The world was a different place the first time I interviewed Alexander Ludwig. We spoke over the phone in December 2019: Ludwig was in a good space. Having just finished the final season of Vikings, the young actor would shortly take a lead role in the Starz wrestling series Heels. His country music EP was due out in January; the same month as Bad Boys For Life, the long-awaited cinematic reunion of Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in which Ludwig played tech expert Dorn.
Most importantly of all, Ludwig had found sobriety after years of alcoholism and addiction. “I spent basically all the money I had to get better,” said Ludwig of his decision to enter rehab. “That was the best investment I’ve ever made, but also the scariest one.”
He filmed a video for the YouTube series Bite The Bullet, sharing his struggles with remarkable frankness in the hope that other people who were similarly struggling would realise they were not alone.
Much has happened in the intervening three years. Ludwig followed the EP by releasing his debut album Highway 99. Season two of Heels is out in the summer. Also due this year is Marked Men, the latest from The Notebook director and Ludwig’s “spirit animal” Nick Cassavetes: Ludwig plays tormented bad boy Rome Archer. Bad Boys 4 is currently shooting – indeed, Ludwig had to reschedule our initial Zoom call for a meeting with Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. There are worse reasons to reschedule.
This month, Ludwig can be seen alongside Jake Gyllenhaal in Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant. The war film tells the story of a US Army sergeant returning to Afghanistan to track down the interpreter who saved his life from the Taliban. Ludwig had wanted to work with Ritchie for years and the experience did not disappoint. “There’s this saying, ‘Don’t meet your heroes,’” he notes. “Meet Guy Ritchie.”
Turning 30 fucked me up for a second. You can never try to replicate somebody else’s journey.
On a personal level, there’s the small matter of marriage and impending fatherhood. Alex and Lauren eloped in Utah at the start of 2021. They were wed in a yurt on a mountaintop by a man who predicts avalanches. “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” says Ludwig. Their daughter Leni was born a few weeks after we spoke for this interview.
Lauren is no less courageous than Alex. Witness her Instagram post last May – a year before their daughter’s due date. “Last week @alexanderludwig and I had our 3rd miscarriage. I decided I wanted to share because I don’t think it’s a shameful thing to talk about. I want to help others realise how common miscarriages are and how they aren’t something to be embarrassed about… If more of us talked about these things, maybe we would feel less alone and at fault.”
“I have so much respect for my wife for this,” says Ludwig. “Once she started having these miscarriages, she started talking to people and realised how often this happens.”
Lauren’s candour had the desired effect. “The amount of people who still come up to me and are like, ‘I am so grateful that you guys talked about this. Thank you for making this like a normal thing.’ I deserve zero credit. That was all Lauren. I’m so proud of her. ”
Even if Alexander Ludwig wasn’t one of the nicest dudes I’d had the pleasure to interview, there would still be good reason to catch up. The conversation spans everything from extreme sports to the nature of success. Sometimes they really do finish first.
Photography by Jonny Marlow | Styling by Ali Mullin | Grooming by Courtney Housner
Square Mile: We last spoke just before the release of Bad Boys, which ended up being the third-highest grossing movie of the year…
Alexander Ludwig: Yeah, but that’s a pretty easy one to claim!
SM: I’d still take it. How have you been anyway? I know you’ve got a new arrival coming – congratulations!
AL: Thank you! May 25 is the due date. I’m feeling good about it. Honestly, my biggest fear was having a kid when I wasn’t ready. We’re always continuously growing as people but I feel like I’m at a place in my life where I can be that rock for somebody else, you know? Whereas if you asked me six years ago if I wanted a kid, I’d say ‘You’re insane. No way!’
SM: You want that though, don’t you? If I’m not looking back at myself five years younger and thinking, ‘What a moron!’ then I’ve wasted the past five years.
AL: A hundred percent. I’m 30 now. In your thirties, you’re not a crazy kid anymore. You’ve had these wild experiences and now it’s getting to dial in on the things that you’ve prioritised in your life. But man, time flies.
I’m not gonna lie, turning 30 fucked me up for a second. You can never try to replicate somebody else’s journey. I love Paul Newman but I could never try to replicate his career. I can’t be like, ‘When Newman was 30 years old, this is what he was doing, so fuck, I’m a failure.’
