The Atypical Scandinavian

May 21, 2003

About Dogville Stellan Skarsgård says, "I experienced an immense pleasure working with Lars von Trier, someone who imposes no pressure. If an actor does not want complete control, under his [Trier's] direction, he can obtain the role of his life."

At 52 years old, "Skarzie" as his close friends call him, is a fulfilled man. With a history of nourishing his passions - reading and cooking, he does not claim one luxury - being able to attentively sort through the film proposals which continually pour in.

"In Stockhom, I have a family life that I make a point of preserving. It is a privileged aspect of my profession."

A profession that he didn't really choose ("I always dreamed of becoming a diplomat."), but has now worked in for more than 35 years. As a teenager, Stellan Skarsgård was a Swedish teenage idol, thanks to his participation in Bombi Bitt och Jag, a highly popular TV series in Scandinavia. At the same time, it even gave him access to the world of a little song.

"I was 16 years old, the young girls were crazy about me. A producer made me a proposal by telephone to make a record. I said, 'I'm not sure I know how to sing.' He took his guitar, played some harmony. Cling!  'Can you copy that?' Ouiinnng!   'Super, go to the studio.' All was prerecorded. There was nothing more than to sing this idiotic song. Problem: I'm unable to. 'Not serious,' decided the producer. 'I'll be in charge, you do the chorus.' Ouiiiiinng! 'Good to agree, are you willing to talk.' And the record was sold on my name. That being a collector's item, I destroyed all copies I could find."

His singing career prematurely achieved, Stellan Skarsgård turned to theatre occasionally encountering Ingmar Bergman.

"He is a very gifted director, but he tends to want to govern a little too much. On and outside the stage. Let's say that I appreciate him, above all, as an artist."

At the same time, he continued to work in television and then discovered the cinema. In 1982 he saw himself distinguished at the Berlin Film Festival for his role in Den Enfaldige Mördaren ( A Simple-Minded Murderer), a film by Hans Alfredson.

"This prize served as an opening to working in the United States, where I began to make a small name for myself near the amateurs of European cinema. The success of Breaking the Waves consolidated my status."

On the other side of the Atlantic, Stellan Skarsgård became a stylish foreign actor. Appearing in less advisable action films such as Ronin, Deep Blue Sea... (which he calls "diet movies"), contributed to his international reputation in the role of bad guys.

"I do not adhere to the simplistic idea that the world is only composed of the good and the malevolent. It is composed of human beings. Even if the character I play is a dirty rat, I try to bring a minimum of humanity to him."

A humanity which, according to this unrepentant progressist (in 2001 he signed the appeal Swedish Film Workers for Peace and Freedom in an Independent Palestine), tends to unravel itself more and more in the United States.

"The government in place is very much to the right. Reinforced by the events of September 11th, it is creating a kind of totalitarianism. Today one cannot criticize it without being accused of being a traitor or enemy of America. This refusal of dialogue creates a dangerous situation. I love this country; however, I am not anti-American. Recently one put forth the question 'Do you not like the Americans?' I responded qu'on pouvait aimer le milk-shake sans en mettre pour autant dans sa salade niçoise." (Anyone want to translate his answer?)


[Libération - translated loosely from French]