The prolific and versatile Swedish actor Stellan Skarsgård, star of films including Breaking the Waves, Taking Sides, and Mama Mia, was in London last week to promote his latest film, King of Devil’s Island. We caught up with him at a preview screening and Q & A at the Curzon Soho cinema.
King of Devil’s Island is a small budget film directed by Marius Holst. Loosely based on true events, it tells the story of a 1915 inmate revolt at Bastoy, a Norwegian island prison for juvenile delinquent boys. Skarsgård is incapable of giving anything less than an excellent performance, and in this film his fellow actors followed suit. Interestingly, the young men who played the inmates in the film were not actors. The director recruited many young men for acting workshops over the space of a year, and selected his cast from amongst them. Some had troubled backgrounds themselves, including one of the lead actors, who was on parole at the time.
The absorbing and well-paced escape story currently has a 90% fresh rating at the Rotten Tomatoes review site. Ironically, given its gruesome past, Bastoy is today considered one of the most progressive prisons in the world.
Stellan Skarsgård spoke about his extensive early career in theatre, and how he enjoys alternating between big and small budget films, for the different experiences they offer. He admitted that he is not completely satisfied with any of his acting performances to date – even in Breaking the Waves, he sees things he would like to change. When playing a character with a profession, such as a butcher, he looks for meaning and inspiration from within the script, rather than learning practical skills from the butcher’s trade. He enjoys improvisation and the lack of structure on a film set, and likes to use a new approach for each take of a scene. When asked for his advice to aspiring filmmakers, he said that they should be driven by the desire to tell a unique story – and added that none of his four children, all in the entertainment industry themselves, had ever asked him for professional advice. He spoke with affection of his friend, the director Lars von Trier, describing him as a masterful storyteller.
Skarsgård happily mingled with fans afterwards, and I took the opportunity to ask him if he’d ever been approached to appear in True Blood (the TV series in which his son, Alexander, stars). He said he had indeed been asked to appear in the show, but was too busy to fit it into his schedule. Now, that is a shame. His next film project is Lars von Trier’s The Nymphomaniac, for release in 2013.
King of Devil’s Island is released on 29 June, 2012. For upcoming events at Curzon cinemas, click here.
Photos by Sven Klinge
(please credit photographer & website when using these photos)
(thanks to abundantonline for this clip)