I feel like we do that all the time. We put that pressure on ourselves. It can be healthy because you never mistake gratitude for complacency. We’re always grateful but want to keep moving the needle forward and you want to keep growing and expanding.
SM: It’s hard not to compare yourself to the alternate version of you who’s already ticked off everything you’ve ever wanted to accomplish. But you never compare yourself to the version who’s doing much worse…
AL: That’s so true. And we’re all going through our own shit that can be uniquely similar. Let me tell you, I’ve been so fortunate to work with some of the biggest names ever and dude – it doesn’t end!
SM: OK, I should ask some normal questions. Tell me about The Covenant…
AL: It’s awesome, man. It’s Guy’s first war movie. I’ve wanted to work with him forever; if you gave me a list of five directors in the world that I wanted to work with, he’s at the top. And I was lucky because Guy and his producer had seen Vikings. Don’t tell them but I would’ve paid to be in this movie because I wanted to work with those guys so much. I’ve probably watched Snatch a hundred times.
SM: Is that your favourite film of his?
AL: That was my favourite growing up. But he doesn’t miss. The coolest thing about this film is you still feel the Guy Ritchie flair; Guy Ritchie definitely directed this. Quentin Tarentino is like that too. If you can watch a film and you’ll know who directed it – their name doesn’t have to come up.
SM: What’s he like to work with?
AL: There’s this saying, ‘Don’t meet your heroes.’ Meet Guy Ritchie. He’s just a dude. He built this barbecue on set – it’s in The Gentlemen, the scene in Charlie Hunnam’s back garden. He must get it flown out. You can put your legs underneath it. So Guy and I sit there and we start shooting this shit. Then Jake came over. That was like my first day.
The first day of filming, I enter his trailer and dude, it is the most Guy Ritchie trailer you’ve ever seen in your life. There’s a wood burning stove. He’s dressed in a three-piece suit, cooking an omelette. And he goes, ‘You want one?’ I’m just like, thank you for being everything I hope you would be.
SM: Your wrestling show Heels sounds great. Give us the elevator pitch…
AL: It’s about two brothers in the wrestling business who are dealing with their father’s suicide. There are two different types of wrestlers in a show: there’s a face and there’s a heel. My character is the face, but in real life he’s a heel. He’s a total mess and a complete disaster. The script was too good and this character was too good for me to pass up.
I’ve never been a very big wrestling fan. Stephen Amell, my co-star, is obsessed with wrestling. I worked with Dwayne Johnson when I was 16, I remember Dwayne would tell me stories of wrestling. Imagine you’re in a room of 60,000 people watching you. There’s a script, one person’s supposed to win and one person’s supposed to lose, but it’s live. What happens when one of the guys decides, ‘This is my time, I’m not gonna follow the script?’
SM: How did you prepare for that role?
AL: I always give credit to the stunt team. Some actors are like, ‘Yo, I do all my own stunts!’ ‘Oh, do you? Every single one?’ On Heels, we have an amazing stunt team, but there’s so little you can fake. If we’re jumping off a cage at 20 feet, my double’s gonna do that. But everything else, whether it’s the backflips off the top turnbuckle or the wrestling in there, that’s all me. And dude, it is the most painful shit I have ever done. You’re hurting in places that you didn’t think you had. I think these people are nuts; I don’t know how they do this every single day.
SM: Did you speak to Dwayne for advice?
AL: I didn’t talk to Dwayne for this one. I talked to somebody who I’ve been really close to over the years, his name’s Adam Copeland and he’s a Hall of Fame wrestler. He was called Edge. We ended up working on Vikings together. So I would be calling Adam for everything, the poor guy – ‘Do I need to shave my chest?’ ‘What weight do I have to be at?’
When you’re portraying a military film, you have this whole group of people who are actual operators who are gonna watch and you wanna do right by them. This is how I felt doing Heels. There is a whole community of wrestlers here who are gonna watch this and they’re gonna want to see that the actors are showing up. I wanted to do right by them.
