by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent
The first thing you hear when Stellan Skarsgård and Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland call at 8:00 am LA time for a phone interview from New York is Stellan’s unmistakable laugh. This is a far cry from the stoic Nils he plays in their new movie In Order of Disappearance that opens Aug. 26. Between the -40 celsius setting and the operatic violence, whereby Skarsgård picks off a succession of formidable enemies, including Bruno Ganz (Downfall) as lead crime boss, In Order of Disappearance plays with the fine line between horrific scenes and a comedy of criminal errors. Not to give too much away, In Order of Disappearance (originally titled Kraftidioten or “Morons”) is mostly in Norwegian, with Danish, German and a smattering of English and Serbian thrown in, as it runs down the saga of a drug ring infesting the pristine Norwegian landscape.
Skarsgård plays a snowblower business owner (Nils), who first receives a Citizen of the Year Award only to become embroiled in the hunt for a succession of responsible parties who have killed his son, in a hit job made to look like an overdose. The blowing snow from Nils’ menacing snowplow begins to echo the powder of the drugs and gives him the power to literally bury his enemies in a white rage. And yes, there is a twist.
When asked if playing in a language more native to him than English informs the character, Stellan scoffs in a good way. “It has nothing to do with language,” he corrects. “In the Marvel films (Thor) my character was used mostly as comic relief. I am the normal center of this film.” Skarsgård also adds that his performance in BBC’s “River,” the 2015 TV Mini-series, as lead inspector John River was also a serious turn.
Director Hans Petter Moland (Aberdeen), who has worked with Skarsgård on a succession of films, seconds the misconception that Stellan tends to play ‘with a swagger’ in English. Then the Nordic silence between sentences is almost a rebuke. Together they make a formable two-on-one tag team; the camaraderie is unmistakable. At this hour in LA, you’re just trying to get the ‘ring’ over the right “a” in the actor’s last name because that mark is actually part of the vowel not punctuation. Meanwhile, you’re just glad Stellan is every bit as punchy and quirky as you’d hoped he’d be, but the director with him this morning, on the other hand is serious as a heart attack. A less-known quantity in the United States, Hans Petter Moland is a top director in Norway, and you hope you don’t sound like, well, a kraftidioten, two coffees later.
“I think the film is a great mix of genres, and has a lot of satirical aspects to it,” Moland, an Emerson College alum begins. “One of my ‘delights’ was to take on some contemporary issues. The fear of immigration and fear of strangers. The drug thing was very real. When I started working on this story 15 years ago, I started thinking what if someone actually did what Stellan’s character does.” Meaning take revenge instead of pursuing the conventional lines of justice.
The immigration issues Moland refers to include drug crime bosses from Serbia, Albania — and within Norway itself in home-grown dealer played by Pål Sverre Hagen. Hagen, incidentally, was in Kon-Tiki with Stellan’s son Gustav Skarsgård.
“Pål did such a surprising take on the character, that I said it was not what I thought of — so much fun working with him,” the director notes. “(His character) is not necessarily the smartest guy in the room, but good at smelling out deceit.”
A mix of hysteria and ruthlessness, Hagen’s performance is as “refreshing,” they both point out, as is the movie itself. Upon which you mention “Fargo,” thinking Fargo-meets-Pulp-Fiction-style cruelodrama, meaning cruelty meets melodrama… to crickets.
Later you notice somebody already referenced Fargo on the poster, oops. On the call, you can almost hear Stellan Skarsgard — a film icon in America and around the world at this point — sitting back and weighing the questions being posed. He does not suffer fools, and is just as you would imagine he is from his eclectic body of work. Stellan’s a thinking actor, a fun guy who would be great in a bar fight. Moland, his friend and frequent director, the straight man on this phoner, pivots back on point to reveal that most of his filmmaking influences are American. “Films from the 70’s, also Terry Malick.” He’s warming up now.
When you ask him about one scene, where Nils’ wife leaves him and leaves a very telling note: a sealed, folded, blank sheet of paper, Moland’s ice breaks. “That was in the script that way, the screenwriter’s idea. I remember when I read it at some point — laughing out loud. But it’s hard to show nothing on film. You liked it? I’m glad it played well.” In Order of Disappearance is one of those films you watch for its own merits, but undeniably for the body of work of Stellan Skarsgård.
As in all of Skarsgård’s roles, and one of the hallmarks of the best actors, you can literally hear him listening on the phone, every word parsed, remembering your name, commenting and laughing with such ease. Until the subject of his actor children is broached. With son Alexander Skarsgård tipped to enter the A-List with Tarzan’s $120+ M USD cumulative total at the box office, the topic is timely if a bit awkward. The frost descends, as it likely should.
“I don’t care much about that actually. Four (out of eight) of them are actors, and they are all good. I really enjoy it. I’m happy that they aren’t terrible. It would have been so hard to see them suffer defeat. In this business, suddenly you are splashed on every billboard all over the world, and two years later no one knows who you are,” Skarsgård remarks.
Going back to his film, when you say “it’s probably hard to show moral ambiguity in the cold like that,” Stellan laughs that easy laugh again. “It was motherfucking cold. Yes.” Then he relates the frozen milieu to the “a naturalistic style of acting” used. Moland jumps in with “if you go back and watch the film again, in the beginning of the film — when he meets the Centrist Party member where there is no blower — look at Stellan’s face. It is actually like a frozen mask.”
Incorporated into In Order of Disappearance, the Centrist Party tangent touches on Swedish immigration to Norway, which is coupled with a look at Serbian and Albanian nationals in country. All against the backdrop of a father’s grief-revenge story with a stellar cast, director, and of course another facet of the considerable talent of Stellan Skarsgård. He’s someone who broke through to American audiences as the math professor in Good Will Hunting, and has remained versatile enough to play in the Marvel Universe and in so many interesting iterations, also the just-released movie Our Kind of Traitor where he plays a Russian gangster, with clearly more to come.
In Order of Disappearance is a great addition to Stellan’s body of work, not only because he plays the lead, but it’s fun to watch. He evens gets to beat up the head wildling from Game of Thrones, Tormund Giantsbane, actor Kristofer Hivju. Director Hans Petter Moland rounds out the interview with this gem “the only thing that isn’t in this film is Stockholm Syndrome,” referring to the underage kidnapping folded into this chilly tale.
In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten), produced by Paradox and championed by the Norwegian, Swedish and Danish film institutes, and Nordisk, among others, opens in a US roll-out beginning on Aug. 26, see Magnolia Pictures and Magnet at here for more details.
(Courtesy of FilmFestivals.com)
Official Press Notes:
IN ORDER OF DISAPPEARANCE stars Stellan Skarsgård, Bruno Ganz, Pål Sverre Hagen, Jakob Oftebro, and Kristofer Hivju. The film was directed by Hans Petter Moland and has a running time of114 minutes. Magnet Releasing will release the film in LA at the Nuart Theater and in select other cities as well as on VOD on August 26, 2016.
SCREENMANCER is a gathering place for people who make movies and dig Stellan Skarsgård
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