Max von Sydow

Active - 1949 - 2019  |   Born - Apr 10, 1929 in Lund, Sweden  |   Died - Mar 8, 2020   |   Genres - Drama, Adventure

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Biography by Andrea LeVasseur

Standing over six feet-four inches tall, the bony Swedish actor Max von Sydow spent much of his acting career portraying stern, oppressive characters. Born to a family of academics in Lund, Sweden, von Sydow studied at the Royal Dramatic School in Stockholm, where he made his screen debut in Only a Mother and married his first wife, actress Christina Olin. In 1956, he moved to Malmö and met director Ingmar Bergman at the Malmo Municipal Theatre. After starring in The Seventh Seal, von Sydow went on to star in more than a dozen films with Bergman, including Wild Strawberries, Virgin Spring, Through a Glass Darkly, and Winter Light. He worked almost exclusively with Bergman's acting company until 1965, when he took the role as Jesus in George Stevens' epic The Greatest Story Ever Told. This part opened the door to American films, where he was often typecast in strong, humorless roles, like the rigid missionary Abner Hale in Hawaii. In the '70s, he went back to Sweden to work with Bergman in four more films and appeared opposite frequent co-star Liv Ullmann in Jan Troell's two-part saga The Emigrants and The New Land. It wasn't until 1973 that he made his first big Hollywood blockbuster with the role of Father Merrin The Exorcist, which he reprised in Exorcist II: The Heretic. Moving to Rome in the '80s, von Sydow had a fun role as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon, played Barbara Hershey's intense artist boyfriend in Hannah and Her Sisters, and received his first Oscar nomination and numerous other awards for his work in Pelle the Conqueror (1988). After making his directorial debut with Katinka, he worked in several theater projects and a couple of biblical TV miniseries (Sampson & Delilah and Quo Vadis). It was during this time that he was cast as the devil in the Stephen King film adaptation Needful Things, marking von Sydow as the only actor to play both God and Satan. He also appeared in Judge Dredd and Wim Wenders' Until the End of the World. He continued acting sporadically in Hollywood for What Dreams May Come and Snow Falling on Cedars. Moving on to the international circuit, he appeared in Intacto (Spain), Vercingetorix (France), and Non ho Sonno (Italy). In 2002, he co-starred with Tom Cruise for the Steven Spielberg blockbuster Minority Report.

He continued to work steadily throughout the decade in projects as diverse as Rush Hour 3, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, and Shutter Island. Coming nearly sixty years after his earliest film work, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close earned the venerable actor his second Oscar nomination - a Best Supporting Actor nod for his portrayal of a mute grandfather.

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  • Served with the Swedish Quartermaster Corps from 1947 to '48.
  • Studied acting at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm.
  • Made 11 feature films with director Ingmar Bergman, beginning with 1957's The Seventh Seal.
  • Made his directorial debut with Katinka (1988); received the Guldbagge Award for Best Director from the Swedish Film Institute.
  • Holds dual French and Swedish citizenship.