mashups. The role is an exhilarating departure from the serious, sometimes dark roles that Skarsgård’s been playing the last couple of years, most notably perhaps, domestic abuser Perry Wright on Big Little Lies, for which he collected Golden Globe, Prime Time Emmy and Screen Actors’ Guild awards.
While you might think a big-budget action flick would be creatively stifling, Skarsgård relishes the opportunity to exercise his range and keep challenging himself. “It’s tonally quite different from what I’ve been doing,” he admits. “I’ve been doing smaller indies and slightly more cerebral projects and also quite dark, intense subject matter. It’s not so much about ‘I want to do this and then I want to do that’ to show that I can, it’s just a way more fun way of working. It’s easy to get stereotyped and pigeonholed. If you’re lucky enough to jump between genres and different types of characters, then you’d be crazy if you didn’t embrace that.”
Skarsgård’s IMDB is certainly eclectic, with roles ranging from thousand-year-old vampire Eric in True Blood, to stoic commando, Brad ‘Iceman’ Colbert, in Generation Kill. “It’s always nice to work on something that different from what you’ve done in the past because that will just ignite something and it’s not repetitive,” he says. “Those are always the most fun contrasts, the dichotomies. A couple of years ago I did Tarzan and Diary of a Teenage Girl back-to-back and they’re so diametrically opposite in scale and tone. I had an amazing time on both of them and it’s so fun to go from one to the other.”
When it comes to choosing roles, Skarsgård looks for material that’s not only going to push him in new directions but is also enjoyable. It’s that sense of fun, he says, that fosters creativity.
“I just want to have a good time,” he says, smiling. “And I also want to learn and grow from every experience. Most importantly, I think if I go into a project and I’m not super excited about it, it’s not a good place to start because creatively you’re not going to give 100 per cent. Even if you try to give 100 per cent, you won’t because you’re not completely open. I find if I read a script and I know the character, like I totally get the character and how to play it, there’s no sense of discovery and that doesn’t trigger creativity. You just step in there and do it.”
True to his word, Skarsgård’s character in his next project, The Northman, couldn’t be more different from Nathan, the geeky geographer. At the same time, you could say it’s a role he was born to play: a ripped Nordic prince.
Godzilla v Kong is in cinemas now