FEMINA - April 2020  [edited]


The reason why Femina sits at a Melanders Fisk (seafood restaurant) in Söderhallarna in Stockholm on an afternoon in February and talks about death and evanescence with Stellan Skarsgård is the Norwegian film Hop (Hope), a reality-based film about how serious cancer strikes a family during a Christmas holiday. But it is also a disease that the actor himself has been forced to experience up close when ex-wife My Skarsgård suffered cervical cancer about fifteen years ago.

"We had a lot of children together and then it becomes a very particular situation. You feel a mixture of being unable to do anything, while at the same time trying to take care of the practical and be able to deal with the sick person’s anxiety. People handle it very differently."

His partially fatalistic attitude leads is the reason he does not go and have himself checked (for cancer). Having had cancer in the family has not affected the actor who turns 70 next summer, and he has not recorded any requests for his own funeral or orchestrated his ending.

"Someday we’ll all die. Life is a lottery and you have to grab it if it happens. I don’t go and worry in advance..."

When Hope premiered at the Toronto Film Festival (TIFF) last fall, it was already clear that it was not a "regular role" or a day at work for one of the country’s most renowned actors, but about a private and close friendship with the film’s director and her family.

A few Christmases ago Norwegian filmmaker Maria Södahl learned that she had lung cancer. She recovered to be told by next Christmas that the cancer had spread to the brain and that she had three months to live.

"Those who survive this type of tumor are so few that they are not statistically countable."

Maria Södahl was operated on and recovered. Her husband is Hans Petter Moland. He is also a director and one of Stellan Skarsgård's best friends for 30 years.

"I knew she was sick, I received reports. When Maria asked a few years ago if I wanted to read a synopsis, I thought 'what the fuck she is writing about her own illness?' It is difficult to write about your own things. But she had taken a fresh approach. It was not rehashed but a description of what happened during that Christmas from when she was diagnosed until the New Year when she would be operated on. And it was not just about cancer but also about how life changes in a family with six children and how one looks back on life; what did we do right? what did we do wrong? what happened to love?"

Andrea Braein Hovig plays the female lead and Stellan Skarsgård the male — which is a portrait of his friend Hans Petter. Or is it?

"No, I've tried not to be Hans Petter. But I told him that if people think I'm him in the movie, he'll get a better reputation now." (laughing)...

He most recently won a Golden Globe for best supporting role in the television series Chernobyl. However, about awards in general, he is a bit torn.

"I can handle it anyway. Nonetheless, once you win, there is a little insecure boy inside who is happy. A prize is not a measure of my quality, but it is a sign of appreciation."

Stellan thinks it's nice that people on the street can come up with a "thank you for Chernobyl", but he doesn’t like to be recognized.

"It is tedious. But I know that people recognize me wherever I am, and sometimes I want to be alone. But if someone comes and asks for a selfie, it might be okay. And it is better in Sweden than in the US for example. For several years I did not ride the subway, but then I decided that it will not be so bad, so now I ride the subway again. And I’m not going out and partying like before. With social media, you are now watched all the time."

After over 30 years of marriage and six joint children, Stellan divorced My in 2007. Two years later he married Megan Everett. Today they have two sons together, seven and ten years old. The movie star notes with a laugh -

"For 40 years I have only worked around four months a year, I have had a lot of children to take care of. It seems like I'm allowed to continue with that..."

Even his wife Megan is also involved in the film industry, not least as a screenwriter. In the spring, she and Chinese director Ran Huang's movie What Remains would have been recorded in Finland and Sweden, but the financial repercussions of the coronavirus have put a stop to this. However, it does not make Megan go idle. She has a lot of projects going on, both films and TV series, says Stellan, who himself has no thoughts on either retirement or old age.

"Maybe I should think about that … as soon as I feel that I am getting old."

He says he now only works when he thinks it's fun. In 2020, he has a couple of projects he is thinking about, and around Christmas we will see him as a fat villain in Denis Villeneuve's already recorded Dune.

During the spring there is also the Swedish premiere of The Painted Bird, directed by the Czech Václav Marhoul and who competed in Venice last fall. It is about a young boy who at the end of The Second World War wanders around an eastern European country and encounters the evil and dishonesty of most he meets. Stellan plays a Nazi soldier who is assigned to execute the boy, but who instead lets him escape. It's a short scene and Stellan doesn’t have a single line.

"It’s wonderful. This is how film should be. It should speak through its images. Films where you constantly talk are boring. This movie is 169 minutes long and of that time it's nine minutes of dialogue."

Stellan has known Marhoul for several decades, since he showed him around Prague one weekend. Marhoul has wanted to film The Painted Bird for eleven years, and when he got in touch with him, Stellan immediately became interested.

"I wanted to read the script first, so when it was clear and I read it, I could say yes. Although it looks very expensive, it is a low-budget film and nothing the actors made money on. I called my agent and said 'there is a contract from a Czech producer who wants to negotiate the salary. I want you to negotiate it for exactly 100 euros.' He was quiet for a few seconds and then he said 'oh fuck'. Nowadays there are very few opportunities to make independent films with budgets of around ten million dollars. There is no place for them. Therefore, it's fun that this movie could have been made.

The herring on the plate is eaten and Stellan is going home to pack for a film festival in Berlin. When asked if he plans to have a big party next summer when he turns 70, the answer becomes a short "no."

"I'll celebrate in the same way as when I turned 50 and 60. I don't celebrate at all..."