its premiere was delayed by the pandemic, Czech director Vaclav Marhoul's cinematic masterpiece, THE PAINTED BIRD, was
released digitally and in selected cinemas across the UK and
Ireland on September 11th. This was a deliberate move by the
filmmakers who were keen to have a big screen release. "It's a
film that's very difficult to watch on your iPhone, since the
imagery is what speaks to you," says Stellan. "It needs the
theatre in a way, or at least a very big screen, because it's
incredibly beautifully shot. The contrast between the beautiful
pictures and the harsh and brutal story really rocks you in your
seat in a strange way." He doesn't necessarily believe a big
screen release is crucial for every movie, because "not all
films are dependent on the cinematic language" - but he says
"The Painted Bird" is one that definitely is.
And from UK's Independent,
Stellan speaks to the newspaper over the phone from his home in
Stockholm declaring, "I have no problem with depicting
such horrors. I like material that
approaches dangerous borders." The paper
refers to our Swede as "a rascally conversationalist Ė 69
years old but bearing the cheekiness of someoneís naughty kid
Stellan continues, "Iíve made around
100 films, and it would be extremely boring and pedestrian if
they were all mainstream and there was
no edge to them. I also think that it
is absolutely necessary to be controversial in the world. It is
necessary to say things people donít like all the time because
we need the voices, we need the richness of ideas. They should
be tested and disputed but they should be welcome."
He also believes that
British and American audiences have always had a warped
understanding of sex and violence. He explains, "A
Swedish journalist doesnít ask me why Iím naked in films, or
whether itís embarrassing to show my dick. They've
probably already seen it in the sauna."
He remembers howling at a review of Von Trierís serial killer
comedy "The House That Jack Built"
a few years ago. He explains, "The
critic complained that the violence was really unpleasant. Itís
absurd Ė so we cannot show unpleasant violence, we can only show
pleasant violence? Thatís a horrible irony. If weíre making a
Holocaust film, we should only show some pleasant ways of
He adds, "'The
Painted Bird' is much less violent
than most American popcorn films. The
only thing is that the violence here is true, and it's
inflicted upon someone you feel you know... I
don't want kids to grow up thinking violence is like a Star Wars
film where 150 storm troopers die, and you don't spend one
second thinking about their wives and children! Violence has
consequences, and you also have to have films that acknowledge
In praising the film, he
states, "It resembles the Eastern European films of the 60s -
the glorious days of the 60s and 70s - but they don't make them
anymore, so I really wanted it to be made."
On the decision to cut
dialogue out of the film's equation, Stellan confessed, "That
made me really happy. I knew he [Marhoul] was going to tell this
story in a cinematic way and not with words, and that's part of
the power. I'm a bit nostalgic about those older films, where
they started to skip the dialogue and started to tell the story
with images more... so I'm happy whenever something like this
If you're interested, you
can listen to a 16-minute radio interview with Stellan regarding
at this link.
And another great photo
from the film's premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Here's actor Harvey Keitel
with Stellan in another film from 2001. I suspect only die-hard
SkarsgŚrd fans will be able
to identify it. Any Keitel fans out there?
Last week Spectator Life wrote an article on the greatest
pedal-to-medal action scenes ever filmed. They included John
Frankenheimer's 1998 spy thriller RONIN,
which featured a staggeringly effective car chase through Paris.
Automobile pursuit has long thrilled audiences for many decades
and in modern times, they often feature outlandish gadgetry and
souped-up vehicles. However, Frankenheimer, an old-school
director who had been working since the Fifties, was
uninterested in CGI or in enhancements, and so staged the
entirety of the scene, in which Robert de Niro and Jean Renoís
characters pursue Jonathan Pryce, Natascha McElhone and Stellan
through the city, with hundreds of stunt drivers, as the actors
themselves were driven at incredible speed by former Formula One
experts. It remains one of the finest car chases ever staged.
I've posted the film page for LAST
WORDS. In the following statement, director
Jonathan Nossiter gives much credit to Stellan in helping him to
write the screenplay -
"In the first drafts of
the script Iíd written lots of semi-erotic scenes, but they all
disappeared in large part thanks to Stellan SkarsgŚrd.
