Expressen Interview - July 18-19, 2004
 

"I LOVE WALKING AROUND NAKED”

The naked truth about Stellan Skarsgård? That he loves to walk around naked, as simple as that. And that the kids rather see dad making pancakes at the stove than see him at the cinema fencing with King Arthur. No one becomes a Hollywood star in their own kitchen.

Stellan Skarsgård talks about his family, Hollywood and neurotic actors.

Stellan Skarsgård is standing totally naked in the kitchen when his daughter Eija comes by, noticing his willy, dashes it with the hand and snorts contemptuously: -"Ha!"

Because daddy will not think that he is something just because he was chased by Robert De Niro in a car or managed to rape Nicole Kidman on a dirty mattress.

"I talk about what I’m doing at work and then My and the kids tell me about what they're doing at the time. Honestly, they are moderately interested in what dad is doing at work. When a newspaper asked Alexander who his greatest idol was, he answered 'Alice Cooper'. I would have been incredibly annoyed if he had said “Dad”, says Stellan Skarsgård as he sits in the hotel's leather armchair and laughs at his double life these last years.

One week he's naked in the kitchen at home at Hogbergsgatan in Stockholm making  sandwiches for his twelve-year-old daughter Eija and the youngest one, Valter, eight years old. And the next week he's dressed in leather from head to toe, fencing with King Arthur and afterwards cashes in a check of approximately eight million Swedish kronor.

"What do I do with the money? I’ve always had a very thoughtless attitude towards money. If I get a jolly good fee, I think: 'Funny, now I can invite some more of my friends to dinner!' No, I’ve never been good at saving money. Life is too short for that. You should use me as an example for bad bargains. As soon as you hear that Stellan Skarsgård buys a house, just sell! The prices will certainly fall in a short time... And if I, against all odds, buy funds or stock, which is not my thing, you can be sure that the stock exchange will unexpectedly decline the next day."

He tells me about the summer ramshackle that he bought at Ljustero that won't become a proper house until years of repair.

"And I'm not capable of doing woodwork, not at all. I'm not a bit handy."

Or the oldest ship in Sweden "Else-Marie of Ostra Ed" built in 1852, that he once bought and,at the first inspection, turned out to be totally decayed.

"I promise you that I was able to put my arm straight through the oak plank. The only times she left the quay was in vertical position. I believe she sank seven times just in the first year. Then we sold her for one Swedish krona."

That's typical Skarsgård in some way.

Ask him to talk about great acting and before you know it, he’s telling you small colourful anecdotes about his own flaws.

Make an appointment in a hotel lobby in Stockholm to discuss the new movie “King Arthur” and you will experience two hours of family life to worthless boats and yes, he did wear his own underpants under the leather outfit acting as the Saxon Cerdic in the new movie.

"It was most comfortable" and "no I don’t watch my movies a second time. One time is enough and shall we go out for a beer after this interview, and a Fernet Branca would be nice after a sitting like this, huh?"

Something like that.

An even shift between trivialities and wisdom while that long body constantly changes position in the chair. It’s like he’s being torn between gnawing restlessness and a well-earned need to rest. Now and then, the fingers find their way down into the package of Marlboros, as if driven by their own will. Then the cigarette hangs there casually in the corner of his mouth, not unlike Bogart. There’s nobody as cool at smoking as Stellan Skarsgård.

"I guess I’m in pretty damn good shape, in general. I mean, I do smoke a lot, but at the same time, I managed to do a lot more sword fighting than the rest of the cast. A friend of mine had to be given oxygen afterwards. I did eight takes of a three-minute scene with Mads Mikkelsen myself. It was like a heavyweight boxing game. You think maybe the adrenaline starts rushing like hell in my body? I can remember pulling a muscle, and then acting on stage for three hours. Or when I did 'Mäster Olof' fifteen years ago and had to catch my breath from just walking up to the coffee room on the third floor. In one entrance, I was meant to look exhausted – so I walked up there as usual to get worn out. Nothing happened. I was so tense that I had to run up and down three times before I started panting."

That was the body that Guillou once called "an asparagus"?

"When he didn’t find me fitting as Coq Rouge, yeah. And I got back at him by calling him 'a meatball'".

For your first time on stage, you played a heap of snow?

"Yes, in a school play. I was under a sheet and crawled out when spring came. I often say I’ll never reach the same artistic level again. Although I actually wanted to be a diplomat. To travel the world, carry out messages, be the messenger of my country; it just sounded so cool somehow."

Are you a better actor today than 20 years ago?

