INTERVIEW: Breaking Waves; Sweden's Stellan Skarsgard Crashes U.S. Theaters, Big and Small

by Anthony Kaufman

(indieWIRE/ 08.20.01) -- A staple of both Swedish and American cinema, the blond, gravelly-voiced actor Stellan Skarsgard has been working in front of the camera since his teens. Since then, the veteran of Stockholm's acclaimed Royal Dramatic Theatre can count the world's leading filmmakers on his rolodex: Philip Kaufman ("The Unbearable Lightness of Being"), Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting"), John Frankenheimer ("Ronin"), Mike Figgis ("Time Code") and most notably, his frequent work with fellow Northern European, Lars von Trier ("Breaking the Waves," "Dancer in the Dark," and the upcoming "Dogville,"), of whom he claims, "He's definitely trying to avoid the easy ways."

Last Friday, Skarsgard's latest film, "Aberdeen," hit U.S. theaters, marking his second collaboration with Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland (after "Zero Kelvin"). In "Aberdeen," Skarsgard plays Tomas, the grubby alcoholic father of Kaisa (Lena Headey) who pulls her drunken dad out of a bar one day and takes him on a road trip to visit her dying mother and his ex-wife (Charlotte Rampling). In addition to "Aberdeen," Skarsgard has coming up "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang," "The Glass House," Matt Dillon's "Beneath the Banyan Trees," Istvan Szabo's "Taking Sides," and is currently shooting Bob Rafelson's "No Good Deed," with Samuel L. Jackson and Milla Jovovich. indieWIRE's Anthony Kaufman spoke with Skarsgard about playing drunk, directors' weaknesses, being "bankable," and "Dogville."

"You spend some time trying to find the weaknesses of the director you're working with, because you'll have to cover for them."

indieWIRE: So in "Aberdeen" you play the most relentless drunk. You were basically drunk the whole movie?

Stellan Skarsgard: It was a fun challenge, because it was interesting to investigate different levels of drunkenness and hangovers for a couple months. But the real challenge was to be able to make the drunkenness the backdrop of the scene. The scenes are never about being drunk; the scenes are about human relations. So the drunkenness had to be there without taking over the scene.

iW: You have worked with Hans Peter Moland before; did that make things easier?

Skarsgard: It did, definitely, because there's not all that initial stuff when you don't know them. But it's also a director that I had a very good collaboration with before; so I already trusted him when we started working. Usually, you spend some time trying to find the weaknesses of the director you're working with, because you'll have to cover for them. But when you know someone so well, as we did, you immediately get into a very tight, very efficient collaboration.

iW: You have worked with some of the smartest directors working today; what sort of weaknesses do you encounter?

Skarsgard: Except for the human (laughs). All directors have their strengths and weaknesses, as all actors have, and all artists. What you try to do is complete the relationship and take care of the stuff that the director won't take care of.

iW: What do you think your strengths and weaknesses are?

Skarsgard: I've got a lot of weaknesses. One of them is that I often get scared and tense when I'm working -- and fear is one of the big threats to any good performance, because it closes you down, and makes it harder for you to produce life in front of the camera.

iW: I find that hard to believe. You