Viking vampire sheriff Eric Northman plays a major role in the fourth season of HBO’s hit series “True Blood,” which kicks off Sunday — after losing his memory at the hands of a coven of witches, he has to turn to telepathic barmaid/fairy Sookie Stackhouse for help. Swedish actor Alexander Skarsgard has gained a fervent following for his portrayal of the icy, sexy vamp, and he recently sat down for an interview with Hero Complex contributor Gina McIntyre to talk about what’s ahead for Eric and the character’s relationships with Anna Paquin‘s Sookie and Kristin Bauer van Straten‘s sardonic Pam.
GM: Were you excited about Eric’s story line heading into this season?
AS: I was excited. It was quite different from what we’ve seen before. It’s been difficult because he doesn’t … it was difficult finding the right tone. He doesn’t know who he is, so all that baggage is gone, 1,000 years of resentment and bitterness, the whole, like, loathing humanity kind of stuff is gone. But there has to be an element of danger there still. I didn’t want him to become too much of a little puppy. It was about finding that balance, because he has to be extremely vulnerable now. [It] is great to see Eric, who’s usually the alpha male, pretty vulnerable — to find that while maintaining the element of danger there. I don’t think it would be fun to watch him for very long if he was completely emasculated.
GM: You actually get the opportunity to try some comedy in the first three episodes.
AS: I had fun with it. It was just important to make it real. The humor had to come out of the situations more than him trying to be funny. It’s that culture clash, someone who doesn’t really know who he is — Are you my progeny? Who are you to me? — trying to figure things out. Obviously there’s an opportunity to create some funny situations with that.
GM: And obviously his relationship with Sookie is undergoing a bit of a change.
AS: She’s seeing this different side of Eric now, but it can’t be like she hated the old Eric, and now it’s the new guy and she likes the new guy and then he goes back to the old guy and she hates him. It has to be more complicated, more of a gray zone than that. It was just important for us to realize that it’s not like a completely different Eric. It is a different side of the same guy. She knows that, and that creates a platform for some drama, I think, because she knows who he is and she knows that he’s dangerous and what he’s done in the past, but then she’s seeing this vulnerability and there’s goodness in there. I think she already saw that in Season 3, a little glimmer of hope there, and now she’s exploring it more. But I think it’s important to remember that that was already inside Eric, but he had this big wall built up around himself to protect himself.
GM: Fans really seem to love the relationship between Eric and Pam. What’s your relationship like off-screen with Kristin Bauer van Straten?
AS: She’s amazing. She’s so much fun. She’s fantastic on the show, but she’s also the sweetest woman you’ll ever meet and completely different. She is the biggest crybaby you’ll ever meet. She cries when she talks about a situation where she cried a couple of days ago. That makes her cry — when she’s trying to explain why she cried, she cries again. Human goodness makes her cry. When someone does something beautiful to someone else, she cries her heart out. She’s a beautiful human being. We have a lot of fun together. She’s got a great season, and I’m really happy for her. This season she actually has kind of her own story line, which has been great for her. I love the relationship between Eric and Pam. She’s kind of like his annoying obnoxious teenage daughter. There’s also that tenderness between them that I love under the surface. They mean so much to each other, and I think that’s really sweet.
GM: What’s the atmosphere on set like?
AS: They’re really good people, the whole cast, I love working with them. I think anyone who’s ever been on the “True Blood” set will agree, you can just feel the energy. Not only the cast, but the crew as well. We’ve had pretty much the same crew for the past four years and it’s become like a family. It always sounds so cheesy when actors sit and say, “Oh, we love each other,” but I don’t know what else to say. The atmosphere is so great and so loving and so generous. We spend so much time together — I’ve heard horror stories on other shows where people don’t get along or have fun together. Man, if you work 60 to 70 hours a week together, you want to have a good time.
GM: Do you keep up with Charlaine Harris‘ Sookie Stackhouse novels? Or does it become too confusing to follow what’s happening with Eric in “True Blood” and then also in the mystery series?
AS: I read the first five novels before we started Season 1 just to understand the world. Then, when we started shooting, I stopped because I got confused — was that from a script or was that from a novel? What I do now is I go back and I re-read the book before that season basically. I re-read the fourth book before we started this season, and when we wrap Season 4, I’ll go back and I’ll re-read the fifth book. They’re loosely based on those books, but it kind of gives me an idea of potentially what world we’re in next year and gives me something to think about while we’re on hiatus.
GM: From your perspective, what is it about the show that fans most respond to?
AS: I think it’s over-the-top, it’s sexy, it’s wild, it’s violent, it’s all that. There are 45 cliffhangers in an episode, but at the same time, it’s grounded and it’s about our society. It’s about us, so it’s not popcorn fiction. Hopefully you can relate to it and you can draw parallels to our society and what people are struggling with in real life. It’s just a wild fantastic sexy way of telling stories about our struggles in everyday life.
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