Freeze a Crowd

November 28, 1996

Swede Stellan Skarsgård tells why he warmed to his chilling character in Zero Kelvin.

Those who think movie-making is a glamorous profession might well change their minds after seeing an astonishing new thriller, Zero Kelvin, set in 1920s Greenland.

The film, shot under horrendous conditions in barren parts of Norway, tells the story of Larsen, an aspiring poet who leaves his girlfriend in Oslo to spend a year as a trapper in East Greenland. There, he is teamed with an old sailor/trapper, Randbaek, and a scientist, Holm. Trapped together in a tiny hut as the arctic winter sets in, a complex and intense love-hate relationship develops between Randbaek and Larsen. They have more in common than either would like to admit.

Randbaek is one of the most vicious film characters ever seen and is played superbly by acclaimed Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård. Despite the difficulties of making such a film, the actor had little hesitation in accepting the role.

"I could see from the outset that it was a rewarding character to play because there were absolutely no limits to what he could do," Skarsgård explains.

Randbaek is almost animal-like and his explicit views on sex and women are uncompromising. Yet, getting under the skin of such an unsympathetic character was not that tough, Skarsgård says.

"It's such a juicy part which you can play with such an appetite. It's one of the most delicious parts I've ever played. I've never been such a bastard before."

While many actors try to identify with a character, Skarsgård admits that this character "is pretty much removed from my own personality - thank God. But it worries me that, at the same time, he came very easily to me," he adds with a laugh.

Playing a character as chilling as this is one thing, working in extremely icy and isolated conditions is another.

Skarsgård cites an example of just how bad things became. They were shooting on a glacier about 1000 metres high when the weather turned nasty.

"We were stuck there for four days, waiting until the chopper could bring us out," he says. "So here we were stuck in this little tent - just me, the director, a bottle of cognac and a Magnum 44."

Skarsgård believes filming in such a hostile environment helped him understand his character and the tense relationships that are the cornerstone of Zero Kelvin.

But nothing prepared him for one particular scene in the film. The three trappers discover they have lice and, to kill the vermin, they stand outside completely naked.

No special effects or Hollywood magic here. "Let me say that hurt," Skarsgård says.

Zero Kelvin is a complex thriller set in a world alien to most of us. Perhaps it's for that reason the film has become a considerable international success.

In his next film, Skarsgård leaves the Arctic wastes for an isolated Scottish island in Breaking the Waves. Bess (Emily Watson) marries an outsider, Skarsgård, against the wishes of her starchily xenophobic church elders.

[Courier Mail]