How Alexander Skarsgård Created His Viking Body for ‘The Northman’

How does balance get thrown out the window during a shoot?

Well, let me tell you this. When you’re halfway into filming a movie, and it’s a physical movie, and you have a bunch of half-naked scenes coming up and, let’s say, your actor’s shoulder is starting to feel a little unstable or is hurting, or their forearms are cramping up, and every time we go into the gym, you can tell they would benefit from rest. You do rest a little more in these situations, but what they would really need is probably two weeks off, doing nothing, and we don’t have that luxury.

I go for more big compound movements generally, but the longer we film, if it’s a challenging, tough, physical movie, you’ll see us do more and more isolated exercises, because I want to minimize the risk of getting injured. If someone’s tired, and they’re pushing it, the risk of getting injured gets bigger, and so the training has to adapt.

How much do you vary it up? How different are these workouts than those in the bulk or cut phase?

Good question. I try to keep it about the same. We might go up in reps, and down in weight, but I don’t want you to deadlift with a barbell with 250, 300 pounds on it when you’ve had six hours of sleep and have been fighting on set for five days straight. Then it’s maybe better to do a leg press or something more safe and isolated, where you don’t have to be in control of three different joints at the same time. You can relax, and it’s more pure.

Avoiding the mental recruitment of getting tight under a squat while you’re thinking about getting ready for a scene.

Correct. You know, I wish we could take a couple weeks off instead, so that’s where balance gets thrown out the window. And, as well, sometimes you can’t have them eat whatever they want to eat. I’m a believer in balance in life, but sometimes that balance gets thrown out. On this shoot, though, we had the weekends off. Alex could eat whatever he wanted to on Saturday nights. We’d cook some nice dinners and would have a glass of wine.

What explains that time off? Was it your decision, or something to do with the character?

His character, I’d say. We wanted him to have a thicker look. We didn’t care as much as in Tarzan. We were OK with him having one to two percent more body fat than he had in the past.

In Northman, he and his berserkers are either wolves or bears. The bears are big, strong guys, and the wolves are more limber, technical and have a lot more movement. Two different styles and looks, two different ways of moving. Alex was both. We wanted that bear look, but at the same time we worked on his movements a lot so he could be a hybrid between them. And he also hit the mark when we started filming, so he was already there.

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