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 smart. And...


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. That's it.

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 intelligent.

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 extraordinary.

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 character nuts.

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, though.

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 something else?

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 killing him.

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 they're friends.

STELLAN: Well, it would have been unbearable if we both would have been that nice, wouldn't it?


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.