Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgard is quite clearly one of the most prolific actors in Europe and Hollywood, with more than 80 films on his resume. He’s done big Hollywood films like Pirates of the Caribbean and Mamma Mia!, smaller productions like Good Will Hunting, and Norwegian features like his most recent, A Somewhat Gentle Man, directed by Hans Petter Moland, whom he has collaborated with twice before, and had memorable performances in all of them.
Collider recently spoke to Stellan Skarsgard in an exclusive phone interview from his native Sweden to promote the limited January 14th release (at the IFC Center, and then following in L.A. and other cities) of the darkly humorous A Somewhat Gentle Man, about a gangster named Ulrik (Skarsgard) who is reluctantly released from prison, only to find his way in the world again. While we will wait to run that portion of the interview until closer to the film’s release date, we did want to run what he had to say about his role in Frankie and Alice (currently in a limited run for award consideration, and opening later on February 4th) opposite Halle Berry, his current work on the American remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, which he starts doing interiors on in Los Angeles in a couple of days, being a part of the Marvel epic Thor and working with Lars von Trier on Melancholia. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: You have Frankie and Alice in American theaters on February 4th. What was the experience of working with Halle Berry like?
STELLAN SKARSGARD: Of course, working with Halle Berry is fantastic. Every day, you’re looking at a performance that you would be prepared to pay to watch. She’s truly great and truthful, and it’s a joy.
Who do you play in that film?
SKARSGARD: I’m the psychiatrist that is trying to help her and guide her through and make her understand what her problem is. He’s a strange psychiatrist who suddenly sees something he’s never seen before and gets very excited about it, but also gradually gets more and more interested in her as a person, and not only as a case. They reach a certain point – and I’m not going to give any spoilers – where she gets somewhere. It’s a nice role, and there’s some funny things in that one. My role was basically watching her. I could stare at her and just say, “Wow, she’s acting so great,” and everybody will think, “Oh, he’s really looking at what is the matter with her.”
How is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo going? Has that been an interesting experience?
SKARSGARD: Yeah, I’m having a lot of fun. David [Fincher] shoots constantly, and I don’t like to be in my trailer, so I’m really happy. When you shoot with him, he does 35 or 40 takes of almost every set up. Since he rolls all the time, it’s fine. You just get more and more energy from working with that drive. He’s a very good director, so I’m really having fun. I’m going to L.A. in a couple of days to continue doing interiors there.
How much have you already done on the film?
SKARSGARD: We started in September, and I’ve done exteriors in Sweden since then, and we broke for Christmas. We’ll start in L.A. in January, and I’ll be there for two or three months, and then I’ll go back to Sweden to finish it off in April or May.
Is the film still set entirely in Sweden with just the interiors being done in L.A.?
SKARSGARD: The film is set in Sweden, but we are doing some interiors on soundstages in L.A.
Had you been familiar with the Stieg Larsson books or the original Swedish films?
SKARSGARD: It was too big a hit for me to be able to ignore. I’ve seen one of the films. I’ve seen the first film – the one we are remaking now. I haven’t read the books.
Does it seem odd to you that you didn’t do the Swedish films, but now you’re in the American remake?
SKARSGARD: I’m not always happy when Hollywood does remakes of films, but that’s usually, when they have a very, very, very good film and they take away anything controversial from it and make flatter. I don’t think that will be the case here. David Fincher is a fantastic director and Steve Zaillian is writing, and he’s a great writer. I have hopes that it will be an improvement.
How has it been to work with David Fincher? Is he someone whose work you were familiar with?
SKARSGARD: Yeah, of course, I’ve been familiar with his work and I really enjoy it. He’s extremely focused on what’s going to be in the film. There’s no bullshit. He’s very smart. It’s a good experience.
Is he the reason you wanted to be a part of the film?
SKARSGARD: Yeah, of course.
Is it nerve-wracking to be a part of something that has so much attention on it, before the film is even finished, or do you not get nervous about that?
SKARSGARD: I don’t think about it. I’ve done Hamlet, and everybody knows how that should be done, so I’ve gone through the worst. Also, the film is really not on my shoulders.
Because so many of the fans of these books and the original Swedish films are curious about Rooney Mara’s performance as Lisbeth Salander, especially since they’re largely unfamiliar with her, is there anything you can say about working with her and how she’s doing in the role?
SKARSGARD: I’m convinced she can take it on. I’ve only had a few very short encounters with her. Most of my scenes are with Daniel Craig. But, I think she’s good enough. I think Noomi Rapace was fantastic, and this is another kind of Lisbeth Salander. I think [Rooney Mara] will do something beautiful with it.
What was it like to be a part of a production as big as Thor?
