Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune, 7/02/06

For Stellan Skarsgrd, it's good to be bad; Even as a barnacled villain, the Swedish actor savored the fun of filming the "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequel.

Los Angeles, Calif. - On-screen, Stellan Skarsgrd often plays hardened characters with a streak of villainy and no sense of humor. But off-screen, the Swedish actor turns into a comic, firing off a machine-gun volley of jokes, almost all of them at his own expense.

He was in prime form as he sat down to talk about "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." In this sequel to the 2003 blockbuster, which opens Friday, he plays a pirate with a crusty facade - literally: he has barnacles growing on his face - and the intimidating moniker of "Bootstrap Bill." But his interviews had reporters in stitches.

When asked about his six children and how he balances his professional and personal responsibilities, he shrugged his shoulders. "My total contribution took only about five minutes," he said.

A question about the 4 1/2 hours required daily to apply his makeup drew feigned anger as he claimed that director Gore Verbinski had promised that all of his special-effects makeup would be applied after the fact, via computer-generated imagery. At least that's the way it worked with Bill Nighy, who plays fellow pirate Davy Jones and shot all of his scenes clothed in a sweat suit covered with dots.

"I end up spending half a day in the makeup chair, and when I get to the set, there's Bill standing there in his pajamas."

As for why he became an actor in the first place, Skarsgrd responds, "A girl told me I should. And I was trying to impress her, so I said, 'OK.'-"

Did he get the girl? "No."

He has done pretty well for himself, nonetheless. Skarsgrd, 55, has twice won the Swedish version of the Oscar, the Guldbagge, as best actor. He has been in more than 50 movies, most of them in Scandinavia. He landed some bit parts in Hollywood, but U.S. audiences didn't catch on to him until "Breaking the Waves" reached U.S. theaters in 1997. His higher-profile roles on this side of the Atlantic include "King Arthur" and "Exorcist: The Beginning."

Still, he claims, most Americans mistake him for Liam Neeson. In fact, he jokes that he was considered for the lead in "Schindler's List" until it was discovered that he wasn't Neeson.

To support his claim that he never aspired to be an actor, he says his dream was to be a writer. "I wanted to be Ernest Hemingway, actually," he said. "I wanted to go to France and cover the war. So I moved to Paris."

There were a couple of flaws in his plan, he admits now. Unlike Hemingway, who spent a year as a cub reporter at the Kansas City Star after graduating from high school, Skarsgrd had no experience in journalism. Not that it mattered, because, unlike in 1918, there was no war in France, either.

"But I still had hope," he said. "I went to an employment office and said I wanted to be a writer. I don't how the guy managed not to laugh at me, but he said, `Well, we don't have any jobs like that right now, but I'll see what I can find.' And he started looking through his files and found me a job as a messenger for a magazine."

The glamour of journalism - or journalism deliveries, that is - quickly wore off, especially after he met the comely young woman who was interested in acting. And, in retrospect, he thinks that's for the best.

"It's fun," he said of his profession. "That's why I wanted to be in this movie [the 'Pirates' sequel] in the first place. I saw a lot of actors having a lot of fun in the first movie, and I wanted to be a part of it."


[By Jeff Strickler]