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Stellan Skarsgård: Man of Character

A mere handful of Scandinavian actors have made a comparable name for themselves in Hollywood. Why has this actor succeeded in America while so many have failed?

Where he lives: Söder district of Stockholm
Last book read: "I hope I haven't read my last book"
Music: Coldplay, Beethoven, Ella Fitzgerald
Dessert: "I don't eat desserts"
Age: 55

Stellan Skarsgård has portrayed many memorable characters on the silver screen, from the tough-minded professor in "Good Will Hunting" to the haunted, paralyzed oil-rigger in Lars von Trier`s award-winning "Breaking the Waves." A mere handful Scandinavian actors have made a comparable name for themselves in Hollywood. Why has this actor succeeded in America while so many have failed?
"I don`t know," says Stellan. "I guess I`ve been lucky to make a couple of films that got international attention. The first was "Simple Minded Murder," (Den enfaldige Mördaren, 1982), directed by Hans Alfredsson, which won a Silver Bear in Berlin. That brought me out to the States for the first time, and I got an agent in the USA."
Skarsgå¦rd has been a star in his native Sweden since his teens through the title role in the TV-series "Bombi Bitt and me" (1968), in which he played a Huckleberry Finn-like character. He also became the prototype of a James Bond-like spy in Sweden through his portrayal of the dashing agent Carl Hamilton in a series of popular spy thrillers.
Carrying on in a long Hollywood tradition of using foreigners to play villains, Skarsgå¦rd portrayed the Russian Captain Tupolev in The Hunt for Red October (1990). He also had a supporting role in Steven Spielberg`s "Amistad" (1997).
Skarsgå¦rd, who played Father Merrin in the prequel to The Exorcist, has no illusions that all of his films are diamonds: "Ten or 15 percent are really good, 10-15 percent are really bad, and the rest are normal films," he estimates. Fellow-Swede Izabella Scorupco plays the female lead as a doctor in "Exorcist: The Beginning," directed by Finland-born Renny Harlin. Through the magic of cinematography, the film is set in Africa.
Laying on a coffee table in Skarsgå¦rd`s suite at the Excelsior Hotel in Rome where the film is actually being shot is a crumpled piece of paper with cryptic symbols that Stellan has drawn, resembling Egyptian hieroglyphics. "I use that to remember my lines in a complicated prayer that I recite in one scene," the actor explains.
How does Skarsgå¦rd feel about stepping into the shoes of fellow Swede Max von Sydow, who played the Satan-battling priest in the original Exorcist film of 1973, one of the scariest movies ever made?
Skarsgå¦rd responds by telling the story of a surrealistic dream he had in which Max von Sydow emerges from the head of Jesus, and starts walking towards him. "I`m very happy to see him, and he`s very happy to see me, and I say, "Hi Max," and then he comes up to me and it turns out he is 10 feet tall. Then I say to him, "But you`re wearing high-heels."
This actor routinely invites his family (he has six children) and friends to visit him during extended shoots on location. "The last time I did a film, I had 40 people staying with me." This reminds Stellan about a previous visit by his sister to Rome. His sister was so impressed that his dressing room had once been part of an apartment where the legendary film director Felini lived, he reveals, that she hugged the toilet where the great man once sat.
After a decades-long career acting in front of cameras, will Skarsgård try out the role of director?
"It would be interesting to direct at some point, but only if I find a story I feel I have to tell," he says.

Stellan is wearing: Pullover by Armand Basi, pants by Armani. Make-up: Lisa Peterson

Photography: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin
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