' ' Cinema Romantico: The Many Faces of Stellan Skarsgård

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

The Many Faces of Stellan Skarsgård

This is an image of, left to right, Colin Firth, Stellan Skarsgård and Pierce Brosnan from the blue skied ABBA jukebox musical “Mamma Mia” (2008). All three men are smiling. This is not necessarily news where Firth and Brosnan are concerned, but one of the preeminent takeaways from “Mamma Mia”, as well as its recently released sequel “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, is the smile of Skarsgård as Greatest Living Swede Bill Anderson. That is because it is so new and unusual to see Skarsgård smile! Because when I think of Skarsgård I think of, say, his omnipresent glower in the original “Insomnia” (1997) which is totally emblematic of a man stricken with, well, obviously.

Or I think of him in “Zero Kelvin” (1995) where his being stuck in scenic Greenland for the winter expectedly fuels his omnipresent glower.

Or I think of him in “Ronin” (1998) where he maintains such a frequent glower that even when he’s sitting in the front seat during the climactic car chase against traffic his face is still fixed in the same sort of glower he has when he expresses a desire to do something and is told by Robert DeNiro’s also glower-y Sam that working is doing something. (Skarsgård’s scoff noise in that moment is something to behold too; it is the scoff noise of a man who knows how to glower.)

There is a reason why, after all, Skarsgård was cast as Bootstrap Bill Turner in the 73rd Pirates of the Caribbean movie, “Dead Man’s Chest”. A ghostly pirate tied to a cannon and hurled overboard to live forever under the sea is not the kind of guy prone to cheer.

But then a funny thing happened. As I watched “Borg vs. McEnroe”, not long after seeing “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, I was taken aback when Skarsgård, as the taciturn but effective coach of Swedish tennis legend Bjorn Borg, in sussing out the young Borg, smiled.

I had to think long and hard. Did I have Skarsgård all wrong? This is Skarsgård in “Thor” looking very Skarsgård-y.

But wait! Here he is in “Thor” not looking so Skarsgård-y at all!

And the more I re-visited the immense, quality canon of Mr. Skarsgård in my mind, the more I realized that, yes, Skarsgård does smile. He has one of the most effective smiles in the business! Here he is smiling as Professor Gerald Lambeau in “Good Will Hunting”, that “arrogant,” as Sean Maguire puts it, “fucking prick.”

Here he is smiling in the heartwarming “The Glass House” as a diabolical foster father who sees his foster daughter strictly in terms of cold hard cash.

Here he is smiling in Lars von Trier’s heartwarming “Nymphomaniac” where he finds self-diagnosed nymphomaniac Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) beaten up and lying in the alleyway behind his apartment.

Here he is smiling in Lars von Trier’s heartwarming “Breaking the Waves” as a husband who becomes immobilized and asks his wife to have sex with other men.

Here he is smiling in the heartwarming “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” as he prepares to go about torturing Mikael Blomkvist in his cozy basement torture chamber.

Here he is smiling in “In Order of Disappearance” right before he shoots that guy next to him in the face.

Sigh. Stellan Skarsgård, what a happy guy. 

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