Max von Sydow  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Max Carl Adolf von Sydow, (born 10 April 1929 in Lund) is a Swedish actor (also French, since obtaining citizenship in 2002), known in particular for his collaboration with filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. He has acted in films as diverse as The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Hour of the Wolf, Illustrious Corpses, Death Watch, Hannah and Her Sisters, What Dreams May Come and Minority Report.



Early life

Von Sydow was born Carl Adolf von Sydow to a wealthy family in Lund, Skåne, Sweden. His father, Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, was an ethnologist and professor of Irish, Scandinavian, and comparative folklore at the University of Lund. His mother, Baroness Greta (née Rappe), was a school teacher. Von Sydow was raised Lutheran and later became an agnostic. Little material is available on his childhood, except that he was apparently a shy, quiet child with no siblings.

He attended the Cathedral School of Lund, and learned German and English starting at the age of nine. At school, he and some friends founded an amateur theatre company, where his acting career began. He completed National Service before going on to study at The Royal Dramatic Theatre ("Dramaten") in Stockholm, where he trained between 1948 and 1951 with the likes of Lars Ekborg, Margaretha Krook and Ingrid Thulin. During his time at Dramaten, he made his screen debut in Alf Sjöberg's films Only a Mother (Bara en mor, 1949), and Miss Julie (Fröken Julie, 1951), a screen version of Swedish playwright August Strindberg's well known play.


In 1955, von Sydow moved to Malmö, where he met his mentor Ingmar Bergman. His first work with Bergman occurred on stage at the Malmö Municipal Theatre. Von Sydow later would work with Bergman on films such as The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet, 1957), Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället, 1957) and The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1960). In The Seventh Seal, von Sydow is the knight who plays a chess game with Death to buy time for his companions -- a scene and a film which were both breakthroughs for the director.

It was in these films that von Sydow perfected his craft, beginning to display the great talent that enabled a 53-year screen career. Von Sydow came to dominate the screen as he did on stage, becoming an idol of the international arthouse. Critical recognition came as early as 1954 when he was awarded the Royal Foundation Culture Award. Von Sydow worked profusely on stage and screen in Scandinavia and resisted increasing calls from the United States to go to Hollywood. After being seen in Bergman's Academy Award-winning films and having been first choice for the title role of Dr. No, von Sydow finally went to America after agreeing to star in the film which was to lead to much greater recognition, in the role of Jesus in George Stevens' grandly titled, all-star epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Because his talents were soon in demand in other American productions, von Sydow and his family eventually moved to Los Angeles.

From 1965, von Sydow became a regular on the American screen while maintaining a presence in his native Sweden. In 1969 he appeared in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter. Though perhaps typecast as a villain, he was rewarded in the United States with two Golden Globe nominations for Hawaii and The Exorcist in 1973. In the mid 1970s, von Sydow moved to Rome and appeared in a number of Italian films, becoming friendly with another screen legend, Marcello Mastroianni. In the U.S., he played a memorably professional Alsatian assassin in Three Days of the Condor (1975). In the late 1970s and early 1980s, von Sydow appeared in both serious films, such as Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986) and David Lynch's Dune (1984), and less serious ones, like Flash Gordon (1980) and Strange Brew (1983).

Von Sydow has since won The Australian Film Institute Best Actor Award for his title role in Father (1989), the Guldbagge Best Director Award for his only directorial foray Katinka (Ved vejen, 1988), based on a novel by Herman Bang, and the Best Actor Award at The Tokyo International Film Festival for The Silent Touch (Dotknięcie ręki, 1993).

He received international acclaim for his performance as Nobel Prize-winning novelist Knut Hamsun in Jan Troell's biopic Hamsun. He received his third Swedish Guldbagge and his second Danish Bodil for his depiction of a character often described as his King Lear. In 1996, von Sydow starred in Liv Ullmann's Private Confessions (Enskilda samtal). Back in Hollywood, he appeared in What Dreams May Come in a role which was something of a tip of the hat to his performance in The Exorcist.

He was acclaimed for his role as an elderly lawyer in Scott Hicks' Snow Falling on Cedars. In 2002, von Sydow had one of his largest commercial successes, co-starring with Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's widely popular sci-fi thriller Minority Report. In 2003, he played mentor character Eyvind in the European TV adaptation of the Ring of the Nibelung saga. The show set ratings records and was released in the USA as Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King. In 2007, von Sydow starred in the box-office hit Rush Hour 3. He followed that with Julian Schnabel's award-winning foreign film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Von Sydow will next star in Truth & Treason, opposite Haley Joel Osment. The film will be based on Helmuth Hübener's life during World War II. He has also been recently cast as Josiah Kane in Soloman Kane, based on the story and characters by Robert E. Howard. In February 2008, von Sydow was cast in Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Shutter Island.

Von Sydow has recently joined the the third season of Showtime's drama series The Tudors. Sydow will portray Cardinal Von Waldburg, a German-born clergyman who tries to organize the defeat of King Henry VIII. Von Sydow is due to appear in four of the eight episodes.

Personal life

In 1 Aug 1951, von Sydow married actress Kerstin Olin, with whom he had two sons, Clas S. von Sydow and Henrik von Sydow. His children appeared with him in the film Hawaii, playing his son at different ages.

Von Sydow was divorced in 1996 and married French filmmaker Catherine Brelet in 30 April 1997 in Provence, France. He has two sons, Yvan and Cedric, with his second wife. Von Sydow currently lives with his wife in Paris, where he enjoys reading, listening to music and gardening. He has stated that he has no intentions of retiring as long as he gets decent roles. He received French citizenship in 2002.


Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Max von Sydow" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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