I wrote each part for each person and they were very, very
helpful throughout the whole writing process and the editing.
Theyíre all real collaborators Ö I mean, Nick (Nolte) I came to
know Ė I didnít know Nick until we did the casting Ė and I
didnít know Khalifa (Touray) whom I met in a refugee camp. But
Stellan, Charlotte, Alba, weíre old friends. And they worked on
the script and Stellan was very helpful in getting me to weed
out what wasnít necessary. At the end of the day, I think the
handshake between Stellan and Nick is an incredibly erotic
moment. I mean it. Instead of a sex scene, you get two people
shaking hands. Itís charged with something deeply sensual. And
the beauty of whatever it means, of the human touch, now with
COVID; itís incredible how much that handshake means Ö itís
an interview with the Irish Times last week, Stellan shared his
thoughts on his long career. He said, "I'm attracted to material
that I donít see every day on television or in the cinema. I
said I would never do a police show because I find them
extremely clichť and boring
most of the time and Iím really not good at saying all those
police lines, but then Abi Morgan came and gave me a 60-page
script, which was something else (the 2015 BBC drama 'River').
You see someone who doesnít write in a conventional way, doesnít
try to imitate something that already has been done and that is
where you can add new life to a way of telling a story."
"With 'Chernobyl', I was
very happy because it was about something that is important to
us all today, the importance of actually listening to the
scientists and not oppressing the truth."
He added, "If you boil
down everything I've done, you will find something, even in the
way I play the characters, you will find a mirror of my
ideologies, my ideas about humanity. But as a hired hand, which
you are as an actor, it's very hard to have an imprint on things
in the way you do if you are a painter or a writer."
to McFarlane toys, DUNE fans now have a full view of
Baron Vladimir Harkonnen! The trailer gave us a hint of
Stellan's version in what looked like a mud bath, but this
action figure gives us more detail. He certainly appears as
bulbous as he was described in the book and seen in previous
film and television adaptations.
following is director Jonathan Nossiter's description of his
film LAST WORDS.
The world in 2086.
Europe is a desert. There is no more nature. Only cans of
powdered food for the last survivors. There is no more
culture. Except a few fragments of cinema under the rubble
of what remains of Bologna. And the ancient temples in
Athens. No more sociability, not even the memory of a
handshake. A world without hope? No! Thanks to the magical
resources of the human imagination.
"Last Words" is a film
that confronts the destructive power of ecological
catastrophes without losing the courage of tenderness and
the joy of being together to tell us stories. Urgent.
the last man on Earth in 2086: a young African, the last
African. Played by non-actor Kalipha Touray, a Gambian
refugee who at sixteen has already witnessed the end of the
world in real life. Together with the legendary actor Nick
Nolte - who plays a director of the past -, in the film he
will rediscover cinema. And therefore the meaning of life:
the pleasure of being together (after a long period of
isolation), the love for culture (after years of barbarism),
for beauty (after so much horror). Above all, they
rediscover the importance of keeping the memory alive.
Because, at the end of the world, everything becomes
important. Like the last pregnancy on the planet, carried on
by the iconic and venerable Charlotte Rampling, a Baltic
woman of uncertain origins. And with an equally uncertain
future. Or the acts of heroism - or madness - of the Polish
doctor Stellan SkarsgŚrd.
The characters of
Kalipha and Nick, on their epic journey to Athens, bring
with them the latest projector to share the joy of cinema,
and the pieces to build the ultimate camera. The latest home
movie. The last testimony of the last acts of the species.
In Athens they also discover Alba Rohrwacher's garden
laboratory, who tries to revive nature and save humanity,
before everyone dies from a virus. Last Words. A
post-apocalyptic science fiction film or a representation of
humanity's last chance today to survive?
are some excerpts taken from Stellan's conversation with
director Jonathan Nossiter at Italy's Il Cinema Ritrovato
Jonathan: The actor's
profession is one of the most misunderstood; I remember you once
told me about your movie with Bo Widerberg. You were 18, was it
your first role?
Stellan: I was thirty. My first role was in "Strandhugg i
somras", a sort of romantic-soft porn comedy set in the 60s-70s.
