No Catcher in the Rye for Girls

November 3, 2015

By Karen Martin
for blood, dirt & angels

Alexander Skarsgard is best known for his role as sexy VIking vampire Eric Northman in the absolutely ridiculous HBO series True Blood.

alexIn The Diary of a Teenage Girl, he makes an amazing about-face by playing weak-willed, almost-pervy and ultimately pathetic Monroe Rutherford, a 35-year-old no-account who, in the mid-1970s, has an affair with his girlfriend’s 15-year-old daughter Minnie (Bel Powley).

“Movies about teenage girls are often very puritanical,” said Skarsgard during a Q & A following a screening of the film at the recent Savannah Film Festival. “If she even thinks about sex she gets punished. I think this film is really special — so unique, honest, without judging her.

“There’s no Catcher in the Rye for girls,” he added.

Skarsgard, who’s taller than you might think and quite fit, gamely talked about the making of the sexually graphic film in front of a room full of age-appropriate students of the Savannah College of Art and Design.

“Bel is a force of nature,” he said. “She had never kissed a guy on screen before, let alone done five sex scenes. We talked a lot about the arc of the relationship. It could have been too predatory; if it was, you’d dismiss Monroe in five minutes. We wanted to make it awkward and somewhat uncomfortable for the audience.”
Adding to the awkwardness was the fact that the filmmakers had use of a handsome period-perfect San Francisco studio apartment where most of the trysting goes on for only five days, and those five days came at the beginning of the shoot.

Luckily for him and Bel, Skarsgard said, “We knew and trusted our filmmakers [director Marielle Heller and screenwriter Pheobe Gloekner, who wrote the book on which the screenplay is based].”

The film never feels gratuitous, in Skarsgard’s opinion. “A female director, source material from a woman — it felt refreshing to see something from a teenage girl’s point of view with a female director. Not making Monroe too much of a predator was the biggest challenge. It’s always more interesting when the audience has to question who’s the protagonist and who’s the antagonist. The key for me was to see Monroe as a teenage boy who never grew up.”

It reminded him of growing up in the 1980s in Stockholm (Skarsgard is the son of Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard) with “actors, directors, hippies in our home, lots of weed. We’ve all been teenagers; it’s always awkward and alienating.”

Making this film, he said, “was one of the best experiences of my career. No one did it because of the paycheck … there were no paychecks.”

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