Source: The Guardian - November 27, 2015
Stellan Skarsgard: my family values
The actor on being the eldest of five and a
father of eight and the Swedish art of compromise.
My parents were rather unconventional and did not
accept rules unless they thought they were defendable. They were
atheists when Sweden was a very Christian country. The ethical code of
my upbringing was be good to people and try not to hurt them. You donít
need a god to tell you that.
My father used to stress that he valued us all as individuals, but that
no one in the world was worth more or less than anyone else. This was a
good principle to establish in a large family. I was the eldest of five
children and although I never saw myself as any kind of leader, as the
eldest, like it or not, you have some power inherent in that position.
My siblings and I share a summer house and one year they felled a birch
tree, which I had remarked was particularly beautiful, as a belated
reaction against me and challenge to my position. I didnít really care
and I think that, even when you have obvious power in a relationship, as
long as you remember that everyone has equal value personally, then
those relationships will remain relatively harmonious.
I have eight children, six from my first marriage and two from my
second, and I have tried to teach them to question everything. This
forces you to think about whether you are right or wrong and to sharpen
up arguments in defence of a position. It also makes for extremely loud
I see all the children together every three months or so, but at least
five or six of them every week. To outsiders, our loud discussions
around the dinner table might appear confrontational, but only by
discussing things can you reach compromise. Sweden is the homeland of
compromise. Our whole culture is compromising and I think this works
well for a family, too, as long as you donít allow it to stifle free
There are 36 years between the eldest and youngest of my eight children
and only one of them is a girl. During each of my wivesí subsequent
pregnancies, my daughter would say, ďI hope itís not a girl.Ē Sheís very
strong, stronger in many ways than the boys, and relishes her position.
When I told my father I wanted to go into acting, he was supportive Ė he
had been an amateur actor, but told me to finish my studies so I had
something to fall back on. But I was 16 and had no intention of falling
back, so I left school anyway. He was OK with that. He would always give
me his opinion, but never insist that I follow it.
To my own children, four of whom are actors, my advice was that they
should think about what they wanted to do and try to do that. I have
never had ambitions for them, other than that they should be decent
people, and I have tried to show them that having a full life is not a
selfish pursuit, but one that makes you of more value to your friends
I think the sort of acting I do helps you understand people and the
world a little better. Iím not a great believer in black and white. Life
is full of moral ambiguity and itís important that we try to understand
the complexities of individuals and how these make them behave, for
better or for worse.
I think you need to show children that the world is an uncertain place
and there is no such thing as security. You never know when you might
lose your job or become seriously ill, or when a terror attack might
take place or a war begin. The only thing you can do is to try to make
your family feel loved and valued and hope they will carry that
knowledge through life, whatever it brings.