The actor discusses his latest turn in Brandon Cronenberg’s twisted and explicit new sci-fi, Infinity Pool
Alexander Skarsgård is such a prolific, versatile performer, he surely must have cloned himself. In the past two years, the 46-year-old Swedish actor has been a bulky Berserker in The Northman, a slender tech bro in Succession, a Werner Herzog impersonator in Documentary Now!, a universe-saving action hero in Godzilla vs. Kong, and so on. Well, Brandon Cronenberg’s latest feature, Infinity Pool, delivers yet another eclectic orgy of Alexander Skarsgårds – at one point a literal orgy.
If you’ve watched Brandon Cronenberg’s previous sci-fi horrors (Antiviral and the truly excellent Possessor), or, indeed, anything by his father, David Cronenberg, then you’ll be braced for the upsetting, unexpected delights of Infinity Pool. At a holiday resort in the fictional Li Tolqa, James (Skarsgård) and his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), intertwine with fellow wealthy tourists. One of them is Gabi (Mia Goth), supposedly such a fan of James’ only novel that she jerks him off behind a tree. A more dramatic release, though, occurs when James accidentally kills a local in a car accident; facing the death penalty, James is informed that a body double can be executed instead. Some hotspots advertise karaoke; Li Tolqa boasts its own cloning technology.
“Possessor really lingered with me,” Skarsgård tells me over a video call during the Berlinale. “Andrea Riseborough, who’s a dear friend of mine, spoke so highly of collaborating with him that it got me excited.” Like a teenager acquiring a taste for alcohol, James discovers a fascination for assaulting – and occasionally pleasuring – his clones. “We’re uncomfortable talking about mortality as a society. So to play a character who watches an extension of himself get executed again and again – to explore what that would psychologically do was a treat. Meanwhile, it’s open for interpretation: is it the real James they murder, or am I the clone? Because the clone retains your memory, you’ll never know.”
In pop culture, clones tend to be utilised for practical purposes. In Never Let Me Go, the protagonists are manufactured organ donors; in Severance, while not strictly clones, the “innies” are vessels for the workday. However, Infinity Pool pierces into the murky corner of the human psyche that adores murder rampages on Grand Theft Auto and torturing families on The Sims.
“It’s an opportunity for the characters to throw out their moral compass,” says Skarsgård. “Or at least redirect it a bit.” And, realistically, most people would be curious about having sex with their clone? “Mia’s character does suggest James should bring his double to the orgy,” he says, avoiding the question I’m indirectly asking. “It feels like something she’s done before.”
As an actor, Skarsgård has seen himself participate in kinky, toe-sucking sex, be repeatedly beaten to death, and crawl on the floor on all fours with a dog leash around his neck – and that’s just during ADR for Infinity Pool. “We don’t take that chance often enough [as actors] to play someone who experiences the madness that James does. It’s thrilling and cathartic. I felt like I should do that more often. Not everything in the movie, but some things, for sure.”
He adds, “Brandon’s the most humble, gentle Canadian man who comes up with twisted, nightmarish ideas. Maybe it’s therapy for him, and that’s why he’s so calm: he gets that darkness out in his writing.”
With regards to therapy, Infinity Pool does suggest some semi-autobiography. Cronenberg has revealed in interviews he was inspired by a trip to the Dominican Republic. On closer inspection, James is an author whose only novel was published to low sales and negative reviews; as Infinity Pool was written before Possessor, it means the screenplay was fashioned during the lengthy period Cronenberg struggled to finance a follow-up to Antiviral. Moreover, James acknowledges that his book deal is due to his wife’s father owning a publishing company.
‘I’ve definitely questioned, especially at the beginning of my career, if I got opportunities because of my father. There was lots of insecurity’ – Alexander Skarsgård
On honing the backstory, Skarsgård comments, “James has been struggling for six years to write his next novel, and that’s why we find him on the resort, because he’s desperately trying to find inspiration… He’s struggling because, deep down, he believes in himself, and he believes in his talent, but no one else does. He questions whether he’s here because of those [family] connections, and if he’ll find inspiration for a good second novel. That’s why he’s so prime for Gabi and her gang to pounce on, because he’s very much a broken man.”
Like Cronenberg, Skarsgård also has a famous parent in the business: Stellan Skarsgård. Has any insecurity over being a “nepo baby” driven the younger Skarsgård to take on challenging projects like The Northman and Infinity Pool?
“No,” says Skarsgård, pausing to think. “To be crass, it’s not like I choose jobs to prove my range so people know that I deserve my place in the industry despite having a successful father. I’ve definitely questioned, especially at the beginning of my career, if I got opportunities because of my father. There was lots of insecurity. A lot of actors – including friends I’ve talked to without successful parents – have imposter syndrome. I’ve felt that a million times, and having a famous actor-father enhanced that insecurity.
“You’re like, ‘I don’t think I’m very good. Shit, my father’s a famous actor. Maybe they only hired me for my name.’ Which becomes a downward spiral. Then it’s like, ‘Oh, shit, I’m clearly not good enough. I’m here because of connections. I’m not going to do a good job.’ It’s harder to be relaxed and open to inspiration on a set because you’re scared. That was definitely something I struggled with. I’d say less so now.”
Skarsgård has recently filmed Succession season four and his upcoming projects include The Pack, a movie that he’ll direct and co-star in alongside Florence Pugh. There’s plenty to discuss but a PR asks me to wrap up the interview. Still, I can’t exit without bringing up Lars von Trier’s The Kingdom: Exodus – also the best TV show of 2022. In the button-pushing horror-comedy, Skarsgård plays a lawyer who handles a sexual harassment case for both the accuser and the accused
“I worked with Lars 10 years ago on Melancholia, and we’ve stayed friends,” says Skarsgård. “My father worked with him many times, so I’ve known Lars for 20 years. The role [in The Kingdom: Exodus] was actually written for my father – speaking of nepotism.” With a laugh, he explains that the older Skarsgård was busy shooting Andor in London. “I got this because of my dad.”
Although he’s been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, von Trier has vowed to continue directing. “Melancholia was one of the greatest experiences of my career,” says Skarsgård. “When I was sent Melancholia, I said yes before reading the script. That’s the only time I’ve ever done that. I still feel that way. If Lars reaches out – it’s so fun and playful on his sets. I’d do anything for that man.”
In a call-back to our conversation last year for The Northman, I end the interview by quoting from Robert Eggers’ revenge-thriller, telling Skarsgård I’ll meet him at the gates of Hell and there he will die. “At the gates of Hell you will find me,” he says, taking a comic beat. “Naked. Bye.”
Infinity Pool is out in UK cinemas on March 24