Why Child Stars are Scarier Than Vampires for ‘What Maisie Knew’ and ‘True Blood”s Alexander Skarsgard
Julianne Moore and Alexander Skarsgard star in 'What Maisie Knew' (Photo: Millenium)
The Stockholm native continued his criticism of typical Hollywood parents: "They love their kids, but they put pressure on them to move out from Arkansas to Hollywood. For the kid, your entire family is suddenly out in Los Angeles and you’re six years old and you’re the breadwinner."
Skarsgard warmed to the topic of child actors while discussing "What Maisie Knew," a contemporary adaptation of a Henry James novel. It centers on a six-year-old only daughter's reaction to her parents' nasty custody wrangle. The actor recalled that while they were casting Maisie: "The kids knew the casting agents and the producers. Six-year-old kids aren't supposed to know which casting directors are hot. You're a kid. Be a kid."
ON MAISIE'S LITTLE SHOULDERS
All that said Skarsgard has high praise for Onata Aprile, the young child actor who anchors the film emotionally.
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"Onata is an amazing kid. I knew that the moment I saw her," said Skarsgard. "It doesn't matter if we have a script that's great, two great directors, or Julianne Moore and Steve Coogan playing the parents. Without the right Maisie, it doesn’t work. It's on Onata's shoulders to show the kid's strength and vulnerability. It's something in Onata's eyes. When I flew out to New York and met with her she just had amazing energy. I knew this was our Maisie."
STEPPING INTO THE FAMILY BUSINESS
As for Skarsgard's own acting experience, he began back in Sweden as the eldest son of a dramatic dynasty anchored by his father, Stellan, a Swedish star of stage and screen best known to American audiences as Dr. Erik Selvig in "Thor" and "The Avengers," and Bootstrap Bill in multiple "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
"I got my first part kind of randomly," Alexander said. "My dad's friend was a director who cast me [in "Ake and His World"] when I was seven. And then I worked for years. When I was thirteen I did something [TV's "The Dog That Smiled"] that got attention and I suddenly became famous in Sweden. I didn't like it. I wanted to be one of the boys and play soccer."
UNHAPPY CHILD STARDOM
Skarsgard's early fame and recognition in Scandinavia led to a personal crisis. As a teen, he turned to his parents for counsel. "I was very fortunate. My dad's advice was 'I love my job, but it's difficult. So many of my friends are extremely talented but they are waiting tables. Even if you're lucky enough to support your family, it's still difficult.'"
"When my dad was doing repertory theater in Stockholm," Skarsgard revealed, "he would rehearse one play during the day and perform another at night. I had to see him backstage. When you're in movies, you travel."
"'Only do this if you don't have a choice,'" the elder Skarsgard told his son. Alexander's parents were on the same page. His mother, My, was a doctor. "Mom had nothing to do with the limelight. She was a sane workhorse. Her advice was that if you want to do this, only do it for yourself. When I was thirteen and I felt uncomfortable, they said, then don't. Do what makes you happy."