Swedish powerhouse Stellan Skarsgard may be one of the most prolific character actors in the world right now. The man has acted in 100 films since the 1970s, from Hollywood studio flicks (Pirates of the Caribbean, Mamma Mia!) to art house fare both foreign (Breaking the Waves, Insomnia) and domestic (Good Will Hunting). This year will continue his tradition of coming to screens in a blockbuster (the Marvel Comics adaptation Thor) and a festival magnet (Lars von Trier’s latest Melancholia), while finding work somewhere in between (David Fincher’s Hollywood remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).
It’s rare to have Skarsgard playing the lead, which is why Hans Petter Moland’s A Somewhat Gentle Man is a delight. In it, Skarsgard portrays an ex-con named Ulrik who does his best to go straight while out on parole, but of course runs into some complications. Skarsgard gives an iconic antihero performance as a man conflicted about his reliance on violence and the criminal way of life. I served on the jury at the 2010 Fantastic Fest, and we happily awarded Stellan Skarsgard with the Best Actor prize for his work in A Somewhat Gentle Man. The film opens in New York on January 14, followed by Los Angeles on January 28, and more cities to follow. In honor of the stateside release, Skarsgard spoke with Stephen Saito at IFC News about his career:
Has it been interesting to be one of the lone Swedes working on the American production of “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo”?
It’s been interesting in the sense that it was an American film that up until now has been shooting in Sweden, together with basically a Swedish crew, so since I belong to both worlds, I was the only one who understood both sides when there was any sort of cultural collision. And that was fun. I mean, I didn’t interfere in anything. I just smiled and looked at it.
You’ve been in some very highly anticipated films before, but has “Dragon Tattoo” felt any different?
I don’t think about the anticipation for the film I’m doing. I’m just thinking of the work and I really like working with Fincher. He takes a lot of takes and he takes his time, but it’s not about perfecting some idea he had at his desk. He’s actually investigating the scene and seeing what you can get out of that. I like that. I don’t mind doing 40 takes if you can do them differently just to find something in the scene.
But is it different having a film where you know audiences have very particular expectations of the character you’re playing?
It is and…it bores me a little. I try deliberately to avoid filling people’s expectations and do things that they don’t expect. As an actor, I don’t want to be me. [laughs] I want to be the role and I want them to see a new person every time that has nothing to do with me.
You’re also working with Lars von Trier again on “Melancholia.” What was it like reuniting with him?
That was great. We haven’t worked since “Dogville” and I was also surprised that was such a long time ago. I think it was the sixth time or something we collaborated and it was like coming home in a way. I don’t have a leading role in it, but it was really nice being on the set together and his way of working. He’s such a close friend as well.