SKARSGARD: I had a great time. I also had a great director there. Kenneth Branagh is one of the funniest directors on the set. You laugh a lot. He’s very skillful. We were also allowed to have rehearsals before we started, and discuss the writing and change the scenes. It felt like you were invited to a very nice collaboration. It’s another film done in the real world, where my scenes are.
Who do you play in the film and how does your character, Professor Andrews, fit in with the mythology of the story?
SKARSGARD: Me and Natalie Portman and Kat Dennings are doing research on strange atmospheric and space stuff going on in the sky in New Mexico. And then, we meet Thor.
Did you watch all of the Marvel movies to get ready for the film? Had you been familiar with the characters at all?
SKARSGARD: No, I haven’t [watched the movies]. That’s not the kind of homework I did. I’m not sure that would have helped. And, I was not familiar with Thor at all, when I started, but I became familiar. They gave me comic books and stuff, and [Kenneth Branagh] educated me.
What is your take on the popularity of comic book movies?
SKARSGARD: I don’t know, since I haven’t seen them. But, it’s something that is a part of modern mythology. Every culture has their myths that people are aware of and share. They vary throughout the ages, but in America, it’s those myths.
How was it to work with a filmmaker like Lars von Trier for Melancholia?
SKARSGARD: I’ve worked with him several times before and I really like him. He’s a very good friend. But, his way of shooting is so relaxed for the actors, if you don’t want to be in control of yourself. You really try to shoot the scenes in different ways and explore the possibilities of the scene. There’s no pressure and you’re allowed to make as many mistakes as you want. When we did Breaking the Waves, he had a sign on the wall that said, “Make mistakes.” It’s really nice. For Dogville, when I had to rape Nicole Kidman about five times, in different ways, he suddenly told me, “Stellan, don’t you think you could play it as a romantic comedy?” I thought of Notting Hill and I said, “Of course, Lars.” And then, I went in and played the scene like a romantic comedy and, of course, the scene didn’t work, but one or two lines, because of the different angle of attack, suddenly became very interesting. And then, he just cuts out those and uses them. He’s always such a sweet and lovely man that I enjoy being around him.
What is that film about and who do you play in it?
SKARSGARD: The film starts with a wedding, with a lot of guests, and I’m only in the wedding, in the beginning, and then the film narrows down to fewer characters. I am actually my own son’s best man. My son, Alexander, is getting married to Kirsten Dunst, at the beginning, and I’m his best man and also Kirsten’s employer.
Was it nice to get to work with your son?
SKARSGARD: It’s fun. I’ve done it a couple of times. What’s fun is when you start talking about the scene and you realize how similar your ways of looking at the material is and how quick you come to a decision about what you want to do with it. Gustaf and Bill are now in L.A. Gustaf has this Peter Weir film (The Way Back) coming out now, and Bill is there promoting a Swedish film called Simple Simon that is the Swedish contribution to the Oscars this year. They’re very talented.
Knowing how difficult and unpredictable this business can be, is it nice to see the success that your kids have had with acting?
SKARSGARD: It is. I never encouraged them to become actors or anything, and I never discouraged them either. I said, “After you’re 16, it’s your life and you do what you want. I’m not going to interfere, unless you want me to.” So, it’s totally their own choices. But, it would have been really said, if there had been no evolution in the family and they would have been worse than me instead of better.
With your son, Alexander, on True Blood, do you watch the show?
SKARSGARD: I’ve watched quite a few of the episodes. I’m not a big fan of that genre, so I haven’t seen them all. I saw everything of Generation Kill that he did before, which I thought was absolutely great. But, it’s well written and I understand that it’s very successful.
Is it weird to you that he’s become something of a sex symbol in America, as a result of his work on the show?
SKARSGARD: He knocked me off the throne in Sweden, many years before that.
They’ve had some great guest starring arcs on True Blood. Would you ever consider doing a guest appearance on the show?
SKARSGARD: I don’t know how fit I am to do television. I did three episodes of Entourage a year ago and it was great fun, but I’m not sure I’m the man to work that fast. I’m not a race car driver. I’m more of a watch maker.
Do you find that Good Will Hunting is a movie that everybody always wants to talk to you about?
SKARSGARD: It is. It seems to have become some kind of classic. It’s obviously alive, still. I still meet people who watch it, again and again.
Do you enjoy doing small productions, or do you prefer doing these big films with big budgets and big trailers, or do you just go where the work is and where you find characters that appeal to you?
SKARSGARD: I go where I think I can enjoy myself. Sometimes it’s on a big movie, and sometimes it’s even on a silly movie. After I’ve done that, it’s really nice to go down to an extremely low-budget movie, but that is very daring and courageous and try something different, where the roles usually are more complicated.