Max von Sydow Talks About Playing a Silent Character and Roles He Was Never Offered

It’s important to remember that Jean Dujardin isn’t the only “silent” actor nominated for an Oscar this year — the iconic Max von Sydow is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his non-speaking role of “The Renter” in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

He talks about his experience acting in the film to The Wall Street Journal, along with the roles that he never got to play in his storied career.

von Sydow explains that he accepted the role of a non-speaking character partially because of the challenge it presented.  He explains that as an actor, “You want to be able to attack human nature in various ways, and playing a character who doesn’t talk is something I hadn’t done before.” 

In fact, von Sydow reveals that in the original script his character did speak, but he nixed the idea, saying, “In the original script, The Renter spoke a few words at the very end.  But I didn’t like that at all, and I made a fuss about it. It’s not a story about this poor renter who finally speaks; it’s about this amazing boy (Oskar Schell, played by Thomas Horn) so I’m happy it was changed.”

Though he is an actor who has constantly been in demand since the 1950s, von Sydow admits there are some drawbacks to being recognized for several famous performances because even great actors can be typecast.  He confesses, “If you are successful in a particular part, when people need a similar character, they say, ‘Well, he has done it,’ and they offer more or less the same part again and again. And that’s very boring for an actor.”  In particular, von Sydow has been offered many villainous roles, but he has no desire to play any one-dimensional bad guys, pointing out, “I like playing interesting villains.  But I prefer not to do it all the time.”

In fact, von Sydow admits that his dream is to appear in a comedy, something which he hasn’t had the chance to do in his lengthy career, but feels he is now too old.  Again, he points to the general perception of him after starring in several films by master director Ingmar Bergman, saying, “After having played Jesus (in 1965’s The Greatest Story Ever Told) and doing a number of Bergman films, people began to look at me as someone very serious and religious, and even a bit philosophical.  So if someone were to suggest me for a comedy, I can just imagine the producer’s reaction: ‘What? Max von Sydow in a comedy?’ But I did many on the stage, so why not? Now it’s too late, too late for comedies.”

Of course, with a career as lengthy and decorated as his, von Sydow can’t complain.  He says, “I’ve been very lucky.  Of course I would have loved to work with Fellini and Visconti, and I haven’t done very much in French film. But I shouldn’t complain, because I think I’ve been rather spoiled. Truly, I’ve had wonderful opportunities.”

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