There are certain actors that you meet during interview sessions that aren't concerned with "staying on message." Stellan Skarsgard is one of those actors. For example: Skarsgard openly admits that he's not satisfied with his role in 'The Avengers.' Then there's his relationship with his son, Alexander, of 'True Blood' fame: "I never help my kids and I never encourage them and I never give them any advice." So, yes, that's interesting.
Stellan Skarsgard does appear satisfied with his role as Martin Vanger -- the brother of a girl who disappeared in 1966 -- in David Fincher's version of 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.' In this pretty wide-raging discussion, Skarsgard talks openly and freely about his thoughts on Enya's presence during a pivotal scene, the source material for 'Dragon Tattoo,' his unsatisfying role in 'The Avengers,' his early work in 'The Hunt for Red October,' and his scarf in 'Good Will Hunting.'
I'm happy that Enya's not playing right now.
When I interviewed your son, Alexander, for 'Melancholia,' he had Pink Floyd playing in the room. He really likes Pink Floyd...
Yeah. And it's better than Enya.
Was Enya actually playing while you were filming, or was that added in later?
It was an idea from David Fincher, I think, to just turn it on while we were there. And I was like [sarcastically], "Yes! It's fantastic." Because it is. It's brilliant.
It does play well for that scene.
Yeah, it does, doesn't it?
Was that scene as intense to film at it is to watch? I can't imagine there are laughs aplenty gong on.
Between the takes you laugh. You switch on and off. None of us are really Method actors, we don't become the characters. So we had a lot of fun doing it. But during the takes, of course, it's extremely intense.
What was your opinion of the Swedish version?
I thought it was pretty good. Now I think it's muddled -- I can't say what was in this one and what was in that one. I think that this version has qualities that the first one didn't have. Definitely.
It's a David Fincher movie. It's made by one of the best directors in the world and it's written by one of the best writers in the world [Steve Zaillian]. And I also think that the relationship between the two leading characters is better in this one than it was in the first one. But it's also two different takes on the same material, so there's no real point in saying who's winning.
As an actor, is there frustration when a movie that you're in is remade? You had it happen to you -- Al Pacino replaced you in 'Insomnia.'
No. I like Pacino.
Well, I do, too.
[Laughs] But you guys see what world you're living in. Why it's remade? People don't want to read subtitles. That's one reason. And if somebody really good does it -- 'Insomnia' was done by a good director [Christopher Nolan] -- then I have nothing against it. They're trying to make another version of something that's good so more people can see it. It's one thing if it's a Bergman film, made by a great auteur in Europe and a Hollywood studio says, "Well, that was a cool film. Let's remake it and take away everything that's offensive and hire a generic director to do it." Then, it just shows the stupidity of the studio because then they're making something totally different.
But, in this case, except for the two main characters, it's a pretty generic crime story. But it's now taken up by an auteur director in America -- because Fincher is an auteur. So, everybody's happy about it. Well, I know that the director of the first film is not happy about it.
I suppose that's understandable from his perspective.
I'm not so protective about what I've done.
Which is obvious with what you said about 'Insomnia.'
I was proud because they obviously liked what I did. Thanks.
Have you read 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo'?
No, I haven't read the book.
I haven't either. My girlfriend has and she's mixed on it.
Yeah, my girlfriend is, too. I mean my wife, she's told me everything about it, so ... and I trust her.
So here we have a big Hollywood production being filmed in Sweden, which doesn't happen often. Would you have been pissed if you weren't approached?
No, because I don't take it as an insult if people don't approach me about things that I love to do. Casting a film, you can have the greatest actors in a film and it doesn't work. It's a combination of all of the elements.
Again, there aren't a lot of American productions that take place in Sweden. If you weren't considered, you wouldn't think, come on, how many well-known, respected Swedish actors are there working in the U.S.?
I would probably be a little offended if he would have cast a Russian actor who was really bad in the role. It takes a lot to offend me.
I don't know. Because he couldn't be Swedish. And if Pacino would have done it, I would have been fine with it. If had come to Sweden, I'd have cooked for him.
Well, he has taken roles from you before.
I think Pacino should re-do all of my roles.
Even 'Good Will Hunting'?
[Laughing] 'Good Will Hunting'...
I'm going to say, I'm not sure that one works as well. I'm going to disagree with you on that one.
OK, maybe not every one of them.
Do you watch 'True Blood' on a regular basis?
No, no. I watch it now and then. Sporadically. I don't follow it. I don't have time for that. I don't follow it regularly, but I do watch it now and again to see where it's going. It's very well written. And I think Alexander is having a lot of fun doing it.
He told me his story about how he came to visit you and he wound up in 'Zoolander.'
