When Lars von Trier invited Stellan Skarsgård to play the male lead in his next project, the Swedish actor instantly accepted. Never mind that the eccentric Danish director described it as "a porno film" that would require him to go Full Monty at the finale. After working on five films together, Skarsgård couldn't imagine refusing, no matter how odd the invitation.
Best known to American audiences from his work in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Thor" franchises, Skarsgård knew "Nymphomaniac" would be no run-of-the-mill exploitation film.
In Vol. 1, he plays a celibate bookworm listening in wonder as a sexaholic (Charlotte Gainsbourg) recounts her erotic adventures. His big reveal comes in Vol. 2, opening in the Twin Cities on April 4. Skarsgård's deadpan naiveté, relating his companion's psychosexual odyssey to his own timid avocations, helps make "Nymphomaniac" Von Trier's funniest film to date.
Though Von Trier has cultivated a notorious reputation, Skarsgård says the filmmaker has a lot in common with his bookish character. And with Gainsbourg's regretful libertine.
"He's very funny. He's very challenging, very vulnerable but he's also extremely earnest and honest," Skarsgård said. "You can laugh and enjoy the film, but it's very personal for Lars. He is the nerd I'm playing, the man interested in Fibonacci numbers and Bach. But he's also the person struggling with his rebellious side."
Since "Lars' films are all fairy tales," Skarsgård knew his character wouldn't be realistic. "I found the character very endearing. He's the idea of a man who is a virgin, who has no experience whatever of life. Everything he knows comes from books. He's confronted with the physical and sexual reality of life through Charlotte. When she talks about sleeping with anonymous men on a train the only thing he can relate it to is fly fishing. Which is pathetic. It's silly and it makes you pity him."
Skarsgård's range is vast, from his bone-chilling turn as a depraved Swedish industrialist in David Fincher's "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," to singing, dancing silliness alongside Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan in the Abba film "Mamma Mia." He quickly realized "they weren't after professionalism at all. They wanted bad singers and bad dancers. And they got it! It was quite interesting because it was a movie written, designed, produced by women. Everything was women. And then the three bimbos they hired, me, Colin and Pierce. We were doing what women normally do. We're just there to be pretty and silly."
Skarsgård plays a rampaging snowplow driver in the upcoming Norwegian-Swedish action comedy "In Order of Disappearance."
"It was great fun," he said. Driving the 60,000-pound behemoth "at 70 kilometers an hour to crash into two meters of snow is a fantastic experience. Also crashing into a car with a snowplow is a great joy. I'm credited as 'stunt driver' on that film because I actually did crash into cars."