Of course he's beautiful … but the man generally acknowledged as the world's first male supermodel is more than just a handsome face and a great body.
Contrary to that assumption about supermodels, Marcus Schenkenberg has a great brain to boot. Not only did he study economics in Sweden but the cosmopolitan stud also is a polyglot who can smooth-talk you in a variety of languages. So add the intellect to the beauty and you see what makes him truly unique.
Even the way he broke into modeling was unique. For those who don't know the story, after moving to America with his best friend, Marcus worked a variety of jobs in different cities, including New York City, Orlando, New Orleans and, lastly, Los Angeles. In L.A., Marcus ended up working as a nanny for two kids in the Hollywood Hills, which afforded him time to roller skate on Venice Beach on weekends. One day as he was skating, a photographer stopped Marcus and asked him to pose for some pictures. The shutterbug promptly presented his photos to a top modeling agency and, before he knew it, Marcus was on a plane bound for Europe. He soon hit the runways of cities like Milan and Paris.
It was in print, however, that Marcus made his indelible impression upon the general public. In 1991, Calvin Klein hired him to star in a campaign. Famed photographer Bruce Weber shot Marcus with Carre Otis in what turned out to be a 116-page ad for Vanity Fair … and the most striking picture was one of the 6'2" brown-eyed stunner showering completely naked.
Since that watershed shoot, Marcus has worked with the world's best photographers (including Chicago's own Victor Skrebneski), strutted for top designers, graced magazine covers, acted on TV shows (including a stint on As the World Turns) and has even recorded a song ('la chica marita').
When I spoke with Marcus, he was in Italy working on a couple of television shows in addition to modeling. We chatted about everything from Gianni Versace to Lane Bryant to (naturally) health and fitness.
Andrew Davis: What are you up to now?
Marcus Schenkenberg: I'm working on a couple of different TV shows. I was supposed to go to L.A. but I got an offer to do these shows and I've been working here for a while instead. I've actually had to learn Italian.
AD: So how many languages do you speak?
MS: Five. I speak English, Dutch, Swedish, Spanish and now Italian.
AD: Wow. I know people who have trouble speaking one. Now you also sing, don't you?
MS: Um … hmmm.
AD: Yeah. I actually heard a little bit of your song…
MS: It's not bad. I have a friend who's a [music] producer and he called me one day. He asked me (just for fun) if I wanted to go into the studio and record this song he had made. We did [the song] and the next thing I knew he called me and said that Virgin Records wanted to sign me on. So I signed a deal with them and this song ended up on the soundtrack of Flawless, the Robert de Niro movie.
AD: Yes, I've seen that movie.
MS: I [then] went to Europe and did a lot of promotional work. I did a music video in L.A. and it was a good experience … but it's really not for me. You know, I really don't have the passion for [that kind of work]. I think if you're going to do something you have to have the passion for it. I think I have a lot more passion for acting and I'd rather put my time into that.
AD: A lot of people (especially our readers) know your background … including that you worked as a nanny. If you had not become a model, what do you think you'd be doing right now?
MS: Well, that's a good question. When I was a kid in Sweden, I didn't know what I wanted to do. My parents wanted me to work in a bank or become a doctor. I studied economics for three years before I left Sweden because I was always good with numbers but I still wasn't sure [about what to do]. I felt like I wanted to travel and go to places like the U.S. and eventually I would know what I would want to do with my life. I felt like something was pulling me to the U.S.; I wasn't sure why but I thought I would figure out what to do while I was there. So I [traveled there] and one thing led to another. So I don't know. If I hadn't found modeling I might have ended up working in a bank in Sweden like my brother.
AD: Now let's turn to health and fitness. I know that you're very busy, so what's your exercise regimen like?
MS: Well, when I came to L.A. I worked out almost every day. I worked out for two to three hours at a time and gained a lot of muscle; in six months I gained about 20 pounds of muscle. After that, it was just maintenance for me. Now I go to the gym about two or three times a week. That's all I need to keep my body like it is. I'm very fortunate; I've always had that fast metabolism.
AD: Do you play sports? I know that you used to play basketball …
MS: Yeah, once in a while I play pick-up basketball games in the park. This [past] summer I played in a charity tennis tournament in Sardinia…
AD: Oh, I'm going to have to play you sometime. I love tennis!
MS: Really, I'm not that good. You'd probably kick my butt. (Laughs)
AD: I don't know about that …
MS: Yeah, but it's pretty much the gym. I don't have that much time to play organized sports.
