'The Legend of Tarzan' Star Alexander Skarsgard Talks Iconic Role

There are at least 200 Tarzan movies in the entertainment universe.

ByABC News
July 1, 2016, 10:18 AM

— -- There are at least 200 movies in the entertainment universe with Tarzan in the title.

But that’s not stopping a single bit of the buzz around the hunky Alexander Skarsgard, who is the latest to step into the role. Moviegoers may be surprised to see that Tarzan is introduced with a twist this time, he told ABC News.

“I thought Adam Cozad, who wrote the script, found such an interesting take on it, such an interesting way into the character,” the Swedish actor, 39, said. “Because the first scene is him having drinks with the prime minister. I thought it was brilliant. And then the journey is going back to his roots. He returns to the Congo where he was born and raised and then meets his ape family. He’s reintroduced to his natural habitat in the jungle.”

And just to reinforce that this is not your typical jungle hero, this Tarzan is missing his signature loincloth.

“It was very clear in reading the script and knowing the journey that the character is on that a loin cloth wouldn’t make sense,” Skarsgard said. “When he returns to the jungle he is still in his Victorian British safari outfit. And then very slowly these layers come off and it’s emotionally and literally like layers come off when he’s on this adventure with George Washington, Sam’s [Samuel L. Jackson] character in the jungle.”

PHOTO: Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "Tarzan."
Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "Tarzan."

Once the layers are removed, fans will quickly note that it appears Skarsgard was made for the role. But getting fit enough to comfortably play a nearly naked Tarzan and pull off a few stunts wasn’t easy.

“It was a long process, about 8 months of training, a very strict diet,” Skarsgard told Peter Travers. “No sugar, no dairy products, no alcohol, six small meals a day, every three hours on the dot,” Skarsgard said, adding that he ate a lot of “smoked fish, a lot of fish, chicken and steak. Fat was fine, but I wasn’t even allowed fruit, no sugar at all. And it drove me a bit crazy.”

PHOTO: Alexander Skarsgard and Peter Travers at the ABC Headquarters, June 20, 2016, in New York City.
Alexander Skarsgard and Peter Travers at the ABC Headquarters, June 20, 2016, in New York City.

But a shirtless Skarsgard is not the only attention-grabber in this new flick. Australian stunner Margot Robbie plays the role of his wife, Jane. Fans will note the intensity of their love scenes.

David Yates, our director, wanted, when we shot the first love scene, he wanted it to be primal,” Skarsgard explained.“ He’s like, ‘It’s Tarzan and Jane having sex.’ He’s like, ‘these two iconic characters, it has to be primal and wild.’

“And he was kind of egging her on behind the camera, screaming Margot claw him, punch him, beat him, scratch him, so I walked away with a few bruises,” Skarsgard joked.

PHOTO: Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "Tarzan."
Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgard in a scene from "Tarzan."

But there are those tender moments too, particularly reflecting Tarzan’s relationships with some of the animals. They seem so real, yet no real animals were actually used in the film.

“They [animal scenes] were more difficult to shoot than the fight sequences in a way,” Skarsgard said. “Because the fight sequences are very technical, choreographed and I fought stunt men in body suits.

“But the emotional stuff was tough because it was basically a tennis ball on a C-stand. And I had to pretend that this tennis ball was an old beautiful elephant that I’ve known since I was a little child. And so that was quite interesting when you you’re standing there like, ‘Oh, my old friend,’” he said, mimicking his caressing an elephant trunk.

When filming finally wrapped, just after the last scene was taped, the crew had prepared a special surprise for Skarsgard.

“We were on a sound stage, it was a little pickup shot, and then they dropped this curtain they had behind me,” he said.” And they had on a table an ice cold beer, a pint of lager and a massive banoffee pie. It’s this English, caramel, banana cream pie.

“It was incredible. So I pretty much ate the whole thing, drank the beer, got in the car. I felt amazing.”

Skarsgard’s famous father, actor Stellan Skarsgard, took it from there.

“My dad was shooting this mini-series called “River” in London at the time, and he loves to cook,” Skarsgard said. “He was renting a house in East London. So I went straight from set, after eating this whole banoffee pie, to my dad’s house, and spent four days on his couch just being fed.”