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Alexander Skarsgård On 'The Aftermath'


"The Aftermath" takes place in 1946. Germany is in ruins from World War II. And the British government has taken over Hamburg. Soldiers are finding bodies underneath the rubble of war and seizing property from German citizens. That's where Alexander Skarsgard comes in. He plays Stefan Lubert, a German who lost his wife during the war and who now must give up his palace of a home to a British officer and his wife Rachel, played by Keira Knightley. Rachel has suffered her own loss from the war. Their mourning brings Rachel and Stefan closer together, and they get involved. Alexander Skarsgard plays Stefan in the movie "The Aftermath." And he joins me now from London.

Welcome to the program.

ALEXANDER SKARSGARD: Thank you very much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The film takes place at an interesting moment that we don't see a lot of films set in after World War II. Sort of the heroism of the battles are over. The rising-from-the-ashes story of Germany has not yet begun. And it's this terrible moment where the aftermath of war is really evident in everyone's life.

SKARSGARD: Yeah. And if you see a movie or read a novel that takes place just after the war, it's usually from the side of the Allies to see the suffering of the heroes, the suffering of the good guys. And I find that Germans are often portrayed either as evil Nazis or the occasional token good guy. You rarely see characters like Stefan, who is a complicated character. He, himself, didn't believe in the ideology of what Hitler and the Nazi Party stood for. But he also let his - the money in the family came from his late wife's family that were members of the Nazi Party. And that's what paid for this palace that they live in and paid for all the beautiful Bauhaus architecture, all these pieces of furniture that he cherishes. So when we meet him, he's very conflicted and guilt-ridden.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. There's this scene where he's taken in. And he is asked to sort of make account of himself, what he did during the war under the Nazis. And at one point, the British officers show him pictures of the Nazi death camps, the concentration camps.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Did you know about the camps?

SKARSGARD: (As Stefan) No.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) So you've never seen these. Here, have a look.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And there's a close-up of your face in that. It's a really powerful moment because even if you were not implicated directly in the crimes, there is a reckoning in a certain way. What was that like to play that scene?

SKARSGARD: It was a very difficult scene to shoot. Part of the process was to go through and to interview all the Germans to figure out who was not only a party member but who was complicit. And it's, obviously, very difficult for Stefan because he felt deep down that he didn't do anything wrong. He might not have known about the camps, but he definitely blames himself for not investigating that more.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) One last question - during the war, did you ever hope for a German victory. You once said, I wanted it to end.

SKARSGARD: (As Stefan) I wanted to go back to how it was.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) What? You miss the past. Is that it?

SKARSGARD: (As Stefan) I miss my wife.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What attracts you to a role? I mean, what makes you want to put yourself so fully into a character that you're willing to sort of immerse yourself in this way in what is, you know, a difficult role.

SKARSGARD: Well, I was just fascinated by the character and the complexity of him. And I don't subscribe to the notion that the world is black and white. It's not a "Star Wars" movie. It's not, we're the good rebels, and we're fighting the dark side.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I read that you were a kind of nomad for two years. You gave up your apartment in New York. You lived on the road because you were so busy immersing yourself in your projects. Was this movie part of that period of your life?

SKARSGARD: Yeah. I was going to be on the road for two years. I decided to just move out of my apartment that I had in the East Village and moved all my stuff into storage. And then...

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What was that like?

SKARSGARD: I thought it'd be more stressful. But it was quite liberating to just have that one suitcase. And then, you know, it made me think about how little I needed all the stuff, how little I missed the stuff I had in storage. So when I finally bought an apartment in New York and moved my stuff, I got rid of most of it.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Marie Kondo would be very proud.


SKARSGARD: Yeah. I held each item and cherished it and felt if it sparked joy.


SKARSGARD: And very few things sparked joy in my life.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Skarsgard told me he didn't actually do that. But growing up, he did want a simpler lifestyle. His father is Stellan Skarsgard, the famous actor. And that made his childhood kind of interesting.

SKARSGARD: I grew up in a very bohemian household. And my father's quite eccentric. And it was a very social household. We had lots of friends over every night, big dinners and lots of interesting, crazy, eccentric people. And it wasn't normal. And I desperately wanted to be normal.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nevertheless, Skarsgard and three of his brothers have made careers out of acting. But he says that wasn't his dad's wish.

SKARSGARD: Some people might think because there's four of us acting - four brothers acting that it's because he wanted us to follow his footsteps. But that wasn't the case. He's always been very hands-off and let us do our own thing. And I think that was very important for me because I remember that conversation when I told him, like, I don't want to do this. I don't like the attention. When I said that, he was like, well, if you're not passionate about it, if you don't love it, then don't do it. Go do something else.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah. To get back to the film, "The Aftermath" is a love story. But it's many love stories, actually. I mean, Keira Knightley is your co-star. And there is that relationship, but there's also parental relationships and familial relationships. It's a complicated film.

SKARSGARD: Yeah. It's about connecting with the enemy or the other side and these people that - there's so much animosity in the beginning. But by realizing that the person on the other side is going through exactly - is a mirror of what you're going through. And they have a hole in their soul - same size as you do. And they need what you need, which is just desperately to reach out and talk to someone. And that's how they connect with each other. And I thought that was beautiful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Alexander Skarsgard's latest movie is "The Aftermath." Thank you very much.

SKARSGARD: Thank you very much. I've enjoyed this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MARTIN PHIPPS' "SNOW") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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