Words Pierre de Villiers
Photos Andrew Ward
He is Hollywood’s go-to villain, an actor who has played the Devil, a mob boss, a sword-wielding nihilist and a kidnapper who stuffs his partner-in- crime into a wood chipper. So astonishingly good is Peter Stormare at being bad that you can’t help but wonder whether the Swedish star has something of the night about him when the cameras stop rolling.
Yet the man who sits down for a chat could not be more different from the characters he plays. Outspoken? Yes. Happy to curse? Absolutely. But he’s so jovial and nice, it’s strange to think he has been a sinister on-screen presence for more than three decades.
“I always say you have to be a good guy to be a bad guy,” Stormare points out. “Maybe the reason they pick me to play a villain is because I am reasonable – I talk to the director and I have ideas.”
Those ideas have stood the 59 year old in good stead over a 30-year career that began in earnest with Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander in 1982. He’s worked with the Coen Brothers (Fargo and The Big Lebowski), Terry Gilliam (The Brothers Grimm) and Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark). He has removed Tom Cruise’s eyes in Minority Report, tried to drag Keanu Reeves to hell in Constantine, and still manged to pop up in popular TV shows such as Seinfeld, Prison Break and Entourage.
“I try to not just hit the mark and say the line, as many do, but I try to build in something,” he says. “Ingmar Bergman once said to me when I was young that I always have to be a question mark for the audience. And when you turn a question mark upside down it becomes a hook. If you do a bad person, try to lure the audience into liking him a little bit so that it becomes intriguing to them. It is easy to play a bad guy who shouts things like: ‘I’m going to blow your brains out,’ but you can deliver those lines with bit of a twist.”
This month he squares up to Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand. The former governor of California plays a sheriff who has to protect his small town from a drugs kingpin heading for the Mexican border. Stormare – surprise surprise – is the leader of a band of lawless mercenaries helping the bad guy.
Off-screen, however, Stormare was busy charming the Terminator and disappointing even his own mother with his lack of bitchy gossip. “I told Arnold: ‘I voted for you the first term but not the second term,’” Stormare says with a chuckle. “He laughed and said: ‘It’s OK, it’s OK.’ He is a really cool guy; one of those big stars who sits down with the crew when it’s lunch. Every day he sits down at a different table and talks to everyone. My mother always asks me about scandals in Hollywood and I tell her I don’t have any.”
Lunching with Arnie is a world away from where Stormare grew up. Born Rolf Peter Ingvar Storm (he changed his name because it clashed with that of a fellow acting student) in Kumla, just south of Örebro, he was raised in Arbra in Hälsingland, central Sweden, and first achieved success on stage at the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre. He left Sweden in 1990, first for Japan, where he worked as an assistant artistic director at the Tokyo Globe Theatre, before heading to New York three years later.
Despite ensuing success in Hollywood, he’s happy to return home for work. “I tell my agent if they do a movie about the northern land in Sweden, then I will do it,” he says. “They are very proud up there and they stick together. Up there it is woods, a lot of forest, a lot of mines. It is a very rich country up there. If there is a movie about guys up there and their circumstances, then I will go over to Sweden to do a movie, no questions asked.”
Films set in Norrland, like Wolf (2008) and False Trail (2011), have allowed Stormare to use an accent that is unique to the region where he grew up. “Because I am from further north, it is like talk- ing the language from my childhood,” he explains. “It is kind of a strong dialect, almost like a mid-American accent. If I did a movie about a guy living in Stockholm, I couldn’t do that accent. So it is nice to be able to use my childhood language because I haven’t used it for many, many years.
Listening to Stormare talk about the country of his birth, you imagine that leaving it behind in the early 1990s must have been a wrench – yet he says it was the natural thing to do.
“I like to be in motion and I love to explore,” Stormare says. “I have been a believer since I was born; I’m here for a special reason and I try not to mess it up. People think that I produce so much but I consider myself lazy sometimes. I can’t get myself to a golf course and I can’t go fishing because it takes too much of my time. For me it is all about being in motion.”
