Having appeared in movies and television on both sides of the Atlantic for nearly 40 years now, Sweden's Stellan Skarsgard has reached an odd point in his career where he's probably more recognizable to American moviegoers than he was a year ago, and that's even after appearing in two of the blockbuster "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies.
A lot of that might have to do with his memorable role in Kenneth Branagh's Thor earlier this summer playing scientist Erik Selvig, a role that had him driving through the desert with Natalie Portman and drinking with the Norse God-turned-superhero Thor, played by Chris Hemsworth.
With its release on Blu-ray and DVD on September 13, SuperHeroHype got on the phone with the actor to talk about his role in the movie, how he got that role and some of the deleted scenes in which he appears. Of course, we also had to ask him about what he would be doing in the upcoming The Avengers movie directed by Joss Whedon, being that he was the only non-superhero, non-S.H.I.E.L.D. agent (kind of ) returning from a solo movie, plus there's that mysterious post-credit scene in Thor (also directed by Whedon) that hints at some connection to a certain villain in next summer's anticipated Marvel movie.
The Swedish actor also talked to us a bit about teaming with David Fincher for The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in which Skarsgard plays one of the more interesting roles, as well as telling us he'd be reuniting with Lars von Trier for his next movie Nymphomaniac.
SuperHeroHype: I'm a big comic book fan and a fan of your work with Lars von Trier, so I was quite thrilled when I learned you'd be in "Thor." How did you find out about this role and who contacted you?
Stelan Skarsgard: My agent called and said that Kenneth wanted me to be in it, and of course, I've always wanted to work with Kenneth as a director and then Natalie Portman was in it as well and I worked with her on "Goya's Ghost" and I fell in love with her back then, so I was really looking forward to working with her again.
SHH: One of the things I liked about your character is that in the comics, they never really have Thor meeting any Scandinavians, but you would think they'd find Thor and say "Hey, you used to be our God thousands of years ago." Was that something about the character that appealed to you?
Skarsgard: Well, the character wasn't really what I said "yes" to, because I basically said "yes" to Kenneth's ideas about it and working with Kenneth. That developed more later, but I didn't think of that because the Scandinavian mythology part of Thor is pretty far away from the mythology I'm familiar with, but it is fun to be around Scandinavian Gods now and then.
SHH: Although you were the only true Scandinavian in the cast…
Skarsgard: No, it's just me, but Kenneth has worked a lot in Sweden and Scandinavia, so he's quite familiar with Scandinavians.
SHH: Had he done theater there?
Skarsgard: He had done a couple of the Henning Mankell crime series for television "Wallander," and they've been very successful, at least in Britain.
SHH: The movie really has two parts, the Asgard sections with all the Gods, which is very Shakespearean, and the section on earth which you were involved with. Did you ever go there while they were shooting Asgard or were you always in New Mexico?
Skarsgard: I didn't see the other stuff. I saw sketches of it, but I was working on the film in New Mexico. I was working on a very realistic down to earth film, and then suddenly one day, the Warriors Three show up and you really wondered, "How is this going to work?" That was cool. (laughs) I think it was challenging for Kenneth to weave those two different universes together, but I think he really pulled it off beautifully.
SHH: Absolutely. So did he leave all of that action stuff in New Mexico until the end?
Skarsgard: Most of the action is up in Asgard, but of course, we had this giant (The Destroyer) walking up to the small town and throwing cars and stuff, but that was towards the end of the shoot, so we had been shooting a normal film for quite a while now. Suddenly, all those Gods started showing up.
SHH: I'm not sure if it's true, but at one point, your son Alexander was being talked about to play Thor, was that something you were aware about when you came on board, so was there a chance of you two doing the movie together?
Skarsgard: I came on board after it was clear that Alex was not doing it. I don't know what the politics behind that was.
SHH: But you knew he had been had been in talks to play Thor though.
Skarsgard: Yeah, he informed me that he had had several meetings with Kenneth and liked him very much.
SHH: On the DVD, you have some cool extra scenes including an extended scene of you drinking with Chris as Thor.
Skarsgard: Oh, that's nice, because I missed that.
SHH: Right, you have two deleted scenes on there, so did you and Chris ever get a chance to have a real drinking contest between Sweden or Australia?
Skarsgard: No, I wouldn't do that to him. He was working so hard. I wouldn't destroy his body to do that. (chuckles)
SHH: There's another scene where your character almost gets killed, so do you know why Kenneth took that out of the movie? It's a very poignant scene.
Skarsgard: I don't know. I think he eventually had too much material, but it's a layered process, and you never know exactly what you will need at the end when you put it together. Scenes that are very good can harm the film if they come in the wrong place of the story, so it's a very delicate work deciding what to keep in the film or not, and I don't think it was because the scene was bad that he took it out.
SHH: No, not at all, which is why I was surprised it didn't make it into the movie.
Skarsgard: I don't think you want the audience to suddenly start worrying about whether Selvig will die or not in the end fight there.
