Excerpts from a loosely translated interview in Norway's Dagens Naeringsliv

March 29, 2013

Stellan Skarsgård is restless during filming at the Perminalen Hotel in Oslo. His co-star in the scene, a Danish actor in a small role as an assassin, waits silently leaning against the wall, dressed in black with galoshes over shoes. All the while Stellan paces back and forth between takes, but it is not because he is unhappy in any way. He's just a restless soul and always has been.

It was his mother who originally had the idea that he should try his hand as an actor. He was the eldest of five children, and the middle-class family had to move about in Sweden because his father always needed better-paying jobs. So the need to adapt to new surroundings has followed Stellan since he was a little boy, and he believes this has influenced him with the importance of family, a safe ticket in an otherwise ephemeral existence.

The first memory Stellan has is a railroad crossing: two booms that slowly descend. It's just a picture. Also the smell of a rain-soaked pine forest in summer with his grandmother and grandfather on Öland. Perhaps his father simply was restless, too.

Q: Do you know actors who do not allow themselves to go out of character when they go home from the film set for the day?

Stellan: (He smiles, slightly amused by the idea, it seems) Yes. I played against Harvey Keitel in a movie called Taking Sides. He's a wonderful actor, but he swears to the so-called method acting... and for me it's hocus pocus. They take a course to deal with the fear. All actors are afraid. But I come from the theater, and in a Shakespearean piece, you often play three or four roles, and then you have no time to spend three months in order to get into character.

Q: But are you not afraid?

Stellan: Damn right I'm afraid. I have experienced camera fright when the director finally had to stand behind the camera and utter every word I would say. You can see the panic in my eyes in the footage. But I try not to be vain. I do not dislike myself, but I do not look at myself with particular admiration.

Q:  How many movies have you starred in?

Stellan: A little over 90.

Q: Have you seen any?

Stellan: Some I will not watch.

Q: Why?

Stellan: Because I know that they are very bad. (He then  mentions a film called Passion of Mind, starring Demi Moore). Demi was in the middle of a divorce from Bruce Willis at the time and was a little neurotic, surrounded herself with eight bodyguards. The writer was fine and as well as the talented Belgian director they had picked for the film, but what was to be a black and dangerous film, got mawkish music and was called a psychological romantic thriller, and everything became a disaster. When I, along with my then wife, attended the Paramount Pictures premiere in LA, I wanted to hide my face in my hands. When we left the theater and came out into the bright sunshine, I saw a silhouette in front of me. It was the kind director. I said, "it sucks". He said, "I know".

A tram rattles past outside. Stellan glances at life outside. He carries an impatience that is not quite possible to hide, even if he is friendly. He has just finished Lars von Trier's Nymphomaniac... Over the last three years he has been involved in 18 productions.

Stellan: I want to work in Hollywood. It is important to keep the proportions. A movie is just a movie. All you can do is prepare well and do your job. You know what's one of the best film projects I've been involved in? Deep Blue Sea. (laughing)

It's a science fiction horror movie where Stellan plays a professor named Whitlock tries to find a cure for Alzheimer's.

Stellan:  I love life and I want it to be good. There I had the a pool and beach in Mexico and walking distance to the film set, two or three days a week. I flew in 25 friends who stayed with me... The only movie that can compete is Mamma Mia!.

Q:  How much do you earn?

Stellan: On a large production I can get up to one million dollars. But I never have any money left. My personal finances are a disaster. It's a weakness I have inherited from my father. He was an economist. But really, he was a dreamer. My worldly outlook on life, I have inherited from my mother... She had this desire to say what one cannot say, and I have this desire too. Doing what you cannot do. Perhaps the reason for I have become an actor...  My dad was unconventional for his time. He showed his children respect, enjoying life with books, math, good food and drink. I inherited no money, but the language...

Q: How have you been as a father?

Stellan: I've never been brilliant. I have screamed at them, but I have treated them with the honesty and respect I learned at home. When I first became a father, I was 25, and then I was pretty keen to find my own way in life, but last time I was 61. I'm better now...

When the subject of Lars Von Trier comes up, he then talks about male directors.

Stellan: Directors are often socially disturbed individuals. As children, they had no friends, so instead they set up the children's room and built a world where they can have full control of their environment... And it is this sense of control they attempt to recreate as adults when directing film.

Q:  How was it working with Ingmar Bergman?

Stellan: He was a great director, but a terrible human being. I can live with directors who will retake control of the children's room, but he wanted to control everything. When he was directing me in "One Dream Play", he demanded that I quit smoking.

Stellan drums with his fingers restlessly on the table. He is probably not aware of it. He seems overly attentive to it. He talks about LA and how he couldn't live his whole life there. He calls it the City of Fear, an entertaining but weird place where everyone is at all times afraid to be in the wrong place at the wrong party... Along with his two youngest children and his wife, he lives in an apartment on Södermalm in Stockholm.

Q: How about an Oscar statuette?

Stellan: It would be cool.

Q:  Then why not find a suitable role?

Stellan: To play the handicapped tends to work. Or a historical figure. (He throws out his arms as if he has the solution). A handicapped historical figure!