How Alexander Skarsgard Went Wild For The Northman

We talk a lot about the physical training that actors endure in order to transform their bodies for the role they're playing (in ways both admirable and problematic), be it the intense exercising and calorific intake required to achieve the average superhero bod or the extreme dieting that a Christian Bale-type goes through in order to portray sickly characters suffering from conditions like insomnia or drug addiction. Their methods for getting into the mindsets of these roles can be just as draining, particularly when they're playing serial killers, abusers, or other individuals with similarly violent tendencies.

Far from a stranger to these types of challenges, "The Northman" actor Alexander Skarsgård has made a career out of playing characters whose attractive exterior belies their inner darkness — be they fantastical in nature, like the vampire Eric Northman from "True Blood" or the crafty "Dark Man" Randall Flagg on "The Stand," or far more down-to-Earth like the abusive Perry Wright on "Big Little Lies." He's also done hardcore workouts for his projects in the past, like the time he spent three months eating 7,000 calories a day and packing on 25 pounds of muscle for "The Legend of Tarzan."

The actor endured another grueling workout regime for "The Northman," a film in which he plays Amleth, a Viking warrior prince who seeks revenge against his uncle Fjölnir (Claes Bang) for murdering his father and taking control of his kingdom. In a way, the role of Amleth has Skarsgård combining his powers of acting, not only by tapping into his vicious side but also by getting into the mentality of an animal, much like he did portraying the King of the Jungle.

'We all have that, an inner animal, a beast!'

"The Northman" director Robert Eggers is accustomed to putting his actors through the wringer in his movies, whether that means pulling them into the mental state of 17th century Puritans in "The Witch" or having them get down in the dirt (quite literally) like he did on "The Lighthouse." In the case of his Viking revenge epic, Eggers had his cast channel their animalistic side in order to unleash their full Nordic might, with Skarsgård delivering a performance that /Film's Hoai-Tran Bui describes as "alternately stoic, soulful, and full-on feral" in her review of the film.

Speaking to the AV Club, Skarsgård discussed what it was like going truly "wild" for the movie:

"Yeah. I mean, [one of the character's names] is Bjorn, which means bear-wolf. So preparation was both mental and physical. I wanted to put on some weight. I wanted Amleth, when he moves through the village, he's shed his humanity and become a beast. It was important to see that in his eyes, he was a predator. I had to be nimble and flexible like a wolf, but have the kind of weight and confidence of a bear."

No surprise, it sounds like the actor very much enjoyed getting to pretend he was a man-bear-wolf (wait, wasn't that a villain on "Riverdale?"):

"A lot of it had to do with just letting go of inhibitions and allowing yourself to open up and just explore. We all have that, an inner animal, a beast! There's something quite atavistic in all of us. I, for one, am quite naturally mellow and don't explore that animalistic side very often. So it was quite cathartic to just open up and let him out."

It probably wasn't all that hard for Skarsgård to unleash his "inner animal" on-set, either, with much of "The Northman" filming in chilly, muddy, treacherous locations around Ireland in the coldest months of 2020. Eggers has further assured that "nobody was method" during the movie's production, which is good to hear — not only because it's an unnecessary approach that has often led to actors and filmmakers engaging in outright abusive behavior, but (on a lighter note) the last thing anybody needs is an extra-beefy Skarsgård running amok thinking he's part-wolf when the cameras aren't rolling.

"The Northman" opens in theaters on April 22, 2022.