In The Mix

Trust and Transformation

From Vikings to Westworld, Gustaf Skarsgärd carries on the family tradition.

Mara Reinstein
  • Maarten DeBoer

Good news: Gustaf Skarsgård is willing to divulge one major Westworld reveal.

"The producers have a 'no assholes' policy," he says. "So everyone is really sweet on the set, and the vibe is incredible. Everyone is aware that we're doing something great, so everyone is willing to do the show justice. I'm so grateful for it."

The Swedish actor joined the off-kilter HBO sci-fi western in its current sophomore season to play Karl Strand, the no-nonsense head of operations at the futuristic theme park. "The scripts are packed with amazing, mind-blowing plot twists, so I read them a few times just to understand them — and even then, producers keep me on a need-to- know basis," he explains. "This endeavor has been an exercise in trust and giving up control!"

He'll take it. Last summer, Skarsgård, fresh off his five-season run as eclectic shipbuilder Floki on A&E's Vikings, read for the Westworld role with just two days to prepare. He was so convinced he'd botched the audition — which involved an extended monologue — that he called his manager as soon as he walked out of the production offices and told him it was a no.

As the months of unemployment wore on, he wondered if his career were over. Then he got the call. One approved work visa later, Skarsgård hopped on a plane from his native Stockholm and flew to Los Angeles.

The single 37-year-old is the fourth prong of the Skarsgård Hollywood invasion. In September, eldest brother Alexander took home an Emmy for Big Little Lies, while Bill, the baby of the family, terrorized audiences as Pennywise the clown in the blockbuster movie IT. (The second-oldest of veteran actor Stellan Skarsgård's kids, Gustaf has seven siblings in all.)

"If I were between jobs during that time, I would have been happy for my brothers, but it would have hurt more," he admits. "It's always easier to be generous when you're in a good place yourself. That's a human reaction. Luckily we are a very tight family. Even at my lowest, I'd wish them success."

Skarsgård got his first role at age six and went on to appear in the 2010 Peter Weir drama, The Way Back. He pauses when asked whether he was born with the acting gene. "I feel like this was just the path I chose because I happen to love transforming myself," he says. "But I'm definitely not cut out to do a normal nine-to-five job."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 7, 2018