Waiting in the lobby of the Beverly Hilton, the lanky, laid-back Alexander Skarsgard bears little resemblance to the stoic, super-efficient U.S. Marine he plays in HBO's miniseries "Generation Kill," airing on Sundays. In his loose-fitting clothes, sandy blond pageboy and one-day stubble, the reported five-time Sexiest Man in Sweden honoree looks more likely to hit the beach than the enemy.
Perhaps the authenticity he brings to his role as real-life Sgt. Bradley Colbert comes in part from his stint in his homeland's military but, he says, "It's . . . Sweden. We shoot flowers. I mean, we haven't been in a war in almost 200 years. I was training for something I knew would never happen. Who's going to invade Sweden?"
If Skarsgard's name rings a bell, it should: His father, Stellan, is one of Sweden's most famous actors ("Ronin" and "Mamma Mia!" among about 100 others).
Starting himself as a child actor, Alex took a break from the craft for schooling and military service. When he returned to the screen at 20, he amassed nearly 30 credits in 10 years. But he admits his steely performance as Colbert, nicknamed "Iceman" for his cool under fire, was his greatest challenge so far.
"Colbert's such a confident guy, he knows that he's good. I had to bring that into the [audition] room; if I didn't feel that, how were they supposed to feel that?" Skarsgard says. "So I convinced myself I could do it. But then when I got the part, I got terrified. Suddenly, I was sitting there with 400 pages of script and the book and reading all these long monologues and the language was so difficult, all these words I didn't understand: 'Oscar Mike,' 'RTO,' what is this?"
For Colbert in particular, Skarsgard says he carries a "tremendous amount of respect. I wanted him to be proud of the project. But I also realized I had to make 'Brad Colbert' in the show my own," he says. "I was extremely flattered when [Colbert] said he liked it. That meant so much to me."
It's heady stuff, making a painstakingly accurate drama about events so current the smoke is still rising from the barrel. "I hope that people will realize that hundreds of thousands of men and women are over there and this is what they go through on a daily basis," Skarsgard says. "The good stuff and the bad stuff, the collateral damage and just the . . . feeling of being shot at."
Now that he's back from seven months of camo in the desert, Skarsgard will don Dolce & Gabbana as a suave, 1,000-year-old Viking vampire for Alan Ball's upcoming HBO series, "True Blood."
In theaters next year are the animated fantasy "Metropia" and the British comedy "Beyond the Pole," about "two morons walking to the North Pole." Skarsgard liked the script but the biggest draw was shooting in Greenland:
"I wanted to experience silence. I've never experienced that. In my country, there's the wind in the trees, you hear animals, birds somewhere. It's so . . . amazing how compact the silence was. It's like your ears are going to start bleeding, almost. It's so intense."
Whenever possible, Skarsgard indulges in his (usually) doomed love for the Chicago Cubs of Stockholm soccer, Hammarby IF, which won its first title in 104 years in 2001.
"It's like a curse, being born a Hammarby supporter. Now that we're pretty good, it's not right. 'Really? Is this happening?' " says the Sexiest of Swedes, soon to be known in the States. "But I could get used to the sweet smell of success."