Emmys: Alexander Skarsgard Revisits His ‘Big Little Lies’ Therapy Session

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment

As we enter Emmy season — nomination voting runs June 12 to June 26 — Yahoo TV will be spotlighting performances and other contributions that we feel deserve recognition.

You might think an intense, extended sequence like the therapy session that comes midway through the third episode of HBO’s Big Little Lies would require lots of intense rehearsal. But as Alexander Skarsgård tells Yahoo TV in our Emmy video series “My Scene to Remember,” very little preparation went into shooting what has become the most talked-about sequence of the entire series. In it, married couple Perry (Skarsgård) and Celeste (Nicole Kidman) wrestle with the darkness at the heart of their marriage in front of a very patient, very concerned therapist (Robin Weigert). “Nicole and I didn’t rehearse this scene at all,” Skarsgard says. “All these pregnant pauses are not for dramatic effect — it’s us trying to figure out who has the next line!”

Here’s another surprise: The take that millions of viewers saw in the show is the first take that Skarsgård and Kidman filmed at the beginning of what ultimately proved to be a four-to-five-hour day. According to the 40-year-old actor, that was one of the happy quirks of collaborating with Oscar-nominated director Jean-Marc Vallée, who made a point of infusing the shoot with some of the spontaneity of live theater. “It’s as close to doing a play as I’ve ever done in front of a camera,” Skarsgård says. “We had the whole dance floor, in a way.”

And the star credits his Lies dance partner with keeping them both on point throughout this pivotal sequence. “Nicole is so open and generous, and it’s very easy to play off of that. Perry’s ready to talk, to Celeste’s surprise, and shares quite a lot. She tries to protect their secret, and he opens up more. In one way, this is genuine. This is him opening up and showing vulnerability. But he could potentially say these things because he knows it gives him leverage in their battle,” he says. “After this [scene], he’s in control, because she feels he opened up and he’s really working on their issues.”

Those issues, of course, have to do with the fact that Perry is a domestic abuser, who lashes out at his wife physically and emotionally. But Celeste continues to stay with him, in part because she feels complicit in this arrangement. “This was an interesting lesson, learning how abusive people can make their partners feel like they’re responsible,” Skarsgård says. “The dynamic is also difficult for Celeste because their love life is very violent and aggressive and passionate. There’s a fine line there. In a way, she blames herself. She feels, ‘Am I pushing him? Because part of me enjoys the tension and the buildup that is fiery and intense. Do I push him over the line where it gets violent?'”

Skarsgård describes the scenes where Perry batters Celeste as the hardest parts of the shoot. “We didn’t chop it up and shoot bits and pieces. We had to do the whole thing. To see Nicole, because she’s obviously a very devoted actress, those days were tough,” he says. “We tried to make sure to check in with each other at the end of the day and hug and make sure we were OK.” And even though he left Perry behind after Lies wrapped production, the actor confesses that the character is following him around. “People don’t like me anymore,” he says with a rueful chuckle. “That’s OK — I don’t blame them. I don’t like myself!”

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