"Nah, I don’t know. This is an occupation that you can’t really grade. I guess you should be better the longer you’ve lived, have more experience to choose from. But, on the other hand, I guess you could just take it easy."

"I keep switching between extreme pride and a fear of not being good enough” you once told us in an interview. Is that still true?

"Yes, I must still try to resist that fear. I probably even get more scared as the years pass - I feel more uncertainty. Every job is so…hard. Sure, the role will always work sooner or later, but up until that point, it’s always a struggle."

Isn’t there something neurotic about all actors?

"Yeah, on one level. I guess we’re all somehow hypersensitive and we keep meddling with our emotions. We make ourselves vulnerable because if you’re afraid of getting hurt, you’ll have a harder time expressing those emotions on screen.

Sounds like living with an actor is hell?

"It might be sometimes. I’m often very happy that my wife My is a doctor and not an actress. Otherwise it would become a bit much."

What about the kids following in dad’s footsteps?

"Yeah, I don’t hold myself responsible for them."

But you have dragged them to movie sets across the world?

"Yeah, but we usually rent a place nearby. They’ve rarely followed me to the actual shooting set. They are usually asleep when daddy goes off to work."

The expression goes ”All sons must murder their father”. So Alexander and Gustaf have to become a better actor than daddy Skarsgård?

"Yeah, and therefore, it’s pretty stupid to choose the same occupation as me - at least if you want me to die quickly. Well, my kids are all so smart and talented. In one way they killed me even as children. They saw through me, noticed my silly sides - and could at best live with them."

Five sons and one daughter – how does she make it?

"Eija? When she was five I think, she gave me a pencil and a piece of paper and told me 'You write what I say: Girls are always right!' -  And then she walked away pleased. I’m sure she’ll do well. Men won’t be a mystery to her at least."

What were you like as a child?

"I was very wise. I talked like a small adult, could be rather obnoxious, but otherwise played  normally. I wasn’t good at fighting or sports, and mostly hung out with the girls in the class. They didn’t do sports either – and were a whole lot more beautiful."

How was your relationship with your own father?

"Dad used to take me swimming. I couldn’t swim, but he would push me in, and then I’d calmly sit there at the bottom and wait for him to fish me back up - I trusted him enormously. And then, when I starred as Bombi Bitt, my parents displayed a very healthy attitude. They helped me see the difference between my public self and reality."

Is that why you didn’t become the new Carola? (famous Swedish singer)

"I don’t know Carola, but I feel very bad for her. She was so incredibly young, and the press seemed to enjoy putting nails in her coffin. I never experienced that. Sure, I did make an album which was awful, and someone wrote: 'Stellan Skarsgård shouldn’t sing', but I don’t think I took my own success seriously."

Maybe it’s still that way – and that is the entire secret to the success of Stellan Skarsgård. The wave of people does split like the Red Sea when the world's most filmed father of six glides through the lobby of the Hotel Strand. But somewhere in his eyes, there’s a spark that says something like: “This isn’t really serious. I’m going home soon to cook oatmeal for my kids.”

"I do live a big life here in Stockholm. I drag bags of food down Götgatan, stand by the stove and read scripts - a hell of a lot of scripts by the way."

Ignorant murderer, oil-worker, exorcist, Saxon thug in the third century. How do you select your roles?

"I read a lot of 'deep' screenplays that don’t provide me with something, but just feel infantile and reaching. And then there’s action without any form of intelligence. I’m not a prude and not afraid of my reputation at all. I look for something challenging, something that makes me uncertain. I agreed to a football film by Michael Winterbottom. His way of making movies doesn’t actually suit me at all – and that’s exactly why I wanted to try it."

But you’re not into sports yourself, are you?

"I’m interested in major league football. I got to visit Newcastle and Madrid for a month, I met Bobby Robson, heard the gossip: 'Shearer will only last one more season!' and then Winterbottom quit, and it all failed. But I did get the chance to coach for Real Madrid - that impresses my sons. But I’m not the kind of guy who grabs his shoes and goes out running."

Yeah, but maybe you should? What did you say earlier? You mostly rest in your hotel room, masturbate, drink too much wine and fall asleep in front of the TV.

"Yeah, but nowadays most shoots are so effective that you work for 15-16 hours straight. You don’t even have time to go out and eat - and you keep reading new scripts. To be honest, I was at first not at all happy with my character in 'King Arthur'. The dialogue felt wrong. 'Don’t worry – we’ll fix it on location', they told me. I’ve become very spoiled with my freedom the last few years. I interfere and don’t always want to stand on their marks."

Are you hard to work with?

"Nah, they probably understand what I mean. But people can be annoyed by Skarsgård sometimes."

