Aftonbladet (Swedish newspaper)

June 20, 2004

”Why I agreed to a false marriage...”

He is the movie star that does not follow trends – happily married for 28 years ago with six children with the some woman. But the truth is that Stellan Skarsgård was already married when he met his beloved My. He tells Aftonbladet's Sunday magazine about the bar night that ended up in a marriage.

It’s easy to imagine how Stellan Skarsgård's colleagues might react over in Hollywood.

"Married for 28 years with the same woman!  And – six kids! What the f---!"

According to statistics, there are one million families in Sweden, and 2500 of those have six children, meaning one fourth of a percent. What is uncommon in Sweden is even more uncommon in Hollywood. Over there – at least you’re given that impression – people have more divorces than children.

"When I mention my family, people are pretty impressed…  How did we manage to stay together? It hasn’t been that hard. I mean, even if a marriage has a crisis, you can still stay together and see if it resolves – and it usually does," says Stellan.

If his colleagues in Hollywood are surprised with his family situation, it’s nothing compared to how surprised I am when he tells me that he had a false marriage with a Spanish woman. The story begins in Victoria, Spain over 30 years ago. Spain was still ruled by the fascist dictator Franco.

"I met this Spanish woman at Victoria. She told me she needed to get a residence permit in Sweden. She was going to get surgery for her eyes. We were married for a short time, but it was only for show. But I guess that since I’ve always been supportive of liberal immigrant politics, I married her…"

And all was well - but then, in 1974, Stellan met the girl he wanted to marry out of love.

"Getting divorced was hell. The Spanish woman had disappeared. I searched around and heard things like 'She was last seen in some hippie-place in Amsterdam', hahaha. But I found her eventually – in Christiania. I went there, handed here the papers and made her sign them…"

Stellans wife's name is My and she is an educated doctor. The children are Valter (born 1995), Eija (1992), Bill (1990), Sam (1982), Gustaf (1980) and Alexander (1976). The last two are already movie stars.

"My has accepted a great responsibility. But for a long time, I was home in Sweden working while she studied. She became a doctor – but did not want to go on. Since then she has been at home more taking care of the family while I’ve been running around in other countries. But it’s a choice and, so to speak, nothing she has been forced to do."

Stellan is not the only exception that confirms the rule in Hollywood: Mel Gibson has been married to his Robyn for 24 years, and they have seven children.

"Yeah, that’s something, he says, and goes into a discussion about Gibson’s movie The Passion Of The Christ.  It’s interesting how the world has been polarized these last few years. The positive thing is that people take more stands in politics. Today half the people in America are more critical of George W. Bush than what Göran Persson is. Olof Palme is rotating in his grave over the international dullness we display when the Geneva Convention, international laws and pacts are broken. At the same time we see a polarization. That is the negative part. Some horrendous, fundamentalist religious tensions have been sparked. It has happened all over the world. Just five years ago, I think Mel Gibson’s movie would not have been as successful. Today it unfortunately is."

It’s obvious that Stellan admires the groundbreaking international engagement of former politician Olof Palme. And believe it or not, even he was engaged in a fake marriage with Jelena Rennerova from Prague in 1949. The goal was to give the woman Swedish citizenship and save her from the communist dictatorship. I get the impression in general that there are social-democratic ways in the way that Stellan thinks and acts. One of the main concepts of social democracy is to put market economy in the hands of socialism. In other words, to get as much cash as possible, and then divide it in a much fairer way than the market dealers can by themselves. In Stellans case, it means he gets millions for movies like King Arthur and Exorcist: The Beginning, and lets the excessive expenses pay for smaller, but often more artistically important projects. That’s why after a month off at his summer home at Södermalm and in the house in Ljusterö, he will go to New York to play Franz Stangl, an Austrian Nazi and camp commandant in Treblinka, a short film by Ben Ross.

"It’s a beauty, about 10 or 15 minutes long, about the relationship between Franz Stangl and the Jewish helpers he has in the concentration camp. It’s interesting. Especially if you’ve read Into That Darkness, Gitta Sereny's book about Stangl – this little Austrian police, who always wants to do his duty and thinks that running Treblinka is awful. That’s understandable – running Treblinka can’t be fun for anyone, hahaha."

Stellan Skarsgård greets us in the penthouse of the Strand Hotel by Nybrokajen in Stockholm. Or actually: on the balcony. The view is amazing, clear weather in all directions – and the fact that the capital is having its first summer day does not make anything worse. He smokes a Camel and, for some reason, his right leg is vibrating like a drummer in a punk band – despite him being calm. Perhaps it is a sign of thought?