It was supposed to be fun and it wasn't, and it wasn't sexy
either. To return to Widerberg, it was the director who taught
me more than others what it means to be an actor. We were on the
set and he said to us: "I know you can do this job but I want to
see how fucking well you can do it." Because in the cinema,
unlike in the theater, you cannot be a professional and be even
better if you understand exactly what you have to do and what
you have to give to the part you are playing. The camera
perceives the technique of an actor so the great effort is to
try to conceal it, to hide it. I come from the theater - I
started with a group of non-professionals - and at the age of
sixteen I made my first series for TV; then I didn't go to drama
school but I worked for the Royal Drama Theater in Stockholm.
Here I played small and large parts trying to steal as much as
possible from the most experienced actors, erasing the tracks as
I stole so that they couldn't see what I had stolen from them.
Jonathan: You also worked
with Bergman. Was it fun?
Stellan: I worked with him
twice, on TV and in the theater. I think Bergman was a great
artist and filmmaker but as a person I didn't particularly like
him. However, I would not erase him from the history of
cinema. It was difficult to work with Bergman because there was
a sense of great fear. They all arrived half an hour earlier, he
was very punctual and arrived five minutes earlier. He began to
tell terrible jokes that were not funny and everyone laughed out
loud. You could feel a sense of panic due to the way he wielded
his power. He destroyed many lives and many careers. And he was
one of the few to cry when Hitler died. Bergman had an idea of
authoritarianism which I think was part of his personality.
Jonathan: Acting work is
conditioned by this power relationship with the director.
Stellan: If we are not talking about commercial cinema but about
an author, then this work must belong to a person and that
person is the director. I have worked with many directors on
their first feature - I have made over a hundred films - but it
is very important for me not to put pressure on the director
even as a novice. There are a lot of great actors who end up
controlling the set and that destroys the director. We can bring
our ideas and suggestions to your attention, but ultimately the
choice must be yours. Power from a formal point of view cannot
be associated with respect: I cannot respect an authority just
because they have decorations on their jacket. Respect and
authority must be earned. I don't follow and respect the
director because he is my boss but because I hope he has a
vision that can take the film somewhere and that in the end
there is a good result.
Jonathan: Seeing the scene
from "Breaking the Waves" with you in the hospital bed, I
thought that it is one thing to have your own space in which to
move, another is to be immobile while acting; it must have been
a great challenge.
Stellan: It's not all that different. Sometimes we recite and
say nothing with the body. The hardest thing is lying there,
lying and thinking about where the director will put the camera,
how he will see what I'm thinking. On television everything is
very written and detailed, and above all interchangeable: the
public at home can make themselves popcorn, change diapers. Then
there is the auteur cinema which has taught us that you cannot
do many things while watching other than looking at those
images. But there are other ways of communicating, for example
through the actors or the relationship between them. Once the
great director IstvŠn Szabů asked Erland Josephson why he was so
good at Bergman's films and not with other directors and he
replied that it's a question of where the director puts his
Jonathan: Thinking back to
the films you've done, do you remember what was the most
uncomfortable situation and if it gave you something?
Stellan: I don't have to be put in an uncomfortable position, I
always feel that way. I know that I have to dominate the
situation because to be free in front of the camera you cannot
be afraid. Sometimes you have to twist your interpretation to
have the essence of life, the vital spirit. If you shoot ten
takes of a scene, always with great precision and technicality,
sometimes you realize that the interpretation is dead. Sometimes
during one of these takes you try to move a chair, to put it in
the middle of your passage so that when you enter there is
something different and more uncomfortable; you have to move in
a different way and suddenly you find that you have found life.
I did "Ronin" with De Niro and before filming he often repeated
the lines many times trying to take it from various directions
and find something new.
UK's Sunday Post, September 17, 2020:
Did you enjoy making the "Mamma
Stellan: I went to see it in the theatre and I said, thereís no
story, there is nothing happening. But there is a lot of music
and a party going on, and the actors are so generous. They can
laugh at themselves and have fun, and that gives the audience a
feeling they are invited to a party, too. I would go back again
if they had something good planned.
