Earlier this year, Alexander Skarsgard won an Emmy for Big Little Lies. Now, he is graduating from a supporting role to leading, as he has signed on to star in The Little Drummer Girl, the next John le Carré adaptation from the team that made The Night Manager. That miniseries, you’ll recall with appropriate cringe, won Tom Hiddleston a Golden Globe. So this is a project that comes with a trophy shine, and this time it’s superior speech-giver Skarsgard holding the spotlight. This is holdover news from last week, but I noticed it specifically because of what it says about Skarsgard’s career approach recently.
Last year, Skarsgard tried the blockbuster thing with Tarzan, and while that movie isn’t as bad as it could be, it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. But Skarsgard followed that tent pole disappointment with Big Little Lies, and an Emmy, and looking at his upcoming projects, it’s mostly character-driven indie stuff. There’s a war movie that inevitably no one will see, but there’s also a project with Jesse Eisenberg, and a tony World War II adaptation with Keira Knightley. There are also upcoming films from Jeremy Saulnier (Hold The Dark) and Duncan Jones (Mute), both of whom are stellar, you-should-be-watching-their-sh*t directors. And then he’ll return to TV in 2019 headlining his own prestige series.
It’s a trend we’ve seen before, that when the blockbuster career of an actor stalls out, they switch to indies and television to find success. Jake Gyllenhaal did it—although it can be argued that the blockbuster was the aberration and he’s been indie all along—and more recently, Armie Hammer has done it. But something about Skarsgard’s post-True Blood decisions doesn’t seem that calculated or mercenary. Maybe it’s the genre shuffling he’s done, jumping from horror—he stars in the Duffer Brothers debut feature film, Hidden—to indie coming-of-age to comedy (Zoolander 2), or maybe it’s his willingness to take supporting roles and play unflattering characters, but Skarsgard’s career trajectory reminds me more of Colin Farrell. After blockbuster disappointment, Farrell found his niche in oddball indies, became the muse of Yorgos Lanthimos, and completely reinvented himself as a character actor, and is far more interesting for it.
At this point in the cycle of his career, Skarsgard could be looking for another blockbuster project. He’s reconfigured his image with various indie film projects, he’s won an award for a supporting role on TV. Time to give film stardom another shot! Except Skarsgard has elected not to try his hand at that again. In the place where he could slot a tent pole, he’s got The Little Drummer Girl. That’s the kind of decision that makes me wonder what’s next. He’s already got a trophy, and is working with some of the most interesting directors, and is now headlining a prestige TV project. What’s next? I never, ever thought, out of everyone on True Blood, I would be what-next’ing Eric Northman, but here we are.