Source: Dygens Nyheter - January 2, 2016
Right now Stellan Skarsgård has been raised to the
skies for his role as the soul-tormented detective in the British TV
series "River". Carin Stahlberg has met a Swedish star who agrees with
the international critics - he gets better with age.
Stellan Skarsgård's long body unfolds in the doorway to his office on
Södermalm in Stockholm. It is below freezing on a cold Monday morning a
few days before Christmas, a thin snow cover is above the roofs and the
sunlight is sharp. He lives here in the neighborhood, he says, a little
further away, as do several of his children and ex-wife My.
"Here, people see me all the time grocery shopping. Everyone is
accustomed to me. There is nothing strange about it. This district is
like a family. It's great in Sweden. In the US, they jump on you if
you're famous: 'Ohh, my God it's YOU !!!'... I'm in a good mood so I can
tolerate it, but I'm vulnerable so I avoid it when I go out," says
Stellan in response to my question on whether he was bothered by being
We sat down in a pair of low, wide gray armchairs inside in the warmth
of his office. It is a sparsely furnished open space that inspires a
sense of something temporary: a desk, a bookcase, and a small photo of
the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman (taken by Martin Schoeller). Hoffman
closes his eyes in the picture. There rests a calm and vulnerability in
"No, we did not know each other. We would have done
the movie 'A Most Wanted Man,' but it didn't work out. He was a great actor."
Like Hoffman, Stellan Skarsgård champions those small expressions. In the BBC
series "River", he gives proof of that. The series is praised by
reviewers, especially in the British press where one headline read "Why
I love Stellan Skarsgård".
The protagonist John River is a successful but mentally unstable
detective. He not only hears voices but also sees dead people talking to
him - and he responds whenever they crop up in everyday life, such as
his colleague Stevie (Nicola Walker) whose shootings and death he
witnessed. With her he shows a vibrating sensual love tryst at a
restaurant, but it is only he who is there. She is a fantasy.
"It is one of the finest love scenes I have done in my life. There is so
much love in it..."
The camera hangs on Stellan Skarsgård's face throughout the series. All
events are reflected therein. The photographer used a particular box
with built-in lights to create a special light that would be above
Stellan Skarsgård's eyes...
Do you recognize yourself in John River?
"Of course I do. I recognize myself in all people, but I try not to
describe him... You will be locked in a kind of simplification. Who is
he? I cannot even describe myself as a person, or my wife, or my
children. I can describe some features of them ... but no, I cannot."
Did you do any research for the role? I am primarily thinking of Rivers
"Clinical research could not do. River has a fictional
psychosis, I call it the River syndrome. It does not exist. People who
hear voices are usually schizoid which means they are not as empathic.
River is hyperempathic and still has these hallucinations. But yes,
I've skimmed the surface a little and read, but there is very
little that I have been able to use."
No, Stellan Skarsgård does not work that way. He does not want to have
too much information on a character's outer relationship and then
create a single image. He begins with the internal image.
"If I should play a baker, I am not in a bakery baking bread for three
months. But I try to understand what the baker is afraid of - and what
he loves in life. What is interesting is what separates him from us...
Stellan Skarsgård changes position. The low armchairs did not really seem
to be designed for 191 centimeters. I try to imagine him as a German
opera singer for the fact is that right now he is about to shoot a film
in Krakow - "Music, War and Love", directed by Martha Coolridge.
He cannot sing so he will be dubbed...
We talk for a while about the fact that he has often praised Sweden for
its gender equality
and asylum policy when interviewed in the foreign press.
"But now I can no longer boast that we - per capita - have been the most
generous country to accept asylum seekers. The problem is not that we
cannot afford to take in refugees. We politically cannot afford to take
them. It's the worst I think. Bizarre.
During his childhood in the Skarsgård home, everyone
had a voice, even the small children.
"When having dinner with guests, if a four-year-old
came up with an opinion, the adults would be quiet and listen to the
child... I had to learn to argue..."
He is born of the soil,
characterized by everyone's right to a voice and that together we can
accomplish anything, not alone.
"Acting is a collective art form and because I am a social person, it
fits me. I like that there is a meeting between text, actor and director
- something that each one would have to perform alone.
When he's working on a movie, he first would like to be a good will be
a good movie. He organizes his own work for this, and likewise
subordinates himself the scenes he is involved in.
"I'm not very ambitious in acting in that way that I must appear
brilliant. But I am ambitious in the way that we will be as good as
Stellan Skarsgård has a pragmatic approach to
"One cannot pretend that everything is great art.
Then you can just do one or two films in your life.
Would you say that you have a realistic view of acting?
"Or lack of."
"I still do not know how to do it. There's a hell of a lot of tools, but
the acting is an intangible art form. I work pretty hard to find ease in
the game, the weight...
Why are you so easy for the weight?
Stellan Skarsgård screws his figure a little. His black-clad figure sinks into the
armchair, the black boots shining.
"I do not know. I think it is very Swedish. It is no coincidence that
the dialogue in Swedish films is slower than in English. It is a kind
of darkness and sadness at the bottom."
"Aging ... hair has become grayer, you start to lose it. There are not
so many that require me to be naked anymore. "
You have made maybe one hundred films and you have eight children.
To me it sounds like a difficult equation to get together.
"I am a house husband eight months of the year, the other four, I work
hard and usually have family with me. My children have probably seen
more of me than most other children have seen their fathers. But of
course, it can be complex logistics of moving and so, but ... yes ...
it works, of course."
"64 is just a number. I do not think of my age... The only thing that is
sad is that the number of roles will be fewer..."
But how is it to be the parent of young children now? Is there any
difference from when you were younger?
"It is much easier now. I do not worry as much anymore. I am more
present because I do not have my head full of ideas about what I should
be and do and so I am not nearly so concerned with myself."
He talks about the last two kids as his last.
"I have stripped it now and..."
Do you mean you've sterilized yourself?
"Because I cannot say no. Because I do not want ten. The only thing that is tough with age is that I now have to keep myself
alive. It would have been nice to not have to think about it."
Are you worried about it?
"No, but I have to think of healthy living. I really do think that I
have lived such a long and wonderful life so if I died today, I would
still have had more than most people get. It would not be unfair but
with young children, I must at all costs take care of myself."
Five sources of inspiration for Stellan Skarsgård:
Obviously, my siblings, parents, children and wives who created who I
am and without which I can not imagine that I would even exist, but
1. Tvåhålsdasset on Öland, where I could be alone
with my father,
and sit with the door open and talk about life.
2. Marcel Carnes 'Children of Paradise', which romanticized the theater
for me and taught me that melodrama can be beautiful if it is executed
3. John le Carré's "The Spy Who Came in from the Cold", which was the
first real adult book I read and showed life's great sadness in all its
4. Yuri Gagarin. Once when I was little, he patted me on the head and made
me feel part of the future as well as the entire cosmos.
5. My best friend, writer John Gunther whom I lived in symbiosis
with all my life and his inexhaustible imagination constantly creating
new games and giving me two extra eyes to view the world with.
[Edited and translated]