|Radio Interview with Stellan
April 18, 1998
HOST: What do Robert DeNiro, Robin Williams, Emily Watson, Daniel Day Lewis, Juliette
Binoche, Sean Connery and Morgan Freeman have in common? Well, among other things, each
actor has worked with Stellan Skarsgård.
Mr. Skarsgård, whether he's playing a villain or victim, hero or he-man, has the gift of
somehow making the very best actors look even better. Over the past year, American
audiences have seen some of Mr. Skarsgård's range in three movies nominated for Oscars: Breaking
the Waves, Amistad, and most recently, Good Will Hunting.
But he's already earned an international reputation in a slew of Scandinavian pictures
that include Zero Kelvin and the soon-to-be-released Insomnia.
Stellan Skarsgård joins us from New York.
Mr.Skarsgård, thanks very much for being with us.
STELLAN: Thank you.
HOST: And how did you manage this trifect of Oscar nominees?
STELLAN: Well, it's actually four.
HOST: If you say so in all modesty. What's the fourth one?
STELLAN: The Ox. It was a Swedish-American co-production that was nominated,
directed by Sir Nighquist, best foreign film nomination a few years ago.
HOST: Oh, all right. OK. Well, we meant in the same year. But however, this - I wonder
about the coincidence of this. This is actually kind of amazing.
STELLAN: Well, it seems like talented people like to hire me.
HOST: Well, give us a hint as to why that might be...
STELLAN: I don't know.
HOST: ... if you could reflect on it in all modesty.
STELLAN: I don't know. I'm probably cheaper than most people, so...
HOST: Let me ask you, for example, about your role in Good Will Hunting. You take
on something very difficult in this because you're asked to play somebody who's really
STELLAN: Yeah, that's a big problem for me.
HOST: Well, now wait. Perhaps I phrased that badly.
STELLAN: No, it was perfect.
HOST: Well, critics have pointed out over the years that it's hard to portray brilliance
or intellectual competence in a character. Somebody who can do something like Harrison
Ford and his competence of carpentry in Witness is a good example. He had
something to do... And, of course, you play a mathematician in this movie.
HOST: And so you had to write equations out on the board like you knew what they meant.
STELLAN: Well, I didn't know what they meant. Of course I didn't. But the thing, if you
want to play intelligent, you have to have someone writing intelligent lines for you.
HOST: It's really as simple as that?
STELLAN: Yeah, I think so. I mean, if you say smart things, it will come through as
HOST: Let me ask you about this new film that's coming out now called Insomnia.
I'm inclined to refer to it as being somewhat like a film noir, except instead of
darkness, the motif is light, this unrelenting, ceaseless light, because it's set in a
smaller town in Norway where I guess the sun never sets. It's that time of year.
STELLAN: Yeah, that's true. It's a new genre. It's film blanc.
HOST: And was it actually filmed during that time of year?
STELLAN: It was. It was the first time in my life that I was able to do night for day
shots. Usually, you do the reverse.
HOST: Day for night, right.
STELLAN: Yeah. We actually could... you can get a tan at 2:00 in the morning. It's
HOST: What's that like? Of course, we'll explain in the film, your character is a police
detective who comes up from Stockholm to help this small town in Norway solve a grizzly
murder of a young teenager. And among other things, some of which we won't go into for the
sake of those who have yet to see the film, obviously, the blinding light just drives your
STELLAN: Yeah, it does. But he's not feeling OK when he came there. I mean, people go nuts
in that sun. But they usually go crazy during the winter when it's all dark. So it's
amazing, you can actually see people with - families with kids out at 3:00 in the morning
in the north and during the summer. But on the other hand, they have the sleep in winters,
HOST: You have played villains very persuasively. How do you play a villain? Is it
necessarily just being bad, or to make a villain really engaging, do you have to suggest
STELLAN: If I get a real bad guy, I try to find out his good sides. And I try to -
to myself, at least, explain how - what is - what is he lacking? What makes him bad?
Because - and if you play a good guy, you have to find his flaws to make them more
interesting and alive.
HOST: I must say there's a scene in Insomnia where I thought your character was
the most chilling. Without giving anything away, you come back to your hotel, and the nice
woman at the desk shows you some newborn kittens, and you say, "Nah, nah, nah."
Well, this is in Swedish. So I'm providing, obviously, an English translation. You sort of
push the kittens away and say, "Nah, nah, nah. I don't like kittens."
STELLAN: Yeah. It's scary. But it's scary not because it shows that he's a bad guy. It
shows his lack of ability to show affection and his - that he is actually afraid of the
softness inside him because his softness is actually there. And it's actually almost
HOST: Yeah. You live in Stockholm, I gather.
STELLAN: Yeah, I do.
HOST: And you have a, as we say, a family of some size.
STELLAN: I got six kids, yeah.
HOST: Do you do much play-acting with them? That tough audience?
STELLAN: I just cook for them. When I'm not working, I'm cooking and changing diapers. I
mean, I try to live a very normal life as much as possible.
HOST: You're not only Swedish, sir, but you look it.
STELLAN: I look Swedish?
HOST: You look Swedish. And it's a fine thing to look Swedish. You know, Ingrid Bergman
was a fine-looking Swede.
STELLAN: Yeah. You think I look like her?
HOST: No you don't.
HOST: You have a rugged quality that I must say Ms. Bergman lacked. But you're often, I
guess because of physical type as much as anything else, cast another role of playing
somebody who is maybe a little bit remote, somebody who is stoic rather than warm and
effusive. For example, in Good Will Hunting, no question as to who plays the warm- fuzzy,
Irish-ethnic psychiatrist and who plays the cold emperiest mathematician, even though
STELLAN: Well, it would have been unbearable if we both would have been that nice,
HOST: All right. So I wonder if you ever feel imprisoned by, for lack of a better word,
those Nordic looks? And would you - I don't know, would you ever like to play a role more
like, say, Richard Dreyfuss gets to play occasionally?
STELLAN: No, not really. I mean, like in Amistad, I'm doing a very nice guy. And
I really try to vary my diet very much not to be identified with just one character
because I really enjoy inventing new people all the time. Except for making children, it
is as close as you can get to be a God, isn't it?
HOST: Mr. Skarsgård, it's been very nice to talk to you.
STELLAN: Thank you.
HOST: Speaking with us from our studios in New York City, actor Stellan Skarsgård. His
latest film Insomnia, a Nordic production, opens in North America next month.