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Stellan Skarsgård talks about Lars von Trier and their sixth film 'Nymphomaniac'

On March 13, 2014 Examiner Dorri Olds had the opportunity to sit down with Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård to discuss his starring role in Lars von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac.” He’s also father to hunk Alexander Skarsgård (“True Blood) from his first marriage to a doctor named My, they’re also parents to three more actors, Gustav, Bill and Valter and daughter Eija, a former model. Skarsgård has two sons, Ossian and Kolbjörn, with his second wife, Megan Everett. A fun trivial tidbit: actors Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connelly named their son Stellan after him. He has strong, sound views on religion. Skarsgård has said he thinks the idea of God is absurd and that if a real God were actually so vain as to constantly demand worship, then he would not be worth it.

Stellan Skarsgård
Stellan Skarsgård
Dorri Olds

Dorri Olds: How did you like working with Lars von Trier?

Stellan Skarsgard: It’s my sixth film with him. He’s not just a good person, he’s a good friend. The process itself is such a pleasure. You get to explore the scenes together. You’re not expected to come in after you’ve rehearsed something at home in front of a mirror. You work it out. You try different approaches of the material. It’s a very non-hierarchical set. Anybody can say anything to anybody, which is very nice. And you have a lot of fun. He’s obviously got a good sense of humor [Smiles].

Is freedom on a set your preference?

Yes and unfortunately you get spoiled. You try to bring the same thing to other sets. A lot of us just accept it and learn from it. The hard thing as an actor is to bring life to an idea in text. That means you have to accept a certain amount of irrationality, fuck-ups, and things that are not planned to happen.

Which is your favorite movie of your career?

I probably have a handful of favorites. There’s 10 percent really good movies and 10 percent really bad movies and everything else is somewhere in between. “Breaking the Waves” is one. There are a couple of Norwegian films as well. “Insomnia” is one, “Zero Kelvin” I like a lot. And another one is the comedy coming out, “In Order of Disappearance.”

Does Lars use a different directing style for hand-held “Dogville” style to his more set cinematography style?

In his first five films he was like all directors. They’re control freaks and most had unhappy childhoods and that’s why they like building their own universe. They like to sit alone in their room, first with small toys and then continue to do it as adults. [Smiles] His first films were extremely controlled. If you look at “Zentropa” it is fantastic. It’s brilliant technically and completely dead because there is no life in it because he controlled the actors, every movement, how it was supposed to be said. He realized he’d created a big block of ice with that. So he didn’t like it. So what does he do? He takes away all his tools and lets go of control.

That led to “Dogma” which is the most extreme film where he said, “Ok, nada, just text.” And he told the actors let’s see if you can bring life to that. His most reductionist films are, of course, “Dogville” and “Manderlay.” I started working with him on “Breaking the Waves.” He was a little uncomfortable with the actors. He didn’t know how to handle them. He didn’t know how much to interfere. He had signs on the walls of the set that said, “Make Mistakes.” So you had freedom but he didn’t really have the right tools yet. But eventually he got them. After having done “Manderlay,” he knew how to work with the actors and how to bring out his very thought out text. So, then he gradually started to bring back his tools. On this film he even had a dolly track and I think I saw a crane once. [Laughs]

Magnolia Pictures will release “Nymphomaniac: Volume I” in theaters March 21, 2014. It is now available on iTunes and On Demand.

Click here for Part II

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