WHO IS STELLAN SKARSGÅRD?
As one of the most
prominent film actors to have emerged from Sweden, Stellan Skarsgård
drew favorable comparisons to the likes of fellow Swedish thespian Max
von Sydow. Though relatively unknown in the United States for the first
half of his career, Stellan introduced himself to American audiences
with a memorable performance in Philip Kaufman's erotic drama, "The
Unbearable Likeness of Being" (1988). But it was his performance in Lars
von Trier's art house hit "Breaking the Waves" (1996) that propelled him
into stardom. From there, he gained widespread recognition for
performances in high-profile films like "Good Will Hunting" (1997),
"Amistad" (1997) and "Ronin" (1998), though by no means did he become a
household name. Stellan did, however, earn the respect of his peers and
the allegiance of theater goers who recognized in this brillian and
complicated actor an innate ability to transform himself and
become the part he played onscreen. Despite his penchant for the art
house, he segued into blockbuster features, such as two installments of
"Pirates of the Caribbean", playing the barnacled ghost Bootstrap Turner
allowing him to display his considerable talents to worldwide audiences
of all ages.
Born June 13, 1951 in Göteborg, Sweden, Stellan
began his acting career as a child, but became a star as a teenager with
his first leading role in the Swedish television miniseries, "Bombi Bitt
och jag" (1968). After making his film debut in "Strandhugg I Somras"
(1972), he joined the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, where he
stayed for the ensuing 16 years. In between stage productions, he
continued to appear on screen. One of his first leading roles was in the
erotic drama, "Anita, Swedish Nymphet" (1975), which he followed with
"Tabu" (1976). He won a Silver Bear Award at the 1982 Berlin
International Film Festival for "The Simple-Minded Murder/Den Enfaldige
mördaren" (1981), in which he played a young man with a hairlip who is
beaten down by a rich Nazi landowner to the point where he is taken in
by kindly neighbors, only to take his revenge on his tormentor and
spiral his life out of control.
Though not yet a known commodity in the United States, Stellan was
rapidly becoming a major star in his native Sweden. After a supporting
role in the dark thriller "Falsk som vatten" (1985), he played the son
of a landowner who spent years forcing a young woman to bear his
children based on a misinterpreted Biblical passage in "Ormen's vag pa
halleberget/The Serpent's Way" (1986), then soon followed with the light
children's comedy "Jim och piraterna blom/Jim and the Pirates" (1986).
He had a leading role in the plodding romantic comedy "Hip, Hip Hurrah!"
(1987), then followed with a supporting role in "Friends" (1987), an
absurdist comedy. Following a turn in the
16th century set thriller "Vargens tid/The Age of the Wolf" (1988), he
played a burdensome forensic scientist butting heads with a world-weary
inspector trying to find the attacker of an employee of a member of
India's upper caste.
By the end of the 1980s, he had begun to appear in international films,
playing an engineer in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988) and a
Soviet submarine commander in "The Hunt for Red October" (1991).
He won another Guldbagge as Best Actor for two Swedish films in
1989 - "Täcknamn Coq Rouge" and "Kvinnorna på taket". After
appearing in "Slingshot" (1993), he starred in "Breaking the Waves"
(1996), playing Jan, an oil rig worker who becomes paralyzed in a freak
accident and asks his wife to have sex with other men and tell him about
her experiences, causing her to spiral into a pit of despair and
tragedy. "Breaking the Waves" earned critical kudos and numerous awards,
though Stellan remained overshadowed by Watson's tour-de-force
Meanwhile, he landed the male half of the title role in
"Harry and Sonja" (1996), then co-starred in the British-made satirical
comedy "My Son the Fanatic" (1997). He continued to flourish,
co-starring in "Savior" (1997), Steven Spielberg's period drama
"Amistad" and "Good Will Hunting" (1997), playing a professor who
mentors a math whiz. Mainstream Hollywood beckoned him further and he
found himself in "Ronin" (1998), "Deep Blue Sea" (1999), "The Glass
House" (2001), "The House on Turk Street" (2002) and "King Arthur"
(2004), while continuing to appear in experimental indies like Alain
Berliner's "Passion of Mind" (2000) and Mike Figgis' "Timecode" (2000).
Among a steady slate of non-Hollywood projects, Stellan also reunited
with Von Trier for "Dancer in the Dark" (2000), the director's acclaimed
take on the Hollywood musical which focused on a Czech immigrant who
dreams of being in a musical while struggling to keep secret a genetic
disorder that will eventually render her blind. Next they teamed on the
unusual Danish television event "D-dag" (a.k.a. "D Day") (2000) as well
as the feature "Dogville" (2003), Von Trier's period drama about a woman
on the run from a group of gangsters. While he appeared in numerous
Swedish television projects, Stellan made few forays onto the small
screen in America, appearing in the never-was series, "Parker Kane"
(NBC, 1990); starring as a union organizer who aides a coal miner's
daughter in spearheading a long, bloody labor strike in "Harlan County
War" (Showtime, 2000); as well as playing Theseus, King of Athens, in
the made-for-cable miniseries, "Helen of Troy" (USA, 2003).
Given his career similarities to Max von Sydow, it came as no surprise
that Stellan was cast as the younger version of von Sydow's character in
"Exorcist: The Beginning" (2004). Hired by the film's original director,
Paul Schrader, to play a young Father Merrin, he remained the only
original cast member Schrader hired after the studio fired the director
and the bulk of his cast before putting Renny Harlin in charge. In "King
Arthur" (2004), Antoine Fuqua's so-called more realistic take on the
ancient legend, he played the ruthless and bloody-minded leader of a
band of Saxons invading the British Isles at a time when the Romans were
rolling up the empire, leaving its people to fend for themselves. He
next appeared in "Beowulf & Grendel" (2005), playing King Hrothgar of
the Danes whose kingdom needs assistance from a Norse warrior to fend
off the frightful monster, Grendel. Stellan then played the undead
pirate Bootstrap Bill, father to Will Turner, in
"Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), a harrowing,
energetic and worthy addition to the swashbuckling franchise that went
on to break several box office records.