You won a Golden Globe for
"Chernobyl" Ė what did you make of the reaction to the
Stellan: We all did it
because we thought it was important, but we didnít think it
would be such a success. Itís nice to do things that are about
something, mean something, and that we can learn from. Weíre
showered with entertainment, but most of it isnít about
something we can relate to, itís not based in reality, but this
was about reality while still being a drama, and that was
refreshing to the audience.
photos from Italy's Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna have
now been posted in this new
gallery. This weekend I'll post some of the conversation
between Stellan and director Jonathan Nossiter at one of the
With the premiere of
THE PAINTED BIRD in the UK earlier this month, Stellan gave
several interviews and they will also be posted over the next
week. A couple days ago, Stellan discussed some added work on
DUNE. Though Sweden did not lock down during the pandemic,
he has only recently been able to work. When asked what he has
been doing over the past six months, he replied, "I spent most
of it in our summer house in Sweden with family Ė there was
about 20 of us. I did a lot of cooking, and watching the spring
turn to summer in slow motion. But Iím absolutely ready to go
back to work now."
He continued, "I did a
couple of days in Hungary two weeks ago, some additional
shooting on the new 'Dune' film. It is complicated because there
are a lot of tests you have to go through. On the set they test
you every second day, and they take your temperature every day
and there are a lot of restrictions. The film is due out in
December, but it depends on how the cinemas go. They might push
it back. Next is the new 'Star Wars' series, which is supposed
to film this month, but weíre shooting in England and the
quarantine rules change all the time. That was supposed to go in
June and now they are saying November, but of course it depends
on if Britain has more lockdowns."
Warner Bros. released the trailer for DUNE earlier this
month, we finally caught our first tiny glimpse of Stellan in
his role as Baron Vladimir Harkonnen. Itís obvious that this
footage doesnít fully provide us with any clear impression of
what to expect from the character. There are only two shots in
the trailer where he appears: the first is a close-up in smoky
atmosphere, and the second sees him emerging from a giant vat of
According to filmmaker
Denis Villeneuve, the characterization of the villainous Baron
is going to go deeper than previous
"I didn't want the Baron to be a buffoon or caricature,"
Villeneuve explained in an interview with EW, "I wanted him to
have the feeling of strength, a strategist. I wanted the Baron
to be seductive, someone who has a certain kind of sensuality to
him," before going on to add that he wanted the character to
have a deep intelligence.
the film, Stellan confessed: "It's artistic mainstream, you
could say. Of course, it is Denis Villeneuve. And, again, you
will see a director that works with a cinematic language. In
that sense he is a true artist. And I think, as with all his
films, the atmosphere in the film will be fantastic." He
compared "Dune" to one of Villeneuve's previously critically
acclaimed works, adding: "If you look at a film like 'Arrival' -
which I thought was wonderful - but what carried it was the slow
pace where everything could sink into you." Stellan couldn't
help but give added praise for the director - "He is a
lovely man to work with! It is so pleasant being on the set with
him. There is no shouting, no misbehaving."
Stellan also revealed that his transformation into the monstrous
Harkonnen took quite a long time, being made through practical
effects and make-up artistry.
"He's fat, that was fun to do," said Stellan. "It's sort of fun
to play this huge monster, but it's less fun to spend five or
six hours in make-up every day. Fortunately, the role isn't that
big. It's small but it has enormous weight (laughing). He very
much does his own thing, so it's not big, deep acting scenes
with people that much." He adds that the cast were a "great
bunch of people to hang with."
DUNE will be released in
cinemas on December 18, 2020.
been on holiday for the past month so I apologize for the lack
of updates recently. I'll briefly give this short post with more
material to be added this week. Despite the world pandemic, film
festivals continue to take place. At the end of August, Stellan
attended Italyís Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival in Bologna to
promote the Jonathan Nossiter-directed film LAST WORDS,
also starring Nick Nolte and Charlotte Rampling. It had been
selected in competition at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, which
could not be held due to the pandemic.
Sunday, August 30th, director Jonathan Nossiter interviewed
Stellan at the Arlecchino Cinema, which can be viewed
at this link.
The following evening the
film premiered at the Piazza Maggiore with Alba Rohrwacher,
Silvia Calderoni and Kalipha Touray joining Jonathan and