It's hard enough on a healthy male ego just kind of standing around a guy like Alexander Skarsgård, whose Viking physique, showcased to such great effect on HBO's True Blood, tends to make one feel small and soft and generally shabby in comparison. One does not need the extra discomfort of being humiliated by his dad. Skarsgård's father, Stellan, happens to be Sweden's biggest movie star, best known on these shores as the quadriplegic roughneck in Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves or as the Swedish travel writer performing off-key ABBA songs in Mamma Mia!, depending on how you like to think of yourself. I'd called Stellan in Stockholm and informed him I was going whale-watching with his son. "Ever since he went whale-watching, he won't stop talking about it. Everybody has to go! It's a plague!" he affectionately complained. Then came the setup: "Listen," he said, the lugubrious voice oozing authority. "Bring a sweater. It's cold out there."
And so here I am, standing by the Long Beach docks in the brilliant sunshine of an eighty-five-degree California morning, dressed for the North Sea (winter hat, heavy sweater, windbreaker). Skarsgård the Younger is attired, appropriately, in a V-neck and light sweatshirt. His eyes take in my outfit, squint up at the sun. A dry smile plays about his lips. "You think you'll be warm enough?" he asks.
As Stanley Kowalski might have put it: "Stelllaaaannn!"
Once at sea, I can only imagine, Skarsgård, 34, will form a trumpet with his hands and let forth a piercing ululation, summoning whales, which will arrive frolicking in Busby Berkeley formation, whereupon the Swede will strip shirtless and dive into the waves, breaking the surface several minutes later astride a newborn calf. I, meanwhile, will remain queasily deckbound, a homunculus sweating in my woolens.