Source: Culture Whisper
Date: September 2017
Are you a tennis fan?
Not really, Iím not very much into sports. I donít have time for that.
But I saw that final in 1980 and that was one of the most dramatic
things Iíve ever seen on television. It was fantastic.
Is Borgís story still well-known in Sweden?
Everything about Borg is well known about in Sweden, yeah.
Did you have to do much research for the character you play, Borgís
coach Lennart Bergelin, or is he also a well-known figure?
Heís a well-known figure, and I knew a lot about him but, of course, I
read as much about him as I could find anyway. But my ambition was not
primarily to make a sort of imitation of what he was like. I let reality
stand back to fiction because the most important thing was to do what
the film needed from the character.
Do you think Bergelin was jealous of Borg, which is something heís
often accused of?
It was partly a Salieri-Mozart relationship, you know, where someoneís
whoís almost really, really good sees someone whoís almost perfect and
that combination of love and jealousy. But, eventually, he became like a
father figure who partly made Borg as good as he was. Borg had, of
course, all the talent to begin with but he taught him how to channel
all his anger, his disappointments and everything and focus on the
Itís a bit of an uncomfortable moment in the film when you see Borg,
as a child, being ordered to bottle up all his emotions, especially when
you see his personal life as an adult strained because of this advice.
Do you think that that was a responsible move?
Was it the right thing to do? Well, if you wanted him to become the best
tennis player in the world, yeah. If you wanted him to be a happy person
then you should have told him to stop playing tennis. [Laughs] Those are
When Borg finally quit at the age of 26, heíd spent his entire life with
one single thing, and that is: winning the next game in tennis. Heíd
barely read a book, he hadnít finished school, he had no friends, he had
no life, he hadnít bought a coffee himself ever. I mean heís suddenly
stood there with no tennis any more and lots of millions and no
knowledge about life whatsoever and of course all the vultures came
descending on him immediately and f**ked him over big time.
What did you think of Sverrir Gudnasonís Borg?
[Sverrir] has a very difficult role because heís playing someone who
doesnít say much, is almost autistically unable to express himself and
at the same time he has to show the cinema-goer an internal life that is
rich enough to make them interested and he does that beautifully by just
showing whatís happening behind the eyes. Thereís an intensity to it
Actors from that part of the world do manage to have this dark
presence that is quite muted. Is that a cultural thing?
Yes, it is a cultural thing because it is a culture where you understate
your feelings and donít show them on the outside. Itís not as repressed
as the English way, itís just that you donít talk much about it. But
itís not wrong to talk about it and when you talk about it you say
everything but you say it with as few words as possible. The English way
is not even going near it, so itís very different.
Youíve been very varied films in the work that youíve done. Are you
naturally adventurous with what you choose to act in or do these scripts
just come your way?
I always wanna do things I donít think I can do. It seems like Iím sort
of striving for failure. [Laughs] I donít know, but I want to do things
I havenít done and eventually youíve done a lot and you have to go
further and further. But I like working and with the people that have
dedication, the energy and the joy in their work because if itís not fun
on the set Iíd rather be at home cooking. So I search for those parts
and films I havenít seen before, and I havenít seen this film before.
So many of the scripts you get are written in a way that you suspect the
writer has written a film heís seen before, again, and thatís really
sad. So you want to be rocked a bit. You want your perception Ė not only
of life and things Ė but also of what cinema is should be rocked a
little. Iím fortunate enough to work with Lars von Trier where every
film is a film thatís never been made before and so I'm a little spoilt
Is there any particular genre or mode that you like to work in?
I love working with Lars von Trier because itís a totally egalitarian,
un-hierarchical set where everybody can say whatever they want and do
whatever they want and youíre free to fail and youíre free to try
things. Thereís a lot of humour on the set Ė the darker the story, the
more humour on set Ė so itís great, great fun and no pressure.
So you do put in your ideas to the director?
I always do Ė Iím not supposed to shut up! It has to be the directorís
film but I can always put all of my ideas on the table in front of him
if he wants them, he can pick them. I donít approve of actors who take
over the set and neutralise the director and run the set because theyíre
not going to edit the film, theyíre not going to take responsibility for
the final product.
And any good film that is not a generic industrial production has to
have a subjective idea Ė the more subjective, the better usually. Itís
like, if you have a beautiful sunset and you take a photograph, itís not
that beautiful any more. But if Turner paints it then itís really
f**king interesting because itís his vision of that sunset.
Would you ever direct?
No. I tried to make a film many years ago and I got it written and
mostly financed but it took such a long time, I lost interest. I donít
have the patience for it. I still like acting and Iíd rather make a
couple of films a year as an actor than a film every ten years as a
Has it always been acting for you? Have you wanted to do anything else?
I wanted to become a diplomat when I was a kid and I never decided to
become an actor. I just sort of slipped into it and kept on doing it and
enjoyed it. But I havenít made up my mind what I should do when I grow
The SkarsgŚrd family is becoming a bit of aÖ
Exactly. Did your sons just slip into acting as well, like you?
It has been varied. Four of them are actors now. Alexander for years
didnít want to deal with it at all because he did something in
television when he was quite young and he got a lot of attention and he
did not want that attention. But then he came back to it later. And
Gustav wanted to be an actor from when he was two and a half I think.
Bill was not sure. At that time he had two brothers who were actors
already and he wasnít sure so he finished school properly with high
grades and stuff and was thinking of taking a trip on the trans-Siberian
railroad when he got a couple of really great roles in Swedish films and
then he was f**ked. And the fourth son, he just quit school, heís got a
couple of jobs, and he likes it, so he might beÖ
Öone to watch.
Have you given them any advice?
No, and they havenít asked for any either! [Laughs] I havenít opened any
doors, I havenít helped them with anything because they have to do it on
their own. I havenít encouraged them to become actors or discouraged
them. Itís their lives, they have to fix it!
Youíve worked with Alexander though, in Melancholia...
Iíve worked with Alexander. I've worked with all of them I think, at
What has that experience been like?
Itís great because if you have a scene, you talk the same language which
means that, very quickly, you get the same idea of how the scene should
be done or how you want to do it. But itís also a bit funny. There was
one film I did with Gustav, we came to the set and it was a period film
and weíd come to the set with long beards and long hair and we were just
looking at each other and started laughing. It was such a ridiculous
situation when someone you know very, very well is pretending to be
How did you get started in film in this country?
Well, I started in America. I won Best Actor in 1982 at the Berlin Film
Festival in a film called "The Simpleminded Murderer" and that was
picked up in the States and got me a job in the States, which got me an
agent in the States and she started working for me there, and I got more
Was that your goal?
It wasnít my goal. I was very reluctant. [My agent] tried to get me over
to shake hands and send pictures and I thought, whatís the point in
sending pictures Ė I look different in every film I do! And I was very
angry, very snotty and pretentious but eventually I went over there. But
itís not the goal and it shouldnít be the goal. The goal should be to do
interesting, fun stuff. Sometimes it can be a Mamma Mia! film and
sometimes itís very dark and itís a really bad Ďpopcorní seller that
youíre paid no money for at all.
Are you enjoying being back over here?
Oh, of course, I love it Ė Iíve spent a lot of time here. Last time, I
was living in Islington for a while when I did "River" for the BBC and
now I will back for "Mamma Mia!", and I will be living in Notting Hill
for a while.
Looking forward to doing something lighter?