Interview Magazine - Excerpts from Stellan's interview with Paul Bettany

December 2003 Issue

"The interview took us to places I hadn't planned," says first-time journalist Stellan Skarsgård, who has known subject Paul Bettany since the two co-starred in 2000's Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. "I've been interviewed so many times that I tried not to sound like a journalist, but it's hard. If you want somebody to talk, you have to ask silly questions."

SS: You'll have to bear with me because I've never interviewed anybody before. I'll ask you your favorite color later, but since you're an Englishman and thus blessed with irony, I think it's important we tell the readers that everything we say that they don't like is just irony--we actually mean the opposite. [both laugh] I want to ask you about Master and Commander. You shot it mostly in Rosarito [Mexico], no? That's where all the kids from Southern California go for weekends to throw up... [conversion continues]

SS: I have a confession to make: I have also gone to the gym, because of the sword fighting I'm doing [for King Arthur, due out in 2004]. I'm playing Cerdic, a Saxon leader who chops up people throughout the film and then gets chopped up himself.

PB: Excellent! Have you been chopped up yet?

SS: No, I think Clive [Owen, who plays Arthur] will chop me up either Friday or Monday. [both laugh] But with all this working out, my wife doesn't recognize my body...

SS: When you choose a role, do you also consider the political, ethical, or moral values it conveys?

PB: Yes. I wouldn't make movies that I find politically revolting...

SS: [Director] Leni Riefenstahl died not too long ago, you know.

PB: I wouldn't have been in Triumph of the Will [1935, Riefenstahl's film of a Nazi rally], either.

SS: No. [laughs] But it's interesting - because even after all these years, in all the obituaries, she was still [called] "Hitler's girl." She was very successful at what she did later in life, but she's paid for her early [propaganda] films her entire life, while people who worked in the munitions factories, for example, got their jobs back after the war. I'm not making any judgments, but I've been thinking about artists' responsibility to be aware of what they're supporting. Even if a script looks great, read the fine print.

PB: Right. You played that conductor [Wilhelm Furtwangler, who led the Berlin Philharmonic during the Nazi era] in Taking Sides. That must've been a difficult decision, to play that role.

SS: That was actually right up my strasse, [both laugh] because the film created a lot of questions for the audience, but it didn't give any answers. Reality's constantly simplified by politicians, journalists, and in fiction. I think it's our duty to complicate the characters we're playing...

SS:  When we were in Sweden working on Dogville, you said, "Why did you lure me into this?"

PB: You'd told me I should do it because it'd be fun and that Lars von Trier was articulate with actors. Later you said, "I lied. I couldn't face being here without you." [both laugh]

SS: Have you seen the film? You're brilliant.

PB: Oh, thanks. I really loved making the film, but I wish I had been more relaxed at the beginning of the shoot.

SS: But that is the thing we have to fight all the time, balancing between being in control as an artist and giving up enough control to the director.

PB: Yeah, and it's a really hard thing to do. And Lars takes away any illusion that you have any control whatsoever. But he's amazing. Once we were arguing because I didn't understand a scene, and he doesn't like to talk before shooting a scene at least once. He kept saying [in a Danish accent] "Just do it! Start acting!" I said, "Lars, put the camera down and talk to me. I don't know what I'm supposed to do." And he said, "Paul, don't worry. I will shake the camera around and make it look real. I've been doing it for years." [both laugh]

SS: That's very funny. It's like when I did that rape scene. We did a couple of takes and Lars said to me, "Stellan, can't you try to play it as a romantic comedy?" [both laugh] Well, I don't have much more to ask you, but it'd be nice if I got the chance to come visit some time.

PB: You must come stay over in the new house with us. It's gorgeous.

SS: Will I get my own bed?

PB: You'll get your own room, supplied with a bed, five bottles of vodka, and one ashtray.

SS: Oh, thank you. Now that's up my strasse. Take care, my friend.

PB: All right, you.


Note: Paul Bettany is married to actress Jennifer Connelly, and on August 5, 2003, she gave birth to their son, who was named "Stellan" after Paul's good friend. Some coincidences - His mother-in-law is Eileen Connelly. My mother-in-law is Eileen Connolly. Back in the '70s Jennifer lived in my hometown of Woodstock, NY.

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Little Stellan Bettany with his Mom