"I’ve worked in Hollywood for a year and a half now, so I need to do something else. I need to switch. It’s almost like two jobs. When you make an art movie, or European movie, it’s about the people and their relationships. In a big Hollywood movie, it’s never about that. In those, people are functions: hero function, villain function, lover function…it’s about the story, which often follows a certain pattern so that people will know what to expect. Hollywood doesn’t like surprises. King Arthur is a good example.  I’m the villain…he’s supposed to be a threat, that is his function – not an empty threat, but an interesting threat. Its fun, but I mean, it’s never about his boring childhood."

Stellan feels that he is one of the most privileged actors in the world, not despite of, but because of the fact that he is not a major star. A way of reasoning that feels as logical as obvious - that when you’re a bigger star, you have less artistic freedom.

"The opposite, you lose the freedom to choose. Ok, Nicole Kidman has with a huge f***ing effort managed to keep her integrity and made smaller things. But it is hard for her to come to Trollhättan and work with Lars Von Trier on Dogville. And it’s hard for Trollhättan and the whole team to welcome her. When you’ve become a big enough star and the movie is small enough, you’re ruining it. It’s very hard to make sure that no guards are there, or that the whole security thing is there. It’s hard to break down the pedestal that the actor prances in on. So that everyone can be as actors around actors."

Stellan mentions that actors are walking companies that need to take care of their employees.

"Nicole is so damn rich that she doesn’t have to care if her agents are making money. But it’s regularly 15-20 people around the stars who need a cut of what they are making. If the star then keeps making small pictures, they’ll get frustrated."

The next sentence shows what is Stellan Skarsgård's view of art.

"You need to be sure that you do not end up on a pedestal, but that you ruin your career continuously."

One reason that he dares do that, meaning select the jobs he feels like, is that he was already a known name in Scandinavia when he began his career in Hollywood.

"When I came over there, I wasn’t dependant upon anything. I was not shaking like a leaf. I had done Breaking The Waves and the Norwegian Insomnia and Zero Kelvin, which had done well in America. I interviewed them instead. I was curious, but I could say no. Warner Brothers? I could tell them to go to hell if it didn’t fit me..I didn’t care about them at all…"

Stellan began as a young boy with plays at ABF in Malmö. And at 14 he made his professional debut at the Malmö Stadsteater. At 17 years old, he had his breakthrough in the TV series Bombi Bitt och Jag (1968). The breakthrough in cinema came in Hasse Alfredson's Den Enfaldige Mördaren (1982). In total, he has been in 78 films for theatres or television. And in only one case has he had any real conflict with a director.

"I’m from Scandinavia, the synthesis part of the world, what is called our will of compromise, but what I like to call the will of synthesizing. It’s the fact that the whole, the result, can be greater than the sum of the parts – and it happens when people spread their ideas. That’s why I’m concerned about the whole thing, and that everyone around me is doing well. It’s also a way to get rid of my own fears. If people are doing well, and feel like they are among friends, they dare do things. In that way, a scene grows beyond what one person could come up with."

The only serious conflict happened during the shooting of Glasblåsarns barn  (The Glassblower’s Children -1998) . He had a run in with Anders Grönros, because in Stellan's eyes, he did not have faith in the individuals and their cooperation.

"He came to me and even told me how to turn my head. I hate that. I don’t want to work with a director that does not respect my art form. And I also don’t want to work with a director who thinks he is a better actor than I am."

He loves his profession, and is as passionate about it today as the day he started.

"Things happen in this job that you can’t make up or plan. A character can suddenly have a life of its own. The same thing happens to a writer when he has written a lot. The characters begin living their own lives and begin to control the writing. The free flow of the subconscious makes you high. It’s an endorphin rush, probably the same rush that mountain climbers feel. But they can’t climb until they are 80 – we can. This is the kind of work you do not retire from. Most people are more or less dragged off stage."

And judging from all things, it looks like Stellan will be one of them.

Stellan took Sunday's adult test and answered like this:

HOW GROWN UP ARE YOU?

Drivers license: Yes
ICA Card (for shopping): Yes
Retirement Insurance: No
Mangled sheets: No
Married (now): Yes
Divorced: Yes
Earplugs at concerts: No
Real art on the walls: Yes
Sleeps in pyjamas: Yes
Shopping sprees: No

Total score: 5 points

Stellans comment: Five – so I’m halfway adult, that feels good.

ME AS A:

Brother: I love my siblings. (Stellan has three brothers and a sister.) But I think part of me has a need to do a big brother rebellion.
Father: Half and half.
Partner: Half and half there too.
Driver: Pretty decent. I’m better at driving than being a father and a partner, hahaha. You've got to be a little wild, or you’ll fall asleep.
 


[Kindly translated by Robin Solsjö Höglund with our sincere thanks]