BERLIN, Germany — The unusually mild winter here in Berlin (45 degrees and sunny) has been downright balmy compared with New York’s frozen February. But onscreen at the Berlinale Palast, Hans Petter Moland’s hilariously dark competition entry, In Order of Disappearance, has been representing Scandinavia’s arctic blasts with aplomb. Chock full of one cold-hearted murder after another (wryly and meticulously marked by tombstone-like graphic cards throughout the film), this ridiculously entertaining Nordic noir follows the vengeful exploits of mourning blue-collar father Nils Dickman (Stellan Skarsgård) as he tracks down the string of drug dealers responsible for his son’s death.
What makes the film so wildly eccentric is the kaleidoscope of oddball touches: Dickman’s Sisyphian vocation requires that he constantly plow the highways with a snowblower truck. The drug kingpin he is hunting down is named The Count, a nattily-attired vegan criminal scion prone to bratty outbursts. The Count’s henchmen are secretly gay lovers. The local cops are squeamish about blood. And the tonal changes are impressive, veering from domestic drama to action thriller to outright farce.
“It’s a silly fucking story, with silly people,” Skarsgård says the day after its premiere, as he sits comfortably in a suite at the Grand Hyatt in Potsdamer Platz. “The script was all over the place. There were too many genres; I didn’t understand it. But Hans Petter said, ‘Trust me.’ And when you see the film—how did he manage? He creates this universe that’s pretty amazing.” The fact that the characters are all morally questionable was a big draw, too. “The moment you divide humanity into good guys and bad guys, then you’re really doing something dangerous.”
Disappearance is the fourth film collaboration between Skarsgård and Moland, the last being A Somewhat Gentle Man, which debuted here at the Berlinale in 2010. The two have been close friends for years, and their families (Skarsgård has 6 children; Moland has 8) spend a lot of time together. “We have 14 kids together,” Skarsgård says. “We joke about it a lot.” Moland even brought all 8 to Berlin this year for the premiere.
Skarsgård’s own brood, of course, includes actors Alexander, Gustaf, Bill and Valter. “You learn a lot from kids,” he says. “When I had kids, I became a better actor. I just stole from them. Even the President of the United States still acts like a fucking child. So if you just copy your kids, then you can play anybody.”
He even admits to using them for material—but compensating them for it, too. “From my second son Gustav, I bought one of his complaints for 200 kroner. He was complaining that he was a middle child—he wasn’t the beloved first child and he wasn’t the cute little youngest child. So I said, can I use that same wording in a film? And he said yeah. So I bought it from him. And I used it in a silly fucking comedy.”
Why bother with Method acting when you can just look at children? “You got to continue to be playing like a fucking child,” he says. “And I’m not very pretentious about what I’m doing. It’s not a big fucking mystery.”
Skarsgård is also here at the Berlinale as a part of Lars von Trier’s director’s cut of Nymphomaniac: Part 1, in which he plays a man who listens to a sex fiend (Charlotte Gainsbourg) talking about her problems. (Sorry, folks: Skarsgård only has scenes with Gainsbourg, so no juicy stories about working with Shia LaBoeuf.)
Curiously enough, the role mirrors one he played 40 years ago, in the 1973 sexploitation flick Anita: Swedish Nymphet. “I haven’t talked to Lars about it,” he says. “It was basically the same role: I was sitting listening to this nymphomaniac talking about her problems.” And Lars never mentioned it? Seems strange. “I don’t know,” shrugs Skarsgård. “I don’t know what weird movies he’s been watching.”
The actor was very happy, though, with the audience reaction to Nymphomaniac. “They laughed and then went silent,” he says about the drastic tonal changes in that film as well. “They were with the film. I was really happy about it. A film doesn’t exist until it meets its audience.”