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 recognized.

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 his face.

"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 mental instability.

"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 possible..."

Stellan Skarsgård has a pragmatic approach to acting...

"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 also:

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 without sentimentality.
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 beauty.
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]