Peter Stormare is one of those actors who should probably have a criminal record, since he steals any scene that's not nailed down. In the first instalment of a new Empire series, we asked Stormare to talk us through the nefarious credentials of his most memorably villainous roles.
The Last Stand
Burrell was great fun. I got some good reviews for that part. I think I made him a little bit funny. I said to Kim Je Woon that I didn’t want to walk around in black like the others, with the night vision goggles and stuff. If it was going to have the flavour of a western, then I thought the main bad guy who meets Arnie in the street had to be a gunslinger. He had to have like a holster and a peacemaker like in the good old days. My guys could run in black, like fucking military stormtroopers in Afghanistan, but thought that would be boring for my character. I said ‘Don’t put me in that shit!’ I wish I had long hair and a lot of beard. I wanted to be really dirty, like they are in the westerns, but we came up with a really great compromise.
How I Spent My Summer Vacation
That’s the right title. It’s not fucking Get the Gringo! The idea to build me up and only show me on the computer screen and not have me be seen for real until quite late, came quite late on, but I absolutely agreed with it. I thought that was very cool and had rarely been done. We shot it in Mexico. Mel is treated like royalty down there. He shot Apocalypto down there too, and brought so much money to the locals. He’s restored block after block. You can go anywhere in his name and eat for free! Some people don’t know that side of him. They think he’s only beating up maids or ex-wives. He’s a great guy!
That’s another one where I arrive late. It’s a good way to steal a movie! I deliberately decided to make that a really big, OTT performance. At the beginning they wanted me just in like leather pants, and bare-chested, with a lot of tattoos. I sat down with the director and the head producer – the two smart guys – and said that, if I was doing this on stage, if I was the director I would just dress the devil up in an off-white linen suit, with black tar on his feet, and maybe a strange haircut to make him look a little weird. I thought if he looked like a Christmas tree nobody would listen to what he was saying, but if he’s dressed very neutral, like you would do on stage, then you’d hear every word. Finally they agreed, and I’m very happy that they did. I think it would have been really bad if we hadn’t gone that route.
Bad Boys 2
He likes hippie-hoppie! That’s my line. I told Michael Bay he had to say that when he was hitting on a girl he likes. Everybody was cracking up. I get a good death in that one. All the blood squibs kind of hurt; you get a few bruises here and there. In Prison Break I had 112 squibs go off on me in 30 seconds. I think it was some kind of record. But in Bad Boys it was the fountain I fell into that was the problem. I was about to fall into it and I realised nobody had checked it. I was like, there’s bound to be something sticking up under the water, you know, like the thing that spurts up the water or something. So they got some guys to dredge through it, and they found something! I would have been impaled!
I was on that for a year and a half. That’s enough. If you get locked up in TV you never get to do a movie again. I had to get them to kill me, so they couldn’t write me back in. It’s funny: it was on regular television, but everyone thinks they remember violence and naked women and dirty foul language. Nobody even smoked in that jail! It was strange how it could even have survived. You can imagine it having a life on Cable, but on regular TV, to have a prison drama where you can’t say fuck… it’s amazing really.
Abruzzi was based on a true character from the 16th Century, called Camillus de Lellis. They called him The Saint From Abruzzi. He was more or less the founder of the Red Cross. He was a womanizer and gambler and killer, and then he had an epiphany, and he and his soldiers put on the red crosses and put up soup kitchens and night shelters for the poor. When they were wearing the red cross they could walk onto battlefields and take care of the wounded, and nobody was allowed to touch them. But he went back and forth between this stuff and the gambling and womanizing his whole life! So it was cool to play this guy who was a killer, but was always torn by bad conscience.
I think, as originally written, Solomon had been in jail because he was a paedophile. He’d been abusing young girls while they were under the anaesthetic. I guess we changed it at some point during the process to make it a bit more palatable, so we made it that he burns his patients instead! Tom Cruise says, ‘You burned your patients,’ and I say, ‘I put them out!’ I wrote that line [laughs].
I like my outfit in that one: all the goth stuff. Joel Schumacher told me that Peter Brook had told him that I was the best Shakespearean actor in Europe. So he asked me to play Dino Velvet as a Shakespearean villain, and we went for it, man! I found it very entertaining to play him. He’s very over the top, and very in love with himself. I think the mistake in the movie is that they killed me too fast. They always do that in Hollywood. Why kill the main antagonist so early? I think in Europe we have more interest in theatre, and so we’re more interested in developing characters. They’re not interested in that here. Too often now it’s just one scene on top of another. You get interested in a character in some movies and then they just disappear. ‘Oh well, he wasn’t really needed in the story anymore.’ But the audience liked him!
Hitler: The Rise of Evil
That was horrible: not the shoot as such, but it was three months in a Nazi uniform, and having to read all the books about it. Rohm just went in and took the whole of the West part of Germany illegally. The SA, who later became the SS, started out as like a Salvation Army thing, but then they declared themselves the police and it just spiralled into something so evil. There was a lot of weird perversion too. They glorified the old Roman Empire, so they’d be naked with young boys around them. Then they started to fucking arrest gay people! I think Rohm is the worst person I ever played. He was just perversion going straight to fucking hell. And I don’t think Rohm started out thinking he was going to murder people and be king of the world: I think he genuinely wanted to try to do some good, which is the most horrifying thing, in a way. When that series was finished I took all the books I read for research and threw them all away. I didn’t want them in my possession.
The Big Lebowski
They have Lebowski-Fest here now. They’re crazy. It’s crazy to see twenty Kunkels in the audience. I’ve played there twice, and next year I’m going to go again, and I’m going to sing a ‘Cut Off Your Johnson’ song. I’m writing the lyrics. On every movie set, someone always comes up to me and asks me to say I’m going to cut off their johnson. They’re nihilists. They don’t believe in anything. It’s funny to mock Germans. It’s nice to be able to legally harass them. I quite often write my own lines, but with the Coens you don’t have to. They’re so brilliant. The only thing I ever questioned was ‘Pancakes House’ in Fargo. I said, ‘Shouldn’t it be Pancake House?’ And they said, ‘Yes, but you always say it plural!’ So that was it. I think they got it from someone they knew. They go through everything very anally. They might change just one word here and there, on the third take or something. You’re like wow, big change guys, that’s much better!
I remember, I asked them, ‘Jesus, why the woodchipper?’ They said it was from when they were young, and a guy in their neighbourhood had been killed that way or something. They were like, ‘It’s not that rare!’ and they showed me many pictures. Crazy. Fargo was the one that really opened a lot of doors for me. I’ve only worked with them the two times. They say we’re going to do something else together, but I don’t know if it’ll ever happen. We’re really good friends, so hopefully. I had a part in Miller’s Crossing, but I couldn’t do it because I was in the National Theatre in Sweden. They re-wrote it. I was supposed to be a sniper running around on top of buildings shooting people. He was supposed to be called The Swede, but they made him older and re-cast him and then he was called The Dane. I turned that down and also a Wim Wenders movie, and that was the point where I stopped doing theatre. I thought, ‘These offers aren’t going to keep coming up forever.’