A star theater and movie actor (and bar owner) in his native Iceland, multi-talented Baltasar Kormákur successfully branched out into writing, directing, and producing with his debut feature, 101 Reykjavík (2000), and became the tiny country's most famous entertainment export since Björk.
The son of a well-known Icelandic artist, the Reykjavík-born Kormákur opted for the performing arts, graduating from The Drama Academy of Iceland. Beginning his acting career on the stage, Kormákur soon made a name for himself in Iceland as a theater director as well, beginning with his successful production of the musical Hair in 1994. Kormákur went on to direct nine more theater productions both at home and abroad, including The Rocky Horror Show and Hamlet, and formed his own Reykjavík theater company, Castle in the Clouds. While conquering the Icelandic stage, Kormákur also made the move to screen acting in the early '90s with a lead role in Veggfódur Erotisk Astarsaga (1993). Along with his dark, rugged good looks, Kormákur's deft performances as the title character's morally dubious seducer in Agnes (1996), a brash Americanized Icelander in Devil's Island (1997), and a man caught up in his lover's custody battle in the Turkish-Icelandic co-production The Split (1999) made him into one of Iceland's biggest movie stars.
As with the theater, Kormákur decided to try his hand at film directing with the black comedy 101 Reykjavík. Produced, adapted, and co-starring Kormákur as well, 101 Reykjavík centered on the exploits of a slacker who impregnates his lesbian mother's alluring Spanish mistress. A major box-office hit in Iceland, 101 Reykjavík also garnered international attention when it won the Discovery Award at the Toronto Film Festival. Rather than going to Hollywood, however, Kormákur maintained his home base in Reykjavík with his wife and children. He continued to act in Icelandic films, appearing as a mental patient who thinks he's the composer of all of the Beatles' hits in Fridrik Thór Fridriksson's Angels of the Universe, and as the villain in the children's musical Regina (2002). Kormákur also played a supporting role as a mad doctor in American indie auteur Hal Hartley's Beauty and the Beast update, No Such Thing (2001).
For his second film as director, Kormákur decided to explore "the dysfunction of everyday life" in Iceland in the King Lear-esque drama The Sea (2002). Co-adapted by Kormákur from a popular play, The Sea focused on a family in a declining Icelandic fishing town, unstintingly revealing the havoc wrought by a despotic father and his conniving children. More somber than his feature debut, The Sea earned praise for Kormákur's smooth, even-handed yet surreal approach with his ensemble of deeply flawed characters. Iceland's biggest homegrown hit to date, The Sea also earned kudos on the film festival circuit and became the first Icelandic film to garner relatively strong distribution beyond the island country's shores. Though Kormákur finally signed on to direct his first English-language feature after The Sea's success, he continued to be a prominent presence in the Icelandic film industry, producing and starring in the drama Stormy Weather (2003).