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Film Studies 101
Feature
Stellan Skarsgård On Stellan Skarsgård
Mr Skarsgård reveals all, film by film...

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Stellan Skarsgård has had a long and enormously successful career, balancing Nordic indies with some of the biggest blockbusters of all time. This month, he's starring Lars von Trier's controversy-baiting, sex-filled four-hour epic, Nymphomania. Empire sat down with the good-humoured Swedish thespian to talk about his new film, as well as some highlights from his impressive back catalogue.

WORDS BEN KIRBY
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Nymphomaniac (2014)

Breaking The Waves (1996)

Those two roles – mine and Charlotte Gainsbourg’s – they’re also two sides of Lars, in a way. Because he is the nerd that I’m playing, but he’s also the vulnerable person struggling with life that Charlotte is playing. But of course, I am listening to the story and helping the audience to listen to the story. And you can have a lot tougher job than being in a bedroom with Charlotte Gainsbourg, listening to her for two weeks.

My character is pretty silly in some ways. He knows about everything, but everything he knows is from books. He’s never experienced life, and he’s a virgin. And that’s a very interesting idea. So he tries to grasp what Charlotte’s character is saying, and all the associations he has are to the only reference he has, which is books. So he’s struggling to understand.

I wanted him to come off as sympathetic – which he is. He’s truly caring, he’s empathetic and he’s listening to her. And I think even in the end, he’s sympathetic. He misunderstands something. It shows that in spite of four hours of film, he hasn’t quite understood. Which is very human.

It’s not realism. If it was a kitchen [sink] realism drama, I would probably not feel comfortable with it. But in a Lars fairy tale, I’m absolutely comfortable with it. All his films are like fairy tales. Uncle Lars sits us down and tells us a story: “Once upon a time, there was a nymphomaniac…”

Spoiler alert! Here Stellan discusses the very end of the film. Highlight the text to read...

I think, since I don’t believe in capital punishment, and I definitely don’t believe in capital punishment for just pulling out your fucking dick… I can to a certain extent understand her, but it doesn’t justify her actions. And his action is not justifiable either, but it’s understandable. It’s like most of the things we do as human beings.

Of course, I think it’s tragic. But in a way, it’s Lars’ way of pulling the rug from the audience all the time. You should not get what you expect. So he has to do that. It’s logical from the kinds of films he makes, and his point of view – it’s logical. It doesn’t mean that he’s cynical as a person, and thinks that you cannot trust anybody and everybody’s an asshole when you scrape the surface a little; that’s not his view on humanity. But it is the area of mankind that he keeps investigating. And it juices up his stories, of course.

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