If you’re going to play the king of the jungle, you need to look like you can swing from vines, leap from cliffs, and, of course, keep up with the apes. So when Alexander Skarsgård landed the titular role in The Legend of Tarzan, he launched into a months-long training regimen that was, well, a beast.
David Yates’ upcoming adventure puts a spin on the Edgar Rice Burroughs classic, picking up in Victorian London, where the man formerly known as Tarzan lives with his wife, Jane, as the aristocratic John Clayton. But when he’s lured back to his African home as a trade emissary, he’s swept up in a deadly colonialist conspiracy, and he finds himself reverting to his animalistic origins.
To play the vine-swinging wild man, Skarsgård hit the gym months before principal photography even started to sculpt his 6-foot-4 physique into hard, lean perfection. Sure, he set out to build up muscle, but he also worked with choreographer Wayne McGregor to figure out how Tarzan, a man raised in the wilderness and now living as a nobleman in England, would move through the jungle. Skarsgård’s goal, he says, was to tap into Tarzan’s animalistic agility, focusing on everything from his posture to how he’d walk differently between the streets of London and the jungles of the Congo.
“The key for me was I didn’t want to look like a broiler,” Skarsgård says. “I didn’t want to look like someone from Venice Beach, that sort of Golds Gym look.”
But it wasn’t all intense workouts. Skarsgård also had to meticulously watch his diet, eating small portions of protein every few hours. Margot Robbie, who plays Tarzan’s wife Jane, recalls how they would show up at work on Monday morning, and Skarsgård would wistfully ask her to describe, in detail, what she ate that weekend.
“I remember the day that he was allowed an apple, and he kissed the apple,” Robbie says. “It hit me how deprived you are if you’re that excited to see a piece of fruit.”
The only bright side to that strict diet was that it does make a man appreciate the simple pleasures. So when Skarsgård wrapped production, he drove straight to visit his father — Good Will Hunting actor Stellan Skarsgård — in London for a massive carb binge.
“I spent four days just in bed, being fed by Dad,” he says. “He cooked these pastas with rich sauces and bone marrow and fried mozzarella and tons of beer and wine. It was the most incredible weekend of my life.”
For more on The Legend of Tarzan and Skarsgård, pick up the latest copy of Entertainment Weekly, on newsstands now or available here.