AD: I also hear that you pretty much eat whatever you want.
MS: Yeah, I pretty much eat what I want. That's good. (Slight grin)
AD: Yeah, that is good indeed. So if you had to define fitness, how would you? What does fitness mean to you?
MS: Well, it's meant a lot to me. It's [contributed] to my success and my career. That 116-page Calvin Klein spread with Carre Otis that was photographed by Bruce Weber … I wouldn't have garnered that job if I hadn't been in such good shape. [Fitness] has been a very positive part of my life, not just for my career but for my [well-being]. Before I started working out I was very shy and I didn't have a lot of self-confidence. When I started building up my body, I started feeling more secure about myself.
AD: I know what you mean. I definitely feel better about myself since getting into fitness.
MS: People respond to you as well. They see that you're well-built and strong and they treat you differently. It's not only in your mind that you feel more confident and better but people around you act different. In some way, people also seem to have more respect for you.
AD: Would you say Europeans are more or less health-conscious than Americans?
MS: Well, I would say that Americans go to the gym more regularly than Europeans. You can look at the hotels here; they have no gyms. Most hotels in America have some sort of exercise facility. There aren't as many gyms in Europe and there aren't as many people in the gyms but Americans eat a lot more junk food. Here in Europe they eat more healthy, real food. There are no Taco Bells or Wendy's here. You don't see really, really fat people in Europe because they don't eat fast food.
AD: Do you have to be thin to be healthy or can you be a little overweight?
MS: I think you can be a little overweight, depending on the person. Everyone's different—but when [eating] gets out of control, that's when [weight] can become a problem.
AD: You recently did a campaign for Lane Bryant, right?
MS: Well, it really wasn't a campaign. There was a little bit of advertising and I did the fashion show in New York as well.
AD: I was wondering if you did that show because you had this attitude that big women can be beautiful …
MS: Well, it was more for the job. I do think that heavier women can be beautiful, but I thought it would be great to work with Carre Otis again. I remember a magazine wrote that, all of a sudden, I like bigger women. It wasn't like that at all.
AD: Now I want you to play a game with me. I'm going to give you a couple of names. Tell me what you think of each person.
MS: OK. (Laughs)
AD: Let's start with … Naomi Campbell.
MS: Um … Naomi … why? (He is then told of a complimentary quote about him that is attributed to Campbell.) Well, that's nice. I've known Naomi for over 10 years. She's a great girl and I consider her to be a friend of mine. She's always been very sweet to me. She's a little 'out there,' but I think she's basically a good person.
AD: Now what about [fashion designer] Valentino?
MS: Valentino … well, he is … gosh … a little strange, I think. (Pauses) He is very Italian.
AD: OK. There is one other name I want to ask you about. What are your memories of Gianni Versace?
MS: Oh my God. Gianni was the most incredible man and an incredible artist and designer. I worked with him many times in many shows. He was a big part of my success. After the Calvin Klein campaign, I did a Versace campaign with Stephanie Seymour. (Richard Avedon shot it.) Those pictures are probably my favorite ones out of my entire career. When Gianni was murdered, I just could not believe it. That was the craziest year; so many people died, [like] Princess Diana and Gianni. My grandmother died that year as well as my best friend in Sweden …
But [Gianni] was just such a fabulous guy … I can't believe he's gone and it's so sad that he's gone. He was a great persona and definitely a great designer. He was the No. 1 designer, in my opinion.
AD: Well, let me switch gears because I don't want to leave you sad …
MS: No, no, no. It's OK.
AD: Have you been to Chicago?
MS: Yes, I have. I worked with Skrebneski. I posed with a Black woman. She was my girlfriend at the time. It was for the Chicago Film Festival. I was also [in Chicago] for a Herb Ritts exhibition. (Note: This interview was conducted before Ritts's untimely passing.)
AD: So, when do you think you'll swing back by here?
MS: I have no idea. In fact, I'll be back in New York City for a couple of weeks. I want to make sure my apartment is still there (laughs), check my mail and see my friends. Then I have to go back [to Italy]; I finish both of my TV shows in May and then I'll be coming back to the U.S. after that.
AD: Thanks so much for letting me interview you. Good luck with everything.
MS: Thank you very much.
If you want to reach Marcus directly, his number is … darn, I lost it.
If you want to reach his exquisite personal manager Marta Michaud of Wilhelmina Models, her number is (212) 271-1601.
If you want to reach me, e-touch me at email@example.com .