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As one of the most prominent film actors to have emerged from the frosty tundra of Sweden, Stellan Skarsgard drew favorable comparisons to the likes of fellow Swedish thespians Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson. Though relatively unknown in the United States for the first half of his career, Skarsgard introduced himself to American audiences with a memorable performance in Philip Kaufman's erotic drama, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988). But it was his performance in Lars von Trier's art house hit "Breaking the Waves" (1996) that propelled him into stardom. From there, he gained widespread recognition for performances in high-profile films like "Good Will Hunting" (1997), "Amistad" (1997) and "Ronin" (1998). He also earned the respect of his peers and the allegiance of theater goers who recognized in the complicated, brooding actor an innate ability to transform himself and become the part he played onscreen. Despite his penchant for the art house, Skarsgard segued into blockbuster features, playing the barnacled ghost Bootstrap Turner in the last two installments of "Pirates of the Caribbean," allowing him to display his considerable talents to worldwide audiences of all ages.Born June...
As one of the most prominent film actors to have emerged from the frosty tundra of Sweden, Stellan Skarsgard drew favorable comparisons to the likes of fellow Swedish thespians Max von Sydow and Erland Josephson. Though relatively unknown in the United States for the first half of his career, Skarsgard introduced himself to American audiences with a memorable performance in Philip Kaufman's erotic drama, "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988). But it was his performance in Lars von Trier's art house hit "Breaking the Waves" (1996) that propelled him into stardom. From there, he gained widespread recognition for performances in high-profile films like "Good Will Hunting" (1997), "Amistad" (1997) and "Ronin" (1998). He also earned the respect of his peers and the allegiance of theater goers who recognized in the complicated, brooding actor an innate ability to transform himself and become the part he played onscreen. Despite his penchant for the art house, Skarsgard segued into blockbuster features, playing the barnacled ghost Bootstrap Turner in the last two installments of "Pirates of the Caribbean," allowing him to display his considerable talents to worldwide audiences of all ages.
Born June 13, 1951 in Göteborg, Sweden, Skarsgard moved around with his family as child, making stops in Kalmar, Uppsala and Totebo. He began his acting career as a child, but became a star as a teenager with his first leading role in the Swedish television miniseries, "Bombi Bitt och jag" (1968). After making his film debut in "Strandhugg I Somras" (1972), Skarsgard joined the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm, where he stayed for the ensuing 16 years. In between stage productions, he continued to appear on screen. One of his first leading roles was in the erotic drama, "Anita, Swedish Nymphet" (1975), which he followed with "Tabu" (1976). He won a Silver Bear Award at the 1982 Berlin International Film Festival for "The Simple-Minded Murder/Den Enfaldige mördaren" (1981), in which he played a young man with a hairlip who is beaten down by a rich Nazi landowner (Hans Alfredson) to the point where he is taken in by kindly neighbors, only to take his revenge on his tormentor and spiral his life out of control.
Though not yet a known commodity in the United States, Skarsgard was rapidly becoming a big star in his native Sweden. After a supporting role in the dark thriller "Falsk som vatten" (1985), Skarsgard played the son of a landowner who spent years forcing a young woman (Stina Ekbald) to bear his children based on a misinterpreted Biblical passage in "Ormen's vag pa halleberget/The Serpent's Way" (1986), then soon followed with the light children's comedy "Jim och piraterna blom/Jim and the Pirates" (1986). Skarsgard had a leading role in the plodding romantic comedy "Hip, Hip Hurrah!" (1987), then followed with a supporting role in "Friends" (1987), an absurdist comedy about a divorce investigator (Dennis Christopher) who suddenly finds his home invaded by a mysterious family claiming to know him, only to have his neatly manicured world completely upturned. Following a turn in the 16th century set thriller "Vargens tid/The Age of the Wolf" (1988), Skarsgard played a burdensome forensic scientist butting heads with a world-weary inspector (Krishna Shah) trying to find the attacker of an employee of a member of India's upper caste (Dalip Tahil).
