The eldest son of actor Stellan Skarsgard and his first wife, My, a doctor, Alexander Skarsgard grows up in Södermalm, Sweden, with his four younger brothers – Gustaf, Sam, Bill and Valter – and sister Eija. At 8, he makes his on-screen debut opposite his father, and later becomes a celebrity with his role in 1989's The Dog That Smiled. But the attention makes Skarsgard quit acting. "I needed seven years of just being a normal kid and having fun and doing my thing," he later tells the San Francisco Chronicle.
Skarsgard enlists in Sweden's Royal Navy and serves 15 months in the antiterrorist division SäkJakt, stationed inside the country's archipelago. "It's … Sweden. We shoot flowers," he later jokes to the Los Angeles Times about his military experience. "We haven't been in a war in almost 200 years. I was training for something I knew would never happen." After completing his service in 1996, he enrolls in England's Leeds Metropolitan University, where he briefly studies English for six months before deciding to restart his acting career.
Having secured several roles in Swedish films, Skarsgard makes his Hollywood debut after auditioning on a whim for the Ben Stiller comedy Zoolander. He makes a brief appearance in the film as male model Meekus, one of Stiller's roommates who memorably blows up in a gas station accident. Skarsgard moves to Hollywood in 2004 to further his career.
Skarsgard lands his big break when he is cast as Sgt. Brad "Iceman" Colbert in Generation Kill, an HBO miniseries based on a book about a reporter embedded within a Marines battalion during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. "We made it for all those soldiers over there because you don't really see what's happening on a daily basis, what the soldiers are going through and what kind of baggage they come home with," he tells GQ UK. "So it was just important to make it right for these guys."
HBO taps Skarsgard for the role of bad-boy vampire Eric Northman on True Blood, an adaptation of Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse novels. Following a brief appearance in the show's first season, his second-season storyline, which includes a love triangle with costars Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, turns Skarsgard into a fan favorite.
Skarsgard and Straw Dogs costar Kate Bosworth spark romance rumors when they are spotted holding hands at the Spike Awards in L.A., and later cozying up at the Coachella music festival in April. "He's a wonderful, wonderful man," she tells PEOPLE. "I adore him." But after two years together, the pair quietly splits in July 2011.
Alongside True Blood costars Paquin and Moyer, Skarsgard strips down for Rolling Stone. "It was just one of those things in the moment where we all looked at each other, we'd spent all day with the photographer, we felt comfortable with him, we knew that he was great and the atmosphere was right and we were like, 'F– it, let's do it,'" he tells GQ UK.
Months after his split with Bosworth, Skarsgard returns to the big screen in their collaboration Straw Dogs, a remake of the controversial 1971 Sam Peckinpah film about the violence that erupts when a Hollywood couple returns to the wife's small town. "It's about the fact that we're animals, we're territorial," he tells the San Francisco Chronicle about playing lead aggressor Charlie in the box-office disappointment.
Skarsgard puts his real-life military training to good use when he stars in the big screen adaptation of Battleship as Commander Stone Hopper, opposite Taylor Kitsch and Rihanna. Despite the star-studded cast, the film opens at No. 2, grossing $26 million during its first weekend.
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): John P. Johnson; JPI Studios; Courtesy Rolling Stone; Everett; Everett