Mikael Persbrandt is internationally known for his starring role in the Academy Award-winning In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier. In an exclusive interview with Scan Magazine, the Swedish actor describes his relationship with acting as a never-ending love story and talks about his hobbies of fixing cars and racing, why he is the owner of a theatre in Stockholm, and what it was like playing alongside Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law in King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.
“For me, acting is a love story. When I’m on stage, it’s an experience of love. I feel alive and good; it’s like therapy,” says Persbrandt. “It is hard to explain and put it into words. Acting is about emotions and expressing myself.”
Persbrandt never went to acting school – in fact, he had never even thought about becoming an actor until a dance teacher suggested it. Originally, Persbrandt went to art school and, when he fell in love with a beautiful ballerina, he decided to pursue dancing. “I tend to do everything too much. When I fell in love with her, I started dancing instead of painting so that I could see her. I danced for eight hours every day for two years,” Persbrandt recalls.
One day, his dance teacher told him that Sweden’s most famous director of all time, Ingmar Bergman, had an actor drop out and now needed a replacement for a show that was in just two weeks. Persbrandt immediately said he would do it. “And that was it. I fell in love with acting the moment I stepped out onto the stage. I forgot everything about dancing, painting and my ballerina.”
Working with Guy Ritchie
Since Persbrandt first set foot on stage in 1983, he has played Gunvald Larsson in Beck for almost two decades, purchased his own theatre, where he also acts, in Stockholm, and starred in multiple Swedish as well as international films. The most recent film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, was directed by Guy Ritchie and stars Charlie Hunnam and Jude Law.
King Arthur: Legend of the Sword is an adventure film about the legendary British leader King Arthur. Arthur is robbed of his birth right as king and rises to power the hard way from the back alleys of Londinium (the old Roman name for London). Once he pulls the sword from the stone, he is forced to acknowledge his true legacy. Persbrandt plays the role of Kjartan.
“It was a complete pleasure working with Guy, Jude and Charlie. They are all nice guys and very down to earth. All three are easy to work with and very determined to do a good job,” says Persbrandt. “It was actually quite easy to prepare for the part. In truth, I think the hardest part about acting is walking and talking at the same time, while still sounding believable.”
Far from Hollywood
Previously, Persbrandt played the lead role in the Danish film In a Better World, directed by Susanne Bier, which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. His role earned him a European Film Awards nomination for Best Actor in 2011. He has since been seen in The Hobbit, Alone in Berlin, The Siege of Jadotville and other international films, so it is safe to say that Persbrandt could easily have jumped on the Hollywood train and moved to L.A. However, that never seemed tempting to him.
“For me, there’s no difference between playing in small or big films. A camera is a camera and a movie set is a movie set – and then there are 700 people at lunch instead of 35. I actually think I prefer the smaller productions; they are more fun and intimate. The big productions can almost become too big. But acting-wise, there is no difference,” he says.
As for Hollywood, that never really interested him at all. “I never wanted to live in L.A. When I was young, Hollywood did not give a shit about me – I was just a random Swedish actor. It was not until I was 45 that they became interested, and then I honestly wasn’t interested in them. I never wanted to get on the Hollywood train.”
Therefore, it probably comes as no surprise that his favourite film to have ever played in is a Swedish 2004 production, Day and Night. The film is about a father, his son, his cheating wife, his young mistress, his lonely sister, his dementiasuffering mother, a fantastic football coach, a pregnant sex worker and an angel disguised as an old man. “The script was just amazing,” he says. “I really had to work for my part, and to this day I still think I played it very well. It was just a great film.”
A true love story
Persbrandt started out on stage, and even though he has played in many films and starred in the popular Swedish TV series Beck – all with huge success – his love for the stage and theatre is as big as ever.
“I always say the stage is my mother, and films are my mistresses. The stage taught me everything I know about acting,” says Persbrandt. “When I first started acting, I was a very shy young man. I had no idea how to express myself, but I found myself on the stage. It was an opportunity for me to get out all my emotions and express the inner feelings I had bottled up for so long. That’s what makes it such a beautiful love story – because I found myself on stage.”
Therefore, Persbrandt did not have to think long or hard when he got the opportunity to buy his own stage, Maximteatern, in Stockholm. “I love having my own stage, because I can do whatever I want. It is my stage, and it is a fantastic opportunity. I absolutely love performing there,” he smiles.
So, what does he love most, films or stage work? “I love both equally, and I consider myself a lucky man to be able to do both. The theatre is more work. I have to be on stage every night and tell the same story. When I play Macbeth, I prepare for months. It is a much harder role to prepare for than, say, my role in King Arthur. In a film, you only have to get one good shoot. Being on stage is a more careful way of acting,” he explains. “But films require a certain kind of concentration when you are in front of the camera. They are so different, but I will never be able to pick just one of them.”
Persbrandt’s happy place
When he is not on stage, on a movie set or preparing for a role, Persbrandt prefers to be on his horse farm in Stora Lundby just south of Stockholm. In particular, he likes spending time in the garage, where he fixes cars and bikes.
“I grew up with cars and bikes. It’s my hobby. I think it’s cool to be around motor guys and girls and talk about petrol and engines – something that’s not related to art at all. I also race every now and then – there are some cool tracks around Europe,” he smiles and adds: “I love my horse farm and my garage, and I am very happy here.”