In Conversation with Director Hans Peter Moland and Lead Actor Stellan Skarsgård

c. 1996

A hoarse and bellowing chuckle rumbles deeply and gutturally from the belly of Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård. It's not the kind of bellowing laughter one might expect from a man who has just delivered his finest performance as a tormented and murderous fur trapper in Zero Kelvin. With a heart of stone and driven to extremes, Skarsgård's character Randbaek - whilst holed up inside a claustrophobic cabin with a poet and a scientist and with glacial sub-zero temperatures outside the door - is the epitome of brutality.

Skarsgård, a swarthy, bear of a man is in good spirits this overcast and gloomy Copenhagen morning. He is full of mirth and glee at the reaction he has caused with his stunning portrayal in a film that is sparse, haunting, ambient and brutal.

"It was a very rewarding part because Randbaek could do almost anything," he roars. "There were no limits to him and it was very hard to over-act him. But, of course, to a certain extent it was physically demanding working in Spitzbergen under the conditions that we worked. I really enjoyed it because it's so nice to play such an asshole. It is funny. I have tried to do as many different parts as possible. The one I have just completed is Breaking The Waves and we won an award in Cannes - it's very good, but quite different. I played Raoul Wallenberg in a film called Good Evening Mr Wallenberg which is a very nice character, and one film, which I think was also shown in Australia was the Simple Minded Murderer where I played a hare-lipped idiot."

Zero Kelvin scooped Best Film - Norwegian Film Festival 1996, Most Popular Film: First Runner Up Sydney Film Festival 1996, Best Director - Cancun Film Festival 1995 and Best Actor - San Sebastian Film Festival 1995. Adapted from the novel by Danish author Peter Tutein, Zero Kelvin is a harrowing, rugged and breathtaking 1920s Nordic thriller that traces the story of three fur trappers who are left in complete isolation on the frozen wastelands of Greenland.

According to Skarsgård, he was first attracted to the infinite possibilities of his character who becomes the emotional protagonist and catalyst of violence.

"The possibilities to expand in different directions in terms of making him unbelievably terrible, ugly and filthy, and yet at the same time, I tried to make him humane in a certain sense. To give him another dimension so that you might - for a second - understand him."

Director Hans Petter Moland, who still craves the danger and the isolation of the environment in which they shot Zero Kelvin, agrees wholeheartedly with Skarsgård's observations. Ironically though, this was a film that he almost never made.

"The thing that first attracted me to the Tutein novel was that it was a good read. He had a great sense of humour, very morbid and very gallows. It also makes you feel that this man really lived through this experience. But I was actually very hesitant about doing it initially. It was my producer Bent Rognlien who insisted because he thought there was great potential for drama. He also knew that I was the only one crazy enough to make it. [Laughing] Two things made me hesitate. First of all, I was afraid that it was too much theatre, that it was too hard to stage as a film and not a play. We had a screenwriter involved and he came up with the love scene which remains an unresolved conflict between the two men that carries on all the way to death. That convinced me that there was more to the meanness and bickering, and a deep rooted difference between the two people. That there is one man Larsen (Gard B. Eidsvold) who believes in love and has all of the good virtues of mankind and civilisation, pitted against Randbaek, this chauvinistic animal who rejects love and is nothing more than lust in disguise."

Zero Kelvin is Moland's second feature film and sits in stark contrast to his debut prize-winning film, The Last Lieutenant and his successful works as a director/producer of short films and music videos for people like Paul MacCartney, Pat Benetar and Michael Jackson. But, it also seems the most rewarding.

He describes the physical realities of making this film like embarking on "an expedition" and, is quick to point out that his first priority was finding actors who he felt could embody the kind of raw passion and danger that would have been able to survive such extreme surroundings. "I had always wanted to work with Stellen Skarsgård ever since I saw him in The Single Minded Murderer, and against him I needed an actor to play Holm. Somebody who was capable of playing such a vague role with enough strength and authority. So I had to convince Bjorn Sundquist, and he only accepted it because he was playing opposite very good actors.

"I think he would have liked to have played Randbaek," he grins, "and he is quite capable of it. He is known in Norway as a dangerous and malicious man on the screen. But I made him 48 lbs heavier and I made him shave his head... Gard, on the other hand needed to be able to travel from being a very innocent and hopeful young man to one that is capable of murder. It is easy to find men in their early 20s who are believable as innocent, than it is to find somebody who is believable as a nutter. To be very concrete, there were moments when I had to be vicious when I was casting and it was then that I realised that Gard had it in him."

Stellan Skarsgård, who has appeared in less physically strenuous cinematic landscapes such as The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, Coq Rouge, The Women On The Roof, and The Hunt For Red October, smiles at Moland's passion and verve: "Moland is very interesting," he gestures, "because he had a theatre background and in some senses he really likes to get out into the wilderness and live the kind of macho life.

"But, at the same time he is so sensible and not denying the complications within man, and the softness within man, and that makes the difference. The film could very well have been a real boy's story. But I don't think it did. It has enough interesting psychology to be at least as attractive to women as it is men. It is a film that I am very proud of ..."


[I Magazine - Australian]