NEWS: SEPTEMBER 2020

09.28.20:

After 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 brother."

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 murdering Jews?"

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 that."

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 gets done."

If you're interested, you can listen to a 16-minute radio interview with Stellan regarding the film 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.

09.23.20:

Today 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 almost funny."

In 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."

09.21.20:

Thanks 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.

 

The 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.

Like 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?

09.20.20:

Here are some excerpts taken from Stellan's conversation with director Jonathan Nossiter at Italy's Il Cinema Ritrovato Festival.

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 camera.

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.

From UK's Sunday Post, September 17, 2020:

Did you enjoy making the "Mamma Mia" films?

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 series?

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.

09.18.20:

The 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 festival events.

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."

09.17.20:

When 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 goo.

According to filmmaker Denis Villeneuve, the characterization of the villainous Baron is going to go deeper than previous adaptations.

"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.

Describing 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.

09.15.20:

I've 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.

On 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 Stellan.

 

 

   

 

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