Source: Shadow Locked, 3/21/10

Which of the two Exorcist prequel-versions that you shot remains the more effective for you?

They’re two totally different films. Of course, Paul Schrader’s film is closer to me. And of course, they didn’t want that. It was such a weird idea to – on a fifty-million dollar film – have him as the director and me as the star. I thought ‘Those producers – they’re either really really smart or they have no clue!’. With him…it would never become a horror movie. It would just become a film about a man in crisis, because that’s what he’s good at – that’s what I’m good at!

So they got that of course, and they didn’t like it because it wouldn’t sell enough tickets, and then Renny Harlin was brought in. They wanted to cut up Schrader’s film and put in…slices of horror, which would have made it insane. Renny wanted to make his own film, and I was with him on that tract. I like Renny – sometimes better than his films! [laughs] He’s a nice Finnish guy and we have fun together. I changed my make-up so they couldn’t use anything from the first film for the second film.

Personally I wished that they could have spent a little more money on the second one, because that needed better effects and stuff. Like those hyenas – they’re terrible. [laughs]

Are you particularly attracted to Bergman-style projects that many would consider introspective?

Yes – I’m very much Scandinavian in the sense that I like those questions.

Are you generally attracted to dark themes?

The first time I saw István Szabó’s Mephisto, I came out and I was in shock. I was shaking. It was about this actor Gründgens, who stayed in Germany and worked and was the pet of the Nazis. I couldn’t swear what I would have done. And then the friend that I saw the film with said ‘Oh, that traitor Gründgens – collaborator!’. And I got ice-cold and I looked at my friend, and I thought ‘That could be you’, because he was so sure of himself, that he was right. He didn’t question, and that is what we have to do constantly.

I’m interested in moral questions. I’m interested in the human condition in general. And of course I’m interested in love – is there empathy? Personally I think there is love, and it’s a fantastic and beautiful thing. It is based on genetics but it has gone beyond genetics, because sometimes it really doesn’t serve any function at all [laughs].

Besides your professional ability to assume a character, what defines the ‘Stellan-ness’ that draws people to cast you?

I’m on time. That’s really good! And I function socially very well on a set. Sometimes I feel like I’m brought onto the set like a…you know, when they run the bulls in Pamplona, they also have some castrated bulls to calm them down! [laughs]. Sometimes I feel like the castrated bull that is thrown in to calm down a set and create a good atmosphere! I hope that’s not why I’m hired, though.

Milos Forman said that he liked me because I had no face of my own. He saw me in different roles that I’d done, but he didn’t see me as an actor bigger than my roles.

Actors say that you’re very generous with them, never playing the star. Is that down to the many years of theatre that you did?

It’s not concerned with the theatre necessarily. I want the film to be as good as possible, I want the scene to be as good as possible, and I like actors. The scene is never better than the weakest link, so I don’t have to be brilliant. I can be a little less good if it makes the other person good. Then the scene becomes better and everybody’s happier.

I hate doing monologues. I hate doing solos, and I hate watching solos, when there are several actors onstage or on the screen. I want to see what happens between people. That’s the most interesting thing.

You and Peter Stormare are amongst the most prolific actors listed in the IMDB. Is this evidence of a strong Scandinavian work ethic?

Yeah, we like to work. We’re good work-horses.

The journey you made in Waz looked very gruelling. Was it one that taxed you a lot emotionally, or was it a technical issue?

I never see it as technical, and I try to avoid the technical side of it, because I know that I‘m technically very skilled – I try to fuck up my performance so I can’t use it. But it was very very hard work. We shot six days a week, twelve-hour shoots, and we actually shot for twelve hours, because it was all hand-held, which meant that you didn’t sit down for twelve hours.

And that was great, because it meant that we could experiment with the scenes and get a fantastic amount of material. The emotionally hardest part was, of course, the three last days of the shoot, where we did the ending. Because then you had to be, for three days, in an emotional and physical state that is pretty painful.

Is that level hard to sustain between takes, when they’re re-setting the camera, and so forth?

What you do is that you don’t stay in the exact emotion but you stay in the energy of it. So you have your engine running at high speed constantly throughout the day, and then you just turn it on to whatever feeling you want to.

You say that you feel a lot of fear when acting – is that a useful tool for you?


It’s just a by-product that you have to put up with, then?

Yeah, and one that you have to fight, because if you’re afraid, if you’re not brave in front of the camera, you can’t produce anything. Fear shrinks you, and I see nothing good in it. The only good thing is that it might scare you to prepare a little better [laughs].