By the end of the 1980s, he had begun to appear in international films, playing an engineer in "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988) and a Soviet submarine commander in "The Hunt for Red October" (1991). After appearing in "Slingshot" (1993), he starred in "Breaking the Waves" (1996), playing Jan, an oil rig worker who becomes paralyzed in a freak accident and asks his wife, Bess (Emily Watson), to have sex with other men and tell him about her experiences, causing her to spiral into a pit of despair and tragedy. "Breaking the Waves" earned critical kudos and numerous awards, though Skarsgard remained overshadowed by Watson's tour-de-force performance. Meanwhile, he landed the male half of the title role in "Harry and Sonja" (1996), then co-starred in the British-made satirical comedy "My Son the Fanatic" (1997). He continued to flourish, co-starring in "Savior" (1997), Steven Spielberg's period drama "Amistad" and "Good Will Hunting" (1997), playing a professor who mentors math whiz (Matt Damon). Mainstream Hollywood beckoned him further and he found himself in "Ronin" (1998), "Deep Blue Sea" (1999), "The Glass House" (2001), "The House on Turk Street" (2002) and "King Arthur" (2004), while continuing to appear in experimental indies like Alain Berliner's "Passion of Mind" (2000) and Mike Figgis' "Timecode" (2000).
Among a steady slate of non-Hollywood projects, Skarsgard also reunited with Von Trier for "Dancer in the Dark" (2000), the director's acclaimed take on the Hollywood musical which focused on a Czech immigrant (Bjork) who dreams of being in a musical while struggling to keep secret a genetic disorder that will eventually render her blind. Next they teamed on the unusual Danish television event "D-dag" (a.k.a. "D Day") (2000) as well as the feature "Dogville" (2003), Von Trier's period drama about a woman (Nicole Kidman) on the run from a group of gangsters who hides out in a small town with the help of their de facto leader (Skarsgard), only to have the community ask too much in return for their generosity. While he appeared in numerous Swedish television projects, Skarsgard made few forays onto the small screen in America, appearing in the never-was series, "Parker Kane" (NBC, 1990); starring as a union organizer who aides a coal miner's daughter (Holly Hunter) in spearheading a long, bloody labor strike in "Harlan County War" (Showtime, 2000); as well as playing Theseus, King of Athens, in the made-for-cable miniseries, "Helen of Troy" (USA, 2003).
Given his career similarities to Max von Sydow, it came as no surprise that Skarsgard was cast as the younger version of von Sydow's character in "Exorcist: The Beginning" (2004). Hired by the film's original director, Paul Schrader, to play a young Father Merrin, Skarsgard remained the only original Schrader hired after the studio fired the director and the bulk of his cast before putting Renny Harlin in charge. In "King Arthur" (2004), Antoine Fuqua's so-called more realistic take on the ancient legend, Skarsgard was the ruthless and bloody-minded leader of a band of Saxons invading the British Isles at a time when the Romans were rolling up the empire, leaving its people - including a reluctant officer (Clive Owen) - to fend for themselves. He next appeared in "Beowulf & Grendel" (2005), playing King Hrothgar of the Danes whose kingdom needs assistance from a Norse warrior to fend off the frightful monster, Grendel. Skarsgard then played the undead pirate Bootstrap Bill, father to Will Turner (Orlando Bloom), in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), a harrowing, energetic and worthy addition to the swashbuckling franchise that went on to break several box office records, including biggest single-day gross and biggest opening weekend ever, paving the way for the third installment, "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," which was shot simultaneously with the second.
Before the third and last edition of "Pirates" was released, Skarsgard played controversial 18th century artist Francisco Goya in "Goya's Ghosts" (2006), a compelling biopic centered on a Spanish monk (Javier Bardem) involved with the Inquisition who targets one of Goya's favorite models (Natalie Portman) on suspicion of her being a heretic. He next plodded along in the "Saw" wanna-be horror-thriller, "W?Z" (2006), playing a haggard detective hunting down a serial killer who carves parts of a math equation into his victims. Skarsgard once again revived Bootstrap Bill Turner for "Pirates of the Caribbean 3: At World's End" (2007), this time spending much of the film rapidly losing touch with his remaining humanity to the point of forgetting his son, Will Turner (Bloom), and challenging him to a fight, only to regain his senses once Will is mortally wounded by Davy Jones (Bill Nighy). He then went back to his native Scandinavia to make "Arn" (2008), an epic look at the Knights Templar during the 12th century.
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"As actors who travel where the jobs are, working long hours, in a mainly male environment, we can experience the isolation from family and friends felt by those oil rig workers (in 'Breaking the Waves'). Although, of course, we live in much more comfort than they do, there is still a sense of isolation, and many hours spent on the phone to the family at home." --Stellan Skarsgard
"Being an actor is like being a sailor. You're away for two or three months, but you make enough money to take some time off." --Stellan Skarsgard in THE VILLAGE VOICE, November 26, 1996
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