SM: So, since we last spoke, you’ve released an album: Highway 99. Talk us through that…
AL: It’s been amazing, man. People ask me, ‘Is it acting or music?’ I’m not naive enough to think that I can be doing both at a hundred percent all the time. With music I’m doing it on my own terms – I’m just grateful that I get to go to Nashville and write music. I’d be lying if I told you acting wasn’t my main focus but when I have time I’ll be going back to Nashville and keep writing. It’s just another form of storytelling to me.
There’s no right or wrong way to do music. I just love it. It’s not like I’m expecting this to be a whole career. A lot of actors that I know have their other outlets. Some actors will paint, some actors will do other things. For me, it’s music. So I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon – this is a long game for me.
SM: You’ve toured Germany, played festivals. Do you still get nervous?
AL: It’s horrible. Honestly, I fucking hate it. Partly because I’m still green. But when you’re on stage, suddenly you’re like, oh yeah, this is totally worth it. But the days leading up to a show are just torture. I have so much respect from musicians; it’s a very similar lifestyle to wrestlers. Going from one town to another nonstop, grinding it out.
At least with acting, you go somewhere and live there for a few months. In music, you’re going, going, going. That will always be the big hurdle that I’ll have in music: to build and grow that fanbase, you need to constantly be touring. That’s not what it’s really about for me; for me, it’s about the writing of it and getting to play it.
SM: I really enjoyed the album. My favourite track is ‘Malibu Blue’. Is it true you played it to your wife on your first date?
AL: That’s true. We were going to Whistler Mountain and that was a song that I played for her and I was like, ‘What do you think of this?’ Whistler is where I spent all my childhood. I grew up in Vancouver but there’s this big road called Highway 99 that goes all the way up to Whistler. That’s where I got my country music education. I feel most at peace in the mountains. Whistler to me is God’s country.
SM: I imagine you’re a good skier?
AL: I actually used to compete in freestyle skiing and big mountain skiing. That was something I thought I’d do professionally.
SM: What are we talking about here?
AL: So in my teens I came second in one of the big mountain competitions that Whistler has. You get dropped off at the top of this big run, there’s cliffs and all these different things. Judges are sitting on a mountaintop that overlooks the run. Your job is to make the most concise, fluid run possible, make it stylish. You’re dropping cliffs and you’re doing tricks off things. Big mountain skiing was my favourite thing. But by the time I was 15, 16 acting started to happen for me and there’s no way a studio would let you do that.
SM: No, I expect the insurance would be steep. What tricks could you do?
AL: I was definitely not as good as some people but I’d throw a backflip or I can do 360s, 720s, 1080s – multiple spins, you’d need a huge jump – 540s, which is a 360 and then you land backwards. Then it gets even crazier because you try to cross your skis while you’re doing it, or you try to be inverted. I’ve always been an adrenaline junkie; I skydive in Austin when I’m not working.
SM: How many have you done?
AL: Technically I’m still a rookie but I have had, like, 150 jumps. I don’t get to do it as much because if I’m on contract, I’m not allowed to. While I’m on contract for a TV show, it’s like being on a sports team – they’re not gonna let you go skydiving. But my rig is literally at the drop zone.
Statistically the most dangerous thing about skydiving is driving to the drop zone. Skydiving itself is not that dangerous. If I’m skydiving, I have my first parachute and then I have my reserve and my reserve is packed by a professional, I’m not allowed to pack it. If something ever went wrong, you can cut away. It sounds crazy, but it’s not really.
When you’re doing your AFF course, legally they have to tell you all the ways things can go wrong – and that’s terrifying. But the only thing I’ve ever had is a simple line twist and that’s very, very common. Your shoot will come out and it’s a little twisted; while you’re in the air, you have to open it and bicycle out of it and then you’re fine.
SM: It sounds terrifying. So I saw you and your wife eloped – what exactly does an elopement entail? I’ve always wondered…
AL: So it was during Covid. It became clear to me, very quickly: this woman is incredible and she’s my best friend. I never realised it could be so easy! We had known each other for years. We reconnected on the Vikings set because her and her friend were travelling Europe and they stopped by Ireland. It was totally platonic and friendly. But I remember being like, ‘Wow, this girl’s really special’
We both got into four-year relationships shortly after. And after those both ended, I drove from LA to Vancouver and I sent her a text. Her last name was Dear and I always called her Bambi. So I was like, ‘Bambi, what’s up? You wanna go for a hike?’ We went for a hike and we were inseparable ever since. She moved to Atlanta with me for Heels.