Before the third and last edition of "Pirates" was released, Stellan
played controversial 18th century artist Francisco Goya in "Goya's
Ghosts" (2006), a compelling biopic centered on a Spanish monk involved
with the Inquisition who targets one of Goya's favorite models on
suspicion of her being a heretic. He next plodded along in the "Saw"
wanna-be horror-thriller, "WAZ" (2006), playing a haggard detective
hunting down a serial killer who carves parts of a math equation into
his victims. Stellan once again revived Bootstrap Bill Turner for
"Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End" (2007). He then went
back to his native Scandinavia to make "Arn" (2008), an epic look at the
Knights Templar during the 12th century.
Along came a rather surprising role when he was cast in the musical, "Mamma Mia" (2008), but
as usual, Stellan stepped up to the plate and pulled off the singing and
dancing like a pro. You could see he truly had fun on that Greek Island.
The same year he starred in Duncan Ward's indie film, "Boogie Woogie"
(2008), set in London among the world of international art dealers. He then turned
to narrating by joining his son, Alexander, in
providing voices for the Swedish sci-fi animation "Metropia" (2009).
His next role had
him playing the leader of the Swiss National Guard in the Vatican
mystery thriller, "Angels & Demons" (2009), directed by Ron Howard and
based on Dan Brown's novel by the same name. Three indie films followed.
He teamed up with Halle Berry, playing her shrink in "Frankie & Alice"
(2009) and went on to do two highly successful Norwegian films. He
re-joined his favorite Norwegian director, Hans Petter Moland, in the
black comedy, "En ganske snill mann" (2010). It was one of Stellan's
wackiest roles and won him significant recognition. He quickly went from
funny to serious in his next role as a schoolmaster in Marius Holst's "Kongen av Bastøy"
(2010), based on the true story of the infamous Bastøy Boys Home
correctional facility in Norway.
It was back to Hollywood for a minor role in "Thor"
(2011), the first film in the superhero series created by Marvel
Studios. He would return a year later for the second film, "The
Avengers" due out in May 2012. Before going on to the next blockbuster,
he took a break and hooked up again with his Danish friend and director,
Lars Von Trier, for "Melancholia" (2011), a beautiful film about
the end of the world. He was next cast in the crime thriller, "The Girl
with the Dragon Tattoo" (2011), based on Stig Larssen's bestseller. This
was not the original Swedish version though it was filmed in Sweden much
to Stellan's delight. We all know Americans do not like reading
subtitles so director David Fincher helmed the US version with Stellan
playing an infamous member of the Vanger family.
At the end of 2011, he was in Brazil filming an
international TV co-production called "Rouge Brésil"
taking on the role of Admiral Villegaignon, who founded a colony in Rio
de Janeiro back in 1555. At the start of 2012, Stellan had a change of
pace with the Shakespearean drama, "Romeo and Juliet", playing the
Prince of Verona, with filming in Italy. Next he hooked up again with
co-stars Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth to do the true WW II story of POW
Eric Lomax. 2013 proved a busy year with a continuing role in "Thor 2",
a medieval period drama called "The Physician" (Aka Der Medicus) filmed
in Germany, another collaboration with Danish director Lars Von Trier in
his 2-part sex film called "Nymphomaniac". The following year
he teamed up for the fourth time with director Hans Petter Moland in the
black comedy, "Kraftidioten" (AKA In order of Disappearance) and also
starred in the adventure comedy "Hector and the Search of Happiness"
with Simon Pegg.
In 2015 he returned to the Marvel series starring in
"Avengers: Age of Ultron" directed by Joss Whedon and also played the
Grand Duke in the Disney film "Cinderella" once again working with
director Kenneth Branagh. For a change of pace, he signed onto a British
TV crime mini-series called "River" playing the lead role of detective
John River. It was a smash! The John Le Carré
thriller "Our Kind of Traitor" premiered in 2016. That same
year Stellan starred in a romantic drama called "Return to Montauk"
helmed by the Oscar-winning director Volker Schlöndorff ("The Tin
Drum"). The following year he picked up another Guldbagge for his role
in the Scandinavian film "Borg vs. McEnroe".
He had two film releases in 2018 - a prequel to the
successful Abba film - "Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again" and a minor role in
the long-awaited Terry Gilliam adventure - "The Man Who Killed Don
Quixote". The following year Stellan was cast in the Holocaust drama,
"The Painted Bird", filmed in the Czech Republic. He also worked once
again with Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland in "Out Stealing
Horses" and was cast by Moland's wife Maria Sødahl
in "Hope". Starring in the HBO series "Chernobyl" gave Stellan his
first Golden Globe award. In 2020, he starred in Jonathan Nossiter's
film "Last Words" and a year later was cast as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen
in Denis Villeneuve's sci-fi epic "Dune".
personal life, Stellan married My Gïnther
in 1976 and the couple raised a family of six children - Alexander
(August 25, 1976), Gustaf (November 12, 1980), Sam (June 5,
1982), Bill (August 9, 1990), Eija (February 27, 1992) and Valter
(October 25, 1995). Four of their children have become actors.
After his divorce in 2007, he married Megan Everett two years later and
together they have two sons, Ossian (April 26, 2009) and Kolbjörn
(August 24, 2012). In 2014 Sam and his wife Sanna gave birth to
Stellan's first grandchild, a boy. In 2018 Bill became a father to a
daughter named Miracle. In August 2019 Eija married Zeke Tastas.