Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth rave about their erotic nightmare Infinity Pool

Sci-fi-tinged horror Infinity Pool stars Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth in the latest challenging pic by Brandon Cronenberg. Stephen A Russell joins them in Berlin as they talk turning to the dark side and rave about the layers to Cronenberg’s erotic nightmare.

From his American breakthrough as True Blood’s tastiest vampire Eric Northman to his berserker turn as a vengeful Viking in… The Northman, Alexander Skarsgård has sunk his teeth into dangerous roles drawn to the dark side. His latest, in horror scion Brandon Cronenberg’s erotic nightmare Infinity Pool, continues this fine tradition as he plays a failing author whose head gets turned a fawning fan Gabi—played by Mia Goth of X/Pearl fame—who’s not quite what she seems.

“I’ve always been drawn to characters that challenge me,” Skarsgård says as we sit down together with Goth at the glitzy Ritz-Carlton in Berlin during international film festival Berlinale. “A lot of scripts that I read, there’s a conformity to them. They often feel quite derivative, as if written by a focus group, so it’s really refreshing when you read something like Brandon’s Infinity Pool, because it’s almost anarchistic in a way. It’s just so out there.”

That’s putting it mildly.

Skarsgård’s James is a struggling author with writer’s block who’s propped up by his rich, bored wife, Em, depicted by Cleopatra Coleman, the Australian star of Dopesick. “On the surface, everything is perfect,” Skarsgård, wearing dark jeans and an olive-green sweater, says. “He lives a very sheltered life with his wife, and the only thing he questions is his own talent. That’s why he’s such an easy target for Gabi.”

Gabi convinces them both to leave the safety of their White Lotus-like resort hotel to explore the fictional island nation of La Tolqa. An extremely dangerous place, crime is rife, not least committed by debauched wealthy tourists. But the crackdown is brutal, with a twist. The locals have unlocked the arcane ability to produce exact doubles of any person. If a perpetrator stumps up enough cash, these replicas can be executed instead. Of course, once you remove the fear of death, it opens the door to very bad behaviour indeed.

“Em’s not been drinking the Kool-Aid and is shocked and appalled by that first execution, but James is almost turned on by it and needs more,” Skarsgård says.

The cutting satire of Cronenberg’s dark fable intrigued him. “I’m aware how privileged people sometimes, when they go on vacation, feel like the moral compass they adhere to back home, they can just throw that out the window. God, I hope I’m not one of them. And they don’t see the people serving them as humans and treat them however they want. They act with impunity and can just buy their way out of anything.”

The gated community aspect, shielding moneyed types from the reality of life outside their five-star resort, is ripe material. “There’s this satirical aspect of having cultural experiences, but you don’t really want it to be real. You want it to be tailored to you, so that it’s palatable. And I think Brandon did such a great job of it. It’s so funny in the movie.”

Coleman’s one of several “awesome” Australian women Skarsgård has worked alongside, including Nicole Kidman on The Northman, Margot Robbie on The Legend of Tarzan and Sarah Snook on Succession. “Sarah and I have a really fun arc this upcoming season that’s quite exciting stuff,” he says. “With Cleo on Infinity Pool, it was important to play the sadness of that relationship, because we needed to believe that all it took to convince James to go on this journey is someone to stroke his ego a little bit because he’s so broken.”

Broken people make for interesting characters, as Goth, swaddled in an oversized black puffer, well knows. It’s a big part of her transformation as Gabi. “She had to come across as really rather unassuming, at first. And then, bit by bit, she starts to reveal more of her internal desires, and by the end of the movie, she’s really feral.”

It was a great role to get to grips with, she says. “I don’t shy away from more challenging material. It has been a real gift to me, within this genre, that I’ve been able to find characters that speak to me on a very deep, personal level. I’ve been able to do things as a performer that I don’t think I would have had an opportunity to do in other types of movies.”

She’s annoyed that horror movies are often excluded from awards ceremonies. “I don’t really know why it’s not as celebrated as it should be, because there are lots of seminal performances and incredible directors working within this field… it connects to a lot of people and, really, I think that’s what’s most important. That people are moved by what they’re watching, and they feel a sense of community watching these sorts of films. I think that’s probably the best award that you could get.”

Goth relished co-writing her villain’s origin story in brilliant X prequel Pearl, which she also helped produce. “It was the most creatively fulfilling experience that I’ve had. Because it was my first time being involved in a project from its very conception, to the making of it, to the post and seeing the kind of reception it’s had from people. It’s been thrilling and just so beautiful to witness, and it’s something I want to continue. I know firsthand that when you’re involved to that level and you’re so invested in what you’re making, the work benefits from it.”