‘On Becoming a God’: Alexander Skarsgård’s Unrecognizable Turn Is Utterly Divine

The "Big Little Lies" actor plays a poor sap taken in by a pyramid scheme in Showtime's new satire.
Alexander Skarsgård, "On Becoming a God in Central Florida"
Alexander Skarsgård, "On Becoming a God in Central Florida"
Patti Perret/Sony/SHOWTIME

[Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers from “On Becoming a God in Central Florida” Episode 1, “The Stinker Thinker.”]

In most of Alexander Skarsgård’s leading man roles, he’s almost ethereally attractive. His turn in Showtime’s “On Becoming a God in Central Florida,” however, is distinctly different. He’s a gangly guy with bad posture, a mullet-like haircut, and ill-fitting suit. There’s still an earnestness and charm underneath, but Skarsgård is no longer polished and godly; he’s human.

“It’s really hard to make him less hot,” observed co-creator Robert Funke told IndieWire.

“The first time I met him I wanted to be so mad at him, but I just wanted to follow him around the room and hug his leg,” said co-creator Matt Lutsky. “It’s infuriating. He’s so nice and smart and cool and funny.”

Travis Stubbs is just a man who wants to achieve the American dream, and he believes a pyramid scheme named FAM is his ticket. Although he works a 9-to-5 job, he also moonlights as a FAM recruiter, mentored by his upline, Cody Bonar (Théodore Pellerin). Travis’ wife Krystal (Kirsten Dunst) is supportive but would rather have her husband home and well-rested, especially since they just became parents to a daughter named Destinee.

The show had Dunst, who is also an executive producer on the project, to thank for Skarsgård’s casting. She had worked with him previously on Lars von Trier’s psychological science-fiction drama “Melancholia,” in which they played bride and groom.

“People don’t always see people in the way that I got to know him. I already knew we’d have chemistry and it would be a good fit,” said Dunst. “Alex just acted goofy and sweet. That’s his natural personality. He’s really funny. So I was like, ‘No one ever uses him in this context,’ and they were like, ‘Alex, really? He’s so serious.’ I’m like, ‘No, he’s not. Get ready.’ Everyone trusted me at the end of the day.”

Travis is mesmerizing, partly because you cannot look away from this sad sack who will drive his family into financial ruin, but also because he’s absolutely hilarious. His blind faith in founder Obie Garbeau II’s (Ted Levine) system — on which FAM is built — leads him to adopt the language of the converted.

In an early scene, he dons a tux and tails, preparing for his big day when he quits his job and works for FAM — and himself — full-time.

“All the stinker thinkers trying to tell me this was a scam? I’m thinking of their faces when they see me in this tux and they realize, ‘Uh-uh. That was not a scam!'” he says, gazing in the mirror. “When they see the limo, they’re about to see what a winner looks like.”

Alexander Skarsgård, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida”
Alexander Skarsgård, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida”Showtime

The producers credit Skarsgård’s enthusiasm for helping to make Travis so lovable and for establishing the tragicomic tone of the series. After yet another sleepless night, Travis accidentally runs his car off the road and straight into a swamp. Fortunately, he’s able to escape his vehicle before drowning. Unfortunately, he’s promptly eaten by an alligator.

“Skarsgård brought an energy to that show and to the episode and to the set that set the tone for what we ended up doing for the whole season,” said Funke.

“He was so down to do anything if it helped the show. There was a swamp scene where he was barred from going into the water because of brain-eating amoebas,” said Lutsky. “And he was just like, ‘Nah. The description is I should be in the water, right? I’m going in.’ And he was in

“He had so much fun and joy in the role and found so much to love in it. And I think from Day One, his attitude and his enthusiasm for the fun and the heart of the show made everyone else on set really open up and embrace their own version of that same thing.”

Alexander Skarsgård, "On Becoming a God in Central Florida"
Alexander Skarsgård, “On Becoming a God in Central Florida”Showtime

Despite Skarsgård’s early exit, that’s a significant legacy for the series, of which IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers says, “You won’t be able to tell if you’re laughing so hard it hurts, or if you’ve just been punched in the gut.”

The no-holds-barred attitude appears to have been learned from the Garbeau System itself, or as Travis once told Krystal, “As Cody always says, as Obie Garbeau always says, ‘Go-getters go get.'”

“On Becoming a God in Central Florida” airs Sundays at 10 p.m. ET on Showtime. The first two episodes are streaming now — free of charge, no subscription needed — on the network’s YouTube channel.

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