SHH: How was it working in New Mexico? It seems like you were mainly out in the desert. Was that town pretty much built or was that something they found in the area?
Skarsgard: Actually, it isn't there but it isn't a built town. Some of the houses are original, but it has been used for film sets before, and of course, there's a Scandinavian or European fantasy of what a small town in the desert would look like. It's very condensed and not totally realistic, but it's very nice. We shot outside of Santa Fe, so we lived in Santa Fe, which is a nice city to live in, good restaurants, good food, very comfortable, but the weather was very strange, because at the time we were there, we would sometimes have four season per day.
SHH: That's right. I understand that it actually snows there, which is surprising since you don't expect to see snow in the desert. Did it actually snow there at night?
Skarsgard: Yeah, we had a lot of snow. We had problems with snow sometimes. It's the altitude that does it I think.
SHH: I was down there on the set of "The Avengers" and you weren't there that day, but you were one of the first people to work with Joss when you shot that ending scene in "Thor." Did you know at the time that your character was going to come back for "The Avengers"? Other than Nick Fury and Coulson, he's one of the few non-superheroes to be appearing from the individual movies.
Skarsgard: Yeah, it is the only character. No, I didn't know when I was shooting "Thor." It was sometime last fall when they were working on the storyline of "Avengers" they contacted me and asked if I would be prepared to be part of it. They sent me some pages and stuff, and I met with Joss and liked him. We did the tag scene and from there on, we just worked.
SHH: It's an interesting tag scene because we don't know if you were possessed by Loki or if he was just looking on, so before shooting that scene, did you know what part your character would play in "Avengers"?
Skarsgard: I knew what was going to happen later when we did the tag scene.
SHH: So are you just working as a scientist in the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier then?
Skarsgard: No, but we shot a lot in the desert and we did a rooftop in New York in the desert outside Albuquerque, so you shoot in the most strange ways. We shot in Albuquerque, we shot in Cleveland and now we're in New York.
SHH: You're involved in all of those scenes? I thought you just did a couple days.
Skarsgard: No, I'm flying in and out, a couple of days here, a couple days there. It's not a big role but it's pivotal.
SHH: What about the "Thor" sequel? Have you heard whether or not they're going to bring you back for the sequel yet. Earth plays such a big part of the first movie but the movie ends with him in Asgard.
Skarsgard: No, well, they mentioned it, and they've talked to my agent about it, but I haven't seen any script or anything yet.
SHH: The other big movie you have this year is "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo," in which you're also the only Swedish or Scandinavian person I believe. Were you aware of the original Swedish adaptation while it was being made?
Skarsgard: Yeah, I read the script to the Swedish film, the first film, and I've seen the first film. I haven't seen the second or third one.
SHH: Was there interest in having you appear in the original movie? How did this one come about with Fincher?
Skarsgard: I was not supposed to be in the original one, but Fincher contacted me about his version (of the book) and I was very thrilled to be working with Fincher. Steve Zaillian was writing the script and I thought it could be very interesting. It's good material they're working with, so I was excited to be a part of it. I'm still working on that one, too. We have reshoots to do in Los Angeles.
SHH: That's been a pretty long shoot then I guess.
Skarsgard: Yes, it's been a year now.
SHH: What's it been like working with David Fincher? Is it a very different experience from what you've done before? You've worked with a lot of amazing directors over the years.
Skarsgard: I mean, they all have their own ways of working and the more talented the directors are, the more you want to know what their childhood was like really. David Fincher said to me when we met, he said, "This will not be fun, because I sometimes do 40 takes of each set-up" and I said, "It better be fun, and I don't mind doing 40 takes, so let's make 40 fun takes." And I really enjoyed it. He's very thorough, but it's not an anal thing that he once had an idea that he has to fulfill and have exactly as he thought of it at home. You can actually do 40 takes that are 40 versions of a scene, which brings it to life, and I enjoyed it. He works hard and fast, which means that you shoot all the time. You don't sit and wait, and I like that.
SHH: I also want to ask about working with Joss on "The Avengers," because that's been a big movie for him so what has that been like?
Skarsgard: It's very different from Branagh, both in the sense that the kind of scenes that I have in "Thor," I don't have in "The Avengers," because it's a much smaller role, but he's fun working with and he is fast. He does only a couple of takes, and he knows pretty much what he wants. He's also very pleasant to be around and the atmosphere on the set is very pleasant, and any problems, you can talk to him about it, and he'll work things out together.
SHH: It's been great talking to you, and before we wrap, I wanted to mention I really liked "A Somewhat Gentle Man" which I saw earlier this year.
Skarsgard: Oh, you saw that? That's good. I like that movie.
SHH: I also saw "Melancholia" and was glad to see you doing another movie with Lars. That was a fairly amusing role.
Skarsgard: Oh, yeah, I'm doing another movie with him this summer.
SHH: So will you be going to Toronto for that?
Skarsgard: No, I'm not, because I'm shooting here (New York) then I'm going to L.A. for the reshoots and then I'm off to South America to shoot a film there.