[Laughs and shakes head] Yeah. I wasn't even involved in it. Because, as I've said, I never help my kids and I never encourage them and I never give them any advice. It's their careers and they have to make it themselves. So he probably met my agent and that's how it happened -- and suddenly he's on fire at a gas station.
Your 'Smoke Jumpers' character on 'Entourage': was that really based on Werner Herzog or were there other influences going on there?
It was not Herzog at all.
That's the perception, though.
Yeah, I know, because he was called "Verner." But it's not like Herzog. And what I'm doing there is like years and years of experience of different directors poured into one. But it's for fun. I'm not going to name them. I know Werner Herzog and he's not like that at all. But the obsessive side of it is general -- all directors are control freaks and very obsessive. I get the feeling that directors as kids, they all have had a childhood with not too much contact with other kids. They constructed their own reality and they continue to do it. It's a funny breed, directors.
I've never heard it put that way before.
At least the good ones. Of course you have generic directors that are just sort of mechanics.
You're in 'The Avengers.'
OK, now I feel bad bringing that up.
No, no ... of course I am. But not very much. There's a lot of people in 'The Avengers' And I was thinking, How on Earth are you going to get all of those superheroes in a movie and have room for them and still have a story that actually moves forward? And, also you have to satisfy a lot of actors with at least reasonable material.
Did you feel satisfied?
No. Not really. But I'm not one of the superheroes.
But you had a big role in 'Thor.'
Yeah, but here it's a small role. I have normal clothes and only show up briefly because people with funny costumes -- that's going to be the core of it. But, Joss Whedon, it's a fantastic; pure mechanical work to build a story with so many heroes that actually works. I think the script worked. What it will be when it comes out, I can't tell.
And now both Kenneth Branagh and Patty Jenkins are out as the director of 'Thor 2.'
I wonder what's going to happen there? I have no idea. I knew Branagh wouldn't, I didn't think so. I don't think he would do another one. The idea from the beginning was that it was not serial to him. It was one thing. And it was a very specific story where both worlds were introduced. The Shakespearean turf ... but he was great working with and I think the result was very good.
If they asked you, what kind of director would you want?
I think what Marvel has been very smart with, they've been picking very good directors -- not necessarily experts on visual effects and big movie-making. What they need are directors who are good with characters and actors. It's just like with the first 'Pirates of the Caribbean' film: It's not what Disney wanted. They tried to fire both Gore Verbinski and Johnny Depp. Gore Verbinski's take was that he concentrated on the actors and gave them space -- and the audience loves it.
What do you remember about your experience on the set of 'The Hunt for Red October'?
It was my first big studio production and I was in awe when I drove through the Melrose gate at Paramount for the first time. But, also, I didn't understand it. Because it's such a small role and they're spending so much money flying me first class from Sweden and put me up in a luxury hotel for two weeks for that little role. And then they called me before we started shooting and said, "Hey, we want you to do it in Russian." And I said, "You're kidding? You've got hundreds of good Russian actors in Los Angeles. Hire somebody else." So I didn't have to do it in Russian.
Right now there's a Russian actor giving an interview saying, "As long as they didn't cast a Swedish actor for that part, I wouldn't have been offended."
Yeah! "Now, look at me, I'm starving still!"
I feel that you set a scarf-wearing trend with your character in 'Good Will Hunting.' After that movie, everyone started wearing scarves like that.
There were a lot of people that complained about that scarf.
I don't know! I thought it was really cool, too.
I'm not kidding, I think you started a trend.
"Why do you have that silly scarf?" Because professors are not all tweed. It was not my idea, it was the costume designer's idea. But it was totally in line with mine because the first thing I said was, "I'm a college professor -- no tweed." That was a condition because I wanted a rock and roll professor more than a tweed professor. I want a professor that fucks his students. And I got it! But it's true, the scarves have become very popular. I was just wearing it loosely with a jacket, you know. But it's also a little Italian, isn't it?
When you filmed that, did you have an idea that it would be the success that it turned out to be?
No. No idea. Somebody asked me, "What are you doing, Stellan?" I said, "I'm shooting a small film with some first time writers. It's a small, independent film." And it was.
But then everyone saw it.
Everyone saw it. But it had some really good ingredients. Not only a very, very good script by Matt and Ben, they had a very, very good director [Gus Van Sant]. And Robin Williams and some really good actors. And Matt was great in it. And Ben, too. That was such a great shoot And shooting with Gus ... he's so timid. So discrete. You start shooting and after the first take, he's like [whispering], "Let's do it again." And you do it again and again. And you feel like you're doing it again not because he wasn't happy with it, but because he liked it so much that he wants to see it again. And then we became bolder and bolder. And of course Robin Williams he just goes off to something crazy and then he goes in another direction and starts improvising things. He gets so much material, so he can create what he wants from the scene.
Do you know what else it had? A really great scarf.
And a really great scarf! I didn't know that this scarf would turn that into such a huge success.
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