Alexander Skarsgard is plenty shirtless in The Legend of Tarzan, but admits that fans expecting to see a traditionally loincloth-clad Lord of the Jungle – including costar Samuel L. Jackson’s daughter – may be disappointed unless they keep an extra sharp eye out.
It's not for lack of his own enthusiasm: "I was trying to get a little sexy loincloth [to wear]," Skarsgard revealed during a press conference promoting the film. "I was trying to convince [director] David Yates for weeks when we were doing prep."
But Yates, who directed the final four Harry Potter films, had already conceived of story centering on a more civilized and refined Tarzan, one who’d spent the past several years living as a British lord. "The way the script is written, it opens in London, he’s Victorian and he’s acclimated to life in London, and then he goes back [to the jungle]," explained the actor. "David was like, 'It doesn’t make sense. That little loincloth's got to go.'"
Thus while Skarsgard, 39, did get to ditch his shirt, he spends most of the action swinging from the vines in tight khaki pants – which was a point of contention for Jackson’s daughter Zoey when she screened the film.
"My daughter was like, 'What the hell's up? Where's the loincloth?'" laughed Jackson, who plays a fictionalized version of soldier and explorer George Washington Williams. "My daughter was very disappointed in that!"
Jackson had no problem ribbing Skarsgard about his wardrobe, or lack thereof: he's known him since the new Tarzan was in his early 20s, hanging out on the set of the 1999 shark thriller Deep Blue Sea, which starred Jackson and Skarsgard's father, Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard. "When I was doing Deep Blue Sea with his dad, he was in his dad’s dressing room playing computer games," said Jackson. "That's how long I've been around!"
The loincloth has been a fixture in the multiple film and TV appearances by Tarzan since 1918. The jungle king has been played by a long line of actors including: Johnny Weissmuller, Lex Barker, Ron Ely, Christopher Lambert and Casper Van Dein. "To appease [die-hard fans], we did do a loincloth scene at the end," said Yates. And the adornment was updated, said Skarsgard, with a fashionable twist. "When he swings through the trees, it’s not a loincloth, it’s more like a mini-sarong," he admitted.
Skarsgard revealed he was loincloth-ready throughout the film, adhering to a strict exercise and diet regimen that included weightlifting and 7,000-calorie-a-day meals of lean proteins and simple carbs, no sugar and no dairy. Admittedly it was a sometimes punishing routine, but he said he enjoyed the challenge to achieve Tarzan’s physicality.
"It was very important that the guy that Tarzan is is flexible and agile when he moves through the jungle, and that he doesn’t look like a body builder,” said Skarsgard. "So even though I wanted to put on some weight, the goal wasn’t just to get buff. It was to look athletic.”
But the even bigger pleasure was when he finally got to break from his disciplined diet at the end of filming. “When we wrapped the movie, my father was shooting River this Netflix miniseries, in London at the time,” Skarsgard recalled. “I got in my car, I went straight to his house. My dad loves to cook, so I spent four days on his couch just being fed.”
"It was the most incredible weekend of my life," he added. “It was just fried mozzarella, pasta, red wine...It was a good weekend!”
The Legend of Tarzan opens in theatres July 1.