From ’80s Euro film darling to Hollywood star and dynastic patriarch, Stellan Skarsgard’s life as an actor has an arc like none other.
The 67-year-old Swede means an assortment of things to generations of moviegoers – be it a Lars von Trier collaborator, Marvel astrophysicist Dr. Selvig, or one of Sophie’s possible dads in “Mamma Mia!”
It’s the latter that Skarsgard reprises this week in “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.” Out Friday, the sequel-prequel musical packed with ABBA songs sees his character, Bill, return to the Greek island of Kalokairi, where Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) is struggling to stay on top of running the family business.
The return of co-stars from the 2008 original (Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan, Christine Baranski and Julie Walters, to name a handful) was all Skarsgard needed to know to sign up, too.
“I said yes without even reading the script, because it was so much fun the first time and I couldn’t wait to be reunited with everybody,” the actor tells us in a phone call from London, where the movie recently had its world premiere. The gig “doesn’t even resemble working,” he adds.
One megawatt addition this go round is Cher, whose presence caused as much excitement on the A-list-dotted set as anywhere else she travels. “This legend landed amongst us,” is how Skarsgard describes the vibe, “and I think everybody was nervous. But she’s a very down-to-earth woman, very smart, and she quickly became one of the team.”
“Here We Go Again” is just the latest blockbuster for the actor who enjoys a diverse diet of big-budget flicks, cerebral miniseries and indie dramas.
The satisfaction from the variety appeals to different sides of the star. “[With] ‘Mamma Mia,’ I really love the people I work with. We have so much fun together and it’s not very demanding work, in terms of analyzing the characters or anything like that. It is about having fun together, because if we don’t have fun the audience won’t have fun,” he says.
“Then if you do a Marvel movie, if the director is good and the actors are good, you’re having a great time even if it’s not sort of too-complicated psychology that is driving your character.”
“When you do an indie film,” he continues, “you know that this is an onerous thing and you know that the director has more power than he has on a big Hollywood movie, and you know it’s going to be more personal, it’s going to be different, and hopefully you’re making a film that hasn’t been done before.”
Currently, he’s working on “Chernobyl,” HBO’s miniseries about Ukraine’s catastrophic 1986 nuclear power plant accident.
“It’s somewhat darker material, and I’m having a great time with Jared Harris [who also stars] and Emily Watson, whom I’m reunited with now for the first time since [Lars von Trier’s 1996 drama] ‘Breaking the Waves,’ so it’s great.”
While Skarsgard dabbles in miniseries now and then (2015’s BBC detective drama “River” is streaming on Netflix), viewers are unlikely to catch him in any ongoing show.
“The idea of working on a series that goes on for years is extremely frightening to me,” he says.
Not a man who dreams about the future (his words), Skarsgard is “too busy with the present” to give much thought to what might come next in his career.
Perhaps a film with one — or all?! — of his acting children?
The father of eight has four acting sons, who — like their father — have found success in their native Sweden and seen their stars rising here in the States.
Alexander, 41, is the most famous, having earned fans and critical acclaim in series such as “Big Little Lies” and “True Blood.” Gustaf, 37, has worked extensively in Sweden and is perhaps best known to U.S. audiences for History Channel’s “Vikings” and season two of “Westworld.”
Bill, 27, shot to stardom last year as the terrifying Pennywise in “It.” And 22-year-old Valter has a handful of Swedish credits to his name, and will next be seen in horror flick “Fun House.”
“It’s funny, I think I’ve worked actually with all the four sons that are actors, and the thing is that in some ways it’s much easier, because you think the same way about the scene,” Skarsgard says. “The angle of attack you have on the scene, you find it immediately because you know each other so well and you think the same way. And it’s of course fun to play with your kids.”
He adds: “It can also be embarrassing. I did a film together with Gustav, my second son, and we showed up on set and we both had fake beards and long hair, and we couldn’t stop laughing for half an hour.”