Stormare’s desire to be continually on the move means he has a long to-do list when it comes to work. And when he is not on set, he writes scripts and pens songs for his grunge-y rock band Blonde From Fargo, a reference to his most famous role to date (he also likes the cute acronym: BFF).
“I find peace by sitting and playing guitar in my little home studio,” says the actor, who lives in Los Angeles with wife Toshimi, and has a daughter, Kelly, from his previous marriage. “It is like meditation for me. It’s also great touring with the band, going back to Sweden to perform.”
At the moment, Stormare has little time to indulge his passion for music, with his film career in ruder health than ever. After battling Schwarzenegger in The Last Stand, he will be seen in much-anticipated fantasy film Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters, a 3D extravaganza directed by Norwegian Tommy Wirkola, and starring Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton.
“I play the head of police who doesn’t want Hansel and Gretel, who grew up and became witch hunters, in his town,” he says. “I worked with [director] Terry Gilliam on The Brothers Grimm and, even though he got his butt kicked by the producers and was told to make alterations, the film sparked an interest in the Grimm Brothers for me. This new script is like a carbon copy of Gilliam’s.”
It is not, it must be said, a great change of direction for Stormare in terms of his own role. Yet he’s not complaining. “I would rather be typecast than not be cast at all,” he says. “If you think about stage actors, they really want to do King Lear or Macbeth, those crazy bastards. I am the same when it comes to movies. I like to explore those dark, dark characters.”
The Last Stand is released on 18 January and Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters is out on 25 January
Which Peter Stormare Character Is The Baddest?
Dino Velvet (8mm) vs Torsten (False Trail)
Abduction and ordering the murder of a girl are all in a day’s work for porn director Dino Velvet, whose violent films star a masked man known as the Machine. But his actions are put in the shade by corrupt Swedish cop Torsten, who kills and mutilates the mother of his own child.
John Abruzzi (Prison Break) vs Satan (Constantine)
The imprisoned boss of the Abruzzi crime family uses all means to get his way, slicing the toes off escaping mastermind Michael Scofield and kidnapping fellow inmate T-Bag’s cousin. The Devil, alas, pops up from Hell only to get outwitted by Keanu Reeves. Winner John Abruzzi
Alexei (Bad Boys II) vs Gaear Grimsrud (Fargo)
Nicknamed the Russian Grim Reaper, mobster Alexei, whose desk ornaments are bowls of drugs and two dancing girls, violently tosses an overdosed clubber out of the nearest exit. The silent but deadly Gaear Grimsrud takes this round, though, for killing the sweet housewife he kidnapped. Winner Gaear Grimsrud
Uli Kunkel (The Big Lebowski) vs Serge Muscat (Chocolat)
Serge is a violent alcoholic in this gentle film by Stormare’s standards – but nihilist and part-time porn star Uli Kunkel shades this one thanks to creativity, threatening the Dude in the bath with a marmot, before promising: “I’ll cut off your Johnson.” Winner Uli Kunkel
Torsten vs John Abruzzi
Torsten keeps up the nasty work by framing a fellow policeman for murder and chasing his adopted son through the woods with a rifle, but Abruzzi counters by kidnapping Michael’s friend Veronica and hatching a plan to kill the inmates who are helping him escape. Winner John Abruzzi
Gaear Grimsrud vs Uli Kunkel
In the big battle of the Coen movie characters, it’s Grimsrud who comes out on top by shooting his partner Carl Showalter (Steve Buscemi). Kunkel’s case isn’t helped when he has his ear bitten off in a parking lot fight, despite packing a sword. Winner Gaear Grimsrud
John Abruzzi vs Gaear Grimsrud
It takes a lot to beat a criminal like Grimsrud, who disposes of his crime buddy’s body by stuffing it into a wood chipper, but Abruzzi shows his vicious streak by chopping off rival T-Bag’s hand with an axe. Also, when the police catch up to Grimsrud, he runs away and is shot in the back of the leg – while Abruzzi goes out guns blazing, as any good villain should. Winner John Abruzzi