Did something happen in the theatre or a previous production that you don’t want to happen again?

Well I had camera fright. I didn’t film for a couple of years. I couldn’t stand in front of the camera. The camera was threatening, and my enemy. I just got stiff in front of it, and I can sometimes feel this coming back like a ghost from the past, and that is horrible, because you can do nothing.

Is that perhaps one reason why you’re such a good contributor to a group – that you feel more secure in a group of actors?

Yeah, that’s very possible, that I need to feel that I’m amongst friends. That they want me to be good and that they forgive me when I’m not.

Is this insecurity restricted to the stage and set?

I’m not very insecure in my own life. I trust people and I like people…but it’s something about this acting thing. It’s such a fucking pretension, to ask people to pay to look at you, at what you’re doing. So it better fucking be something, you know! [laughs] It’s scary. I don’t trust actors who are never scared – they usually like themselves too much, and they become some kind of wankers.

Fucking up your own performance deliberately, though – what comes out of that?

Life. If you prepare your role at home, in detail, and go and execute it, you will get a shiny surface that might be brilliant and elegant and everything, but it’s not life. Life is erratic and full of flaws. And the hardest thing to produce on-screen is life. It’s a two-dimensional picture, and you’ve got to make it vibrate beyond that.

I was having a look at the message boards on your IMDB page, where a great number of women in their early twenties are fixated with you –

Nice to hear.

-- and one wrote “Stellan fills me with the desire to go out and do wrong”. [Stellan laughs] What do you feel about that kind of adulation?

Who says it’s wrong?

I’ve heard you downplaying your singing abilities in many interviews, and yet you made Mamma Mia…?

Yes, my first musical. Oh, that was scary! It’s very weird because I didn’t have the tools for that. I’ve never done anything like it. When I came and started rehearsing it, I thought ‘How does this work?’. You come in one body as a character, and then suddenly this body starts to do silly steps and dance. Is it some kind of alienation, as Brecht said? What is it? And Phyllida Law just looked at me and laughed. Eventually I just gave up everything and decided to have a lot of fun, and I had a lot of fun…and I hope it works!

Would you like to do more lighter things…comedies, maybe?

Some comedy would be fun, yeah.

Do you get offered many?

No, probably because I’ve done too many dark things. But no, I don’t get offered comedy.

Do you think you’ll get round to directing movies?

I really enjoy acting and I don’t feel that I have to be able to write and direct on my business card. But if there’s a project, a story that I feel I have to tell, then I might do it. But I’m interested in everything. Me on a film set, I’m interested in everything the director does, the make-up girls, the sound department, the DP…every detail I’m thinking of, and interested in.

So you’re ready for the role?

It’s one thing to be a Mister Know-It-All on the set than actually to take responsibility for the entirety.

You’ve worked with your son in Metropia – does working with your children bring echoes of your own early life as an actor?

It’s strange, because I never encouraged them. My ideology has been that I do what I can up to the age of sixteen, and then it’s their lives to decide for themselves, and hopefully I’ve turned them into good human beings. But it worries you when they decide to become actors because I throw quite a heavy shadow that they have to get out of.

Fortunately, they’ve done very well. Alexander and Gustaf, the two oldest who are now actors, they’re extremely successful, both of them, and in their own way and with their own language. There’s no clonings of me, and they don’t try to imitate me or anything. Both have gone slightly different ways than I have. Alexander’s gone into film and hasn’t done my theatre thing. I never went to drama school but Gustaf did four and a half years in drama school, so they’ve found other ways.

But it’s a fantastic feeling when you work with them, which I’ve done a couple of times, and you meet them and you realise how…when you talk about a scene, the distance is shorter, because in some ways even if you never talked about work at home, you realise that you think the same way about the material usually.

You’ve been a very successful actor since you were sixteen, but not a Hollywood star for all that time – do you think if you had achieved your current level of stardom so much earlier, that you wouldn’t be so down to earth?

It’s very hard to say. You’re formed by your life but you’re also formed very strongly by your first years. My parents’ attitude was that we should know that there was no-one in the world who was worth more than we were, and no-one in the world that was worth less. A humanistic, egalitarian view of things.

I got famous in Sweden when I was sixteen years old, but I had very solid parents and I immediately saw the silliness of all the fame. Very early on I made sure that the press version of Stellan Skarsgård shouldn’t get too far away from the person Stellan Skarsgård.

So you would never have moved to the USA, out to Hollywood?

No, I don’t think so. And I also need to have a normal life. What is stardom? That’s a silly thing. You have one life – and it’s surprisingly short!