I first encountered Max von Sydow on the big screen playing chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” at The New Yorker in Manhattan when I was a teenager. He’s surprised that I’ve seen it. “You watched black and white films?” he asks, admitting that this is his first flipcam interview.
I’ve been watching the great Swedish actor all my life; he’s a year older than my father would be, 82, and he’s still a big tall strong movie star. He’s been making movies in many countries for 62 years, from Italy and Sweden (“The Wild Strawberries,” The Virgin Spring,” “The Passion of Anna”) to Hollywood (“The Exorcist,””Three Days of the Condor, “Robin Hood,” “The Diving Bell and the Butterfly,” “Minority Report,” “The Tudors,” “Shutter Island”). He was nominated for an Oscar only once in 1987 for “Pelle the Conqueror,” which won best foreign film that year. He’s due for a career nomination.
Some of his best work was for Swedish director Jan Troell, from “Hamsun” to “The Emigrants” and “The New Land,” also Oscar-nominated foreign films. And he’s the heart and soul of Stephen Daldry’s “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close.” He’s yet another of this year’s silent actors, although he’s hardly imitating the style of the Silent Era. He plays The Renter (limned in more depth in the Jonathan Safran Foer novel), a man who stopped speaking during the horrors of World War II. He writes notes instead to his grandson (Thomas Horn), who is trying to cope with losing his beloved parent (Tom Hanks) in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
Von Sydow admires Horn, who had never acted before: “I envy Thomas Horn for his good memory and his quick understanding of what acting is,” he says. The actor did fight against one alternate ending that had him recovering his speech. “Thank God this was not the solution,” he says.
Of all the changes in moviemaking he has witnessed since he started his career in 1949, Von Sydow resists 3-D. “Do we need it?” he asks. “I see 2-D films as 3-D. I don’t need 3-D.”