I had this big trip planned: go to the Seychelles, I was going to propose where my parents got engaged, and then travel all over Africa together. But I didn’t feel right going to this stupidly nice environment while everyone was stuck dealing with this Covid shit. So we cancelled everything. Fortunately Utah was really close so we just went there and stayed at this hotel called the Lodge at Blue Sky. And randomly this hotel had an elopement package!
Within a matter of 24 hours, we had set up a yurt on the top of this mountain. We had this hippie avalanche predictor – he predicts when an avalanche is supposed to come, that’s his job, but he marries people on the side. We got a photographer; Lauren got a dress, I got a suit. I bought the ring in Park City at some random jewellery store and we just did it. And I wouldn’t change it for the world.
SM: Sounds like a rom-com. And now a kid! Do you know the sex or is that a surprise?
AL: It’s a girl. I tell everyone we’re gonna call her Oglethorpe, after my grandmother. They’re like, ‘Oh. Um, that’s beautiful…’ and I just die! We don’t actually have a name yet. We have a few frontrunners. It won’t be, like, Tangerine, I promise you.
SM: Lauren posted on Instagram about you guys having gone through three past miscarriages. That must make this so special…
AL: It does. Lauren has been such a warrior through this. The miscarriages… we were more fortunate that those happened earlier than later because that would be even more traumatic. But I have so much respect for my wife for this. Once she started having these miscarriages, she started talking to people and realised how often this happens.
Lauren’s like, ‘I wanna say something, share my experience and I feel like it’ll help people.’ And she posted about this and dude, the amount of people who still come up to me and are like, ‘I am so grateful that you guys talked about this. Thank you for making this like a normal thing.’ I deserve zero credit. That was all Lauren; I’m so proud of her for doing that. Because it is very normal and there’s nothing wrong with you.
SM: Like your Bite the Bullet video, right?
AL: That’s crazy too, man. I’m in a coffee shop in Austin and this guy starts looking at me. He came up to me and was like, ‘I’m so sorry to bother you. I just wanted to say your Bite the Bullet video saved my life. And I was just like, ‘Holy shit!’ Fame is the most overrated shit on the planet. Anybody who wants to be famous, I think that’s such a mistake. But the one beautiful fucking thing about having any sort of notoriety is your ability to do something like that.
SM: It’s more than most people do. I’ve never saved anyone’s life, as far as I know.
AL: I didn’t either! I just shared my experience. But for him to say it made him feel like he’s not alone… Whenever I do an interview or just talk to somebody, I’m like, what is the purpose of this? Obviously we wanna talk about our projects and stuff, but honestly for me it’s like making people realise we’re all the same in so many different ways. We all have these same issues. It’s shocking to me that we don’t normalise these things and we don’t talk about these things.
SM: The conversation around mental health and addiction is moving in a positive way…
AL: I just had a talk with a family friend who asked if I could Zoom with her daughter? She wants to get into the music business. I hopped on a Zoom. The first thing I said is, ‘I just want you to know right now, and I wish somebody had told me this – this is the most scared you will ever be in your entire life. You’re broke as shit. You have no idea what you wanna do with your life and that is OK. That is what everybody feels at your age. Here are the steps to do what you want to do going forward.’
Being 30, I feel like there’s always growth to be had and ways to get better, but I think I really have my priorities figured out. For me, it’s about building, it’s about telling great stories and reminding myself to be grateful every day that I get to do what I love. Because what is success really?
There’s this great story that I remind myself of all the time. A wealthy real estate developer goes out on a boat with this fisherman and he asks, ‘Who owns all this land here?’ ‘I do’, says the fisherman.
“The real estate developer says, ‘You should build a hotel, you can make a lot of money.’ The fisherman asks, ‘Then what would I do?’ The developer says, ‘Well, people would pay you to stay here.’ Fisherman asks, ‘Then what would I do?’ The developer says, ‘Then you’d sell the hotel and make a fortune.’
“‘And then what would I do?’ asks the fisherman. Developer shrugs. ‘And then you’d probably sit on this boat and fish.’”
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Heels Season Two is out July 28