Is Lars von Trier annoyed as well?

"Lasse is my playmate. When we shoot, it doesn’t feel like working. Then we’re just two innocent kids having fun together. He has a vulnerability I like, an almost naïve openness. I was really hoping to be part of the third film in the American-trilogy, 'Wasington'. It’s so typical of him to spell it that way." (Laughs)

You’re slowly becoming our new Max Von Sydow. Do the two of you have a relationship?

"We don’t  beyond working on 'Mäster Olof' and 'Oxen'. But I recently had a bizarre dream about Max. We meet walking far apart in Cinecitta, I’m happy to see him, and I notice he is happy to see me. But when I come closer, he turns out to be…11 feet tall! I stand there stunned. Is he that big! 'Oh, Max, you are wearing high heels huh?' And he blinks and nods."

What Freud would say about a dream like that, one can only imagine. Sure he’s 6’3”, but Stellan Skarsgård is in many ways still the little boy fighting against both himself and the world.

Politically he’s always been to the left. ("Palme would be turning in his grave if he saw how Göran Persson tries to imitate his idols Bush and Blair. What is it that he’s after – their stardom? Their power?")

Religiously he is an atheist. ("I think it’s cowardly to call yourself an agnostic. I agree with Joseph Conrad: Religion is an insult against the real mysteries of life.")

And as a human being... well, there seems to be that constant struggle between seriousness and jokes, dedication and escape, as that slithering around the chair might display.

"I’m actually a pretty happy f--ker," he says and suddenly looks very serious. "I don’t wonder a lot. I have never been on an psychiatrist couch. I don’t think I’m all that interested in myself. But at the same time... if I’m playing a stand-up comic or a tragic figure that breaks down, it’s easy to know which I’d find within myself. I know that I am drawn to darkness. I constantly want to go down and look in those dark wells."

Is notoriety ever an issue?

"When I’m doing well, like today, I don’t care at all. Other days, I can’t even go down to the subway. On those days, it feels like the eyes are melting me, drawing me away..."

Stellan Skarsgård's dad, Jan Skarsgård, died six years ago. The man symbolizing trust, the safe life boat when Stellan was sitting at the bottom of the pool, had a stroke and became a shattered human being, a shadow of his former power.

Has it had an impact on his own view of life and death?

"I don’t know. I don’t want to become some rotting vegetable, but I’m not really afraid of dying, or of aging. I actually feel a lot better now than when I was 20. It was an awfully hard time, a lot of small issues that I later realized weren’t important at all. But maybe that calmness is just my way of escape? That I’m so scared of evanescence, of non-existence, that I want to have a party ever day? By the way…"

And he unfolds his body one last time, before it’s time for the bar, the beer and the small glass of Italian schnapps.

"I was just thinking... have you noticed my new socks? Cool huh? I thought that stripes would look good with a black suit, what do you think?"

And once again, the lid of the well falls right back into place.
 


Occupation: Movie star

Name: John Stellan Skarsgård ("They have a hell of a time finding that å on the computers in USA")

Family: Wife My, 48, housewife and professional doctor ("My is the younger sister of my best friend, I first saw her when she came home newly born from the hospital”), Alexander, 27, Gustaf, 23, Sam, 22, Bill, 13, Eija, 12, Valter, 8.

Lives: Apartment on Södermalm in Stockholm, and a summer house on Ljustero (in the peninsula of Stockholm). When in Hollywood, preferably stays at the Chateau Marmont, the hotel where John "Blues Brothers" Belushi died of an overdose in 1982.

Makes: At the most eight million crowns (roughly a million dollars) for “Exorcist: The Beginning”.

Hobbies: Cooking.

Favorite wardrobe: Naked.

_________________________


1951: Born on the 13th of June, grows up in Helsingborg. His mother is first a housewife, and then working at an old folk’s home. His father is a director at a company, and did amateur acting as a kid.


1967: Works on the ocean and learns how to smoke a pipe.

1968: Gets his breakthrough at 16, in the TV show "Bombi Bitt och jag”, and receives hundreds of fan letters every day. Is in the Swedish newspaper DN called: "A boy who smokes filtered cigarettes and gladly asks for a beer at dinner." Wears an embroidered Indian coat, reads Bradbury, Hesse and Camus, and is engaged against the Vietnam War.

1987: He hands in a form of resignation, protesting against the theatre Dramaten being golden again for the 200th anniversary, and the actors being called ”Royal actors”.

1990: Acts out his dream of becoming a diplomat in Kjell Grede's "God afton, herr Wallenberg."
 

 

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