Alexander Skarsgård On His Sundance Hit & The Problem With Relationship Rumors

Photo: Sam Emerson
The big-screen adaptation of Phoebe Gloekner's beloved illustrated 2002 novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl just premiered at Sundance (and was quickly bought by Sony Picture Classics). This tricky flick about a 15-year-old girl in the swinging '70s of San Francisco was immediately hailed as "ideally cast and skillfully handled" and "remarkably vibrant and frank." Minnie (Bel Powley) has lost her virginity, but her louche lover is also her mom's boyfriend, Monroe, played by Alexander Skarsgård. With the adapted script and direction by Marielle Heller, Skarsgård manages to make Monroe not exactly sympathetic, but a little more complicated than your typical after-school special, warning against adult predators. In addition to excellent '70s style and an even cooler soundtrack, Diary has a wonderful visual style that incorporates animation. Plus, Kristen Wiig is in serious drama mode as a mom with plenty of problems, not the least of which is her fondness for drugs and a general disregard for personal boundaries.  Refinery29 sat down with Skarsgård at Sundance in the Acura Press Lounge to chat about doing drama, relationship rumors, and much more. One thing that really struck me about this movie is that I've never seen an American movie that treats teen, female sexuality this way. Did it give you some sort of insight what it was like to be a teen girl?
"I felt that when I read the script. I felt that it was a unique story — a story that hadn't been told before. It's a really brave script. I think it's a shame that we have seen so many coming-of-age stories with boys where they address sexuality, but when it comes to girls, they're always waiting on the knight in shining armor to come in on the white stallion to save them, you know? As if the only thing teenage girls think about is marriage and kids, which I think makes young girls uncomfortable. Or, teen girls feel like that there's something wrong with them if they think about sex, because, again, you never see that. So, it was very refreshing to read a script where a girl actually can address that." As a grown woman who was once a 15-year-old girl, it's interesting for me to watch this and sympathize with her in wanting to have this sexy affair with an older man, and as an adult, know that that's an abuse of power and wrong and terrible. It's this mélange of hot but dirty but wrong...
"Right, and we spent a lot of time in prep talking about that relationship and making it nuanced and layered. It was important to me that Monroe wasn't just a predator. It was important to find moments between Monroe and Minnie that were genuine and were real. Monroe kind of pulls himself out of that, and, like you said, realizes, 'This is wrong, I'm a grown man. This is not [okay].' But, then he's drawn back into it again. So, it's a very complex and interesting relationship to me." The Diary of a Teenage Girl book has such an intense fan base who are drawn to feminism, comic books, subversive art, sexuality — all that kind of stuff. It's daring to take it on, and it's always exciting to see a female writer and director.
"Right, and one who's so badass and so good, you know? [laughs] When I met [director] Mari [Heller], she had that energy and that intensity, and I felt immediately that I wanted to work with this woman." Of course I was a huge fan of True Blood, but I'm also a fan of your work in The East, Melancholia, What Maisie Knew — all of these roles that seem to subvert your sexy image. Are you taking parts like these on purpose?
"Not at all. I really don't have a plan or a strategy. When I read a script, it's very basic. It's all about do I connect or not? Is this something I'm creatively excited about? The combination of the script and meeting the filmmaker — you're either excited or you're not. I can't say what I'm going to be excited about, or a specific genre, or a specific type of director, or a specific role. I have a tendency to be more inspired and more excited if it's something that I feel like I haven't done, you know?  "When I was on True Blood, every hiatus, I did actively search for roles that were different. Not because I felt that I needed to show people that I could play someone other than Eric Northman, but because I creatively wasn't interested in — after shooting the show for seven months — going straight from that to playing a character that was exactly the same. Those three films that you mentioned were movies where I really felt like they were characters I hadn't played before, and they had filmmakers that I was really excited to work with." It seems that every time you're seen out with a woman, there are relationship rumors — as there were in 2013 with Ellen Page. Does that make your life harder, or do you just ignore it?
"Well, I ignore it. I don't buy those magazines, and I don't read those sites. I realize that that's the reality. If I go to a hockey game with Ellen — who is a super dear friend of mine who I really bonded with while filming The East — I understand that if we hang out or get coffee, there might be rumors that we're dating or whatever. But, I don't care. I'm not going to not see my friends because of that. I'm not going to let rumors dictate what I do or how I lead my life."
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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