I have shaken hands with one or two major stars in my time writing for The Film Experience but never before have I shared a banquette with a cinematic legend whose films have already survived the passage of time. If you think of actors as the characters they play --and the great Max Von Sydow suggests that you don't -- then you will note that I survived a chat with Jesus himself, the devil, Emperor Ming, Pelle the Conqueror and many more luminaries this Friday past.
As an icebreaker I greeted Mr. von Sydow and his wife, both of who were fantastically friendly and talkative, in my broken Norwegian and we discussed Sweden a bit. Much to my Nordic pleasure Mr. von Sydow actually said the word "uff" (one of my favorite Scandinavian words) within seconds. I can't possibly think of an intro that would do one of Ingmar Bergman's most important muses justice so let's proceed directly to the interview...
Nathaniel: Well, it's a pleasure to meet you. You're a legendary figure in cinema –I'm sure you've heard that over and over...
Max Von Sydow: Uff.
Nathaniel: I want to talk about Bergman –well, are you tired of talking about Bergman at this point?
Max Von Sydow: Noooo. I'm not tired of --I'm tired about talking about myself! [laughter]
N: All right. Well, let's start with Diving Bell and then we'll go back to some earlier work. First of all with The Diving Bell and Butterfly I wanted to say that I completely loved your performance. I'm not a big cryer in the movies...
N: ...but you totally got to me. Lately I've been really fascinated with actors who can project backstory with family members –fictional family members-- onscreen. So I was wondering how you prepare for something like that? You only had a couple of scenes with Mathieu Amalric.
MVS: Two scenes.
N: So how do you project father/son?
MVS: Well, it's... it—it just happens to be a very good screenplay. And the scenes –my scene-- is wonderfully written. I get screenplays and I'm rarely happy reading them but this one was... it was a sheer pleasure. I was so excited after having read it, I wrote a letter to Ron Harwood. I've never done that. I met him later in Los Angeles and he told me 'I've never got a letter like this before!' [Laughter]
N: He's a fine writer.
MVS: He's a good writer, yes. What is beautiful with my character -- the things is, although it's a small part, I get a chance to show two things: The relationship between the characters under normal circumstances when he shaves me but then also after the catastrophe and the confusion and bewilderment --this awkward strange situation...
And how do I prepare? It's a matter of finding out: who is this character?
READ THE REST...
for more on his acting process, working with Sjöberg and Ingmar Bergman and acting styles in the 50s. Part 2 is now up as well. We go deeper into Bergman, Woody Allen and von Sydow's feelings about why acting is mysterious to the public and how actors get typecast.