Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.
The actor: Peter Stormare has been acting since the ’70s, but for the past two decades he’s been firmly established as one of the more immediately recognizable character actors in American entertainment, from movies to TV and even video games. The Swedish thespian’s iconic role as Gaear Grimsrud in the Coen brothers’ Fargo immediately turned him into an omnipresent fixture in everything from offbeat indies to four-quadrant blockbusters. With his new series on Pop TV, Swedish Dicks, Stormare gets to indulge his sillier side, playing a private eye in Los Angeles who joins forces with a wannabe DJ from his home country, sending up tropes of crime shows and generally having a blast delivering slapstick comedy and absurdist humor.
When The A.V. Club spoke to Stormare, he was funny and forthcoming, happy to discuss past roles, wax poetic about getting bitten by squirrels, and explain why he has such a blast working with Michael Bay.
The A.V. Club: You actually came up with the idea and co-created the series, right?
Peter Stormare: I’ve always been fascinated with private dicks, like the old Humphrey Bogart—I like the voice-over. I like the whole setup of film noir with voice-over: “I felt pretty happy about myself until this dame walked in my office with a cigarette in her mouth. I knew there was trouble walking inside my office.” They’ve always been fascinating. Because you’re not supposed to do voice-over, but I love voice-over. And I thought, “What if we had a Swedish guy like myself, that didn’t get any more parts in Hollywood, and had to do something?” I knew some people in the stunt business—you know, the military background or police background—and some of them are bounty hunters or private dicks on the side. And the bounty hunting is pretty lucrative if you really work hard on it. One of my best friends is a bounty hunter. So that’s how the idea came up.
It’s just an idea you have. And I’ve written a lot of shit—a lot of good things, maybe, throughout the years. I always kept them in a little drawer—you know, like you have dough on the rise. I’m just waiting for the latter part of my career, then I would take these things and do them. Whether or not the network liked them—you go around pitching and that’s very frustrating, because everyone loves what you pitch, and then you never hear from the people again. So I said, “Let’s do it the Viking way.” Just live on water and fucking wheat. Or turnips for a year or 18 months, and then when we reach the shore, let’s start pillaging and take whatever we can. So that’s what we did. We shot it like an independent movie—a five-hour independent movie and we chopped it up into 10 episodes.
AVC: It definitely has that vibe of a small indie passion project.
PS: You can pitch your life away and everybody gives you thumbs up and then next week, the people you talked to are all gone and working for some other company. I’ve been doing my share of pitching and, I must say, it’s very boring—to have a couple of people sitting pitching, that I find very clever and talented. A writer, a director, a producer—we sit and pitch, and on the other side you have four people that have completely no fucking brains at all. They just want to do what’s popular on any other network. If it’s not Breaking Bad, it’s Orange Is The New Black. “Do you have something like Breaking Bad?” And if you come with something like Breaking Bad, it’s, “No, it’s too much Breaking Bad.” So if you’ve never done pitching, don’t ever do it.
AVC: Yeah, I think I’m going to avoid it.
PS: Because it’s so frustrating. It’s like offering the world gold and nobody wants to take it from you.
AVC: Do you think the end result feels more true to the spirit of what you had wanted to do all along, by doing it yourself?
PS: Yes, because also we had an independent crew on board—it was small, a more European-oriented crew—and working over lines. There was no red tape—I’m working as a set person during the first season, carrying props and stands of lights and everything. And everybody’s helping each other. The crews are much smaller in Scandinavia and Europe than here, so that’s my aim for the future, too. The industry is changing—we can’t just oblige to all the union rules that are from the ’50s. It’s a different format. It’s going into streaming, it’s going into binge-watching. No one’s running home Tuesdays at 10 o’clock to see some show. Not if you’re under 25. There’s a whole new generation growing up fast. And they demand something different. They want to see it on a telephone. Because you can bitch and whine and say, “Oh, the movie theaters are disappearing.” And I say, “Well, the horses disappeared, too.” The ships disappeared and the airplanes came. The locomotive came and people bitched and screamed about it. And then the internet came and, “Oh, it’s horrible, horrible, horrible.” But you can’t turn back the clock. You have to accept what it is. The new generation, they want to see it on their telephone and I’m not going to stop them. I’m just going to provide my ideas to them.
AVC: Looking at IMDB, it looks like your first role was actually a Swedish show that, as far as I can tell, translates loosely to What Do You Care, Man? from 1978. Is that correct?
PS: Yeah. Actually, I was working as a prop master. I was working for a big network—at that time, there were two or three networks in Sweden—and I worked for one of the biggest as a prop master. It was a 10-episode show, it wasn’t even half an hour, it was a 15-minute show that came on odd times at night when they had to fill out their one hour. It was two great comedians in Sweden, and I was the prop master who worked for them, and, all of a sudden, they said, “Hey, Peter, can you act? We need a fucking background—we need an extra here.” There’s no SAG cards over there. They said, “Can you say these lines? Because the guy who was supposed to be the hot dog guy here, he called in sick. So can you dress up like a hot dog and just say these lines?” I said, “Of course.” And then I became a regular on the show for two years, I think, doing props and doing parts in every episode. Yeah, that’s one of my first gigs.
AVC: Was that around the time you were joining the Royal Dramatic Theatre, or was that before then?
PS: Yeah, I was working also backstage at the Theatre as the prop master, so that’s how I got the job at the network. Because I loved working with props. Props on set, I really love the prop department, because that’s where I grew up. Onstage and in movies as a prop master. I think I did a movie before that. A little [film] called The Black Bear, which is erased from the world, I think. I don’t know, it was so bad. But I started as a prop master and became a regular. That was a good job—you do the props, and then you act. I made some good money then—I was very proud.
AVC: This was your first English-language role, right?
PS: It was nerve-wracking. Actually, Milos Forman was supposed to do that part.
PS: Yeah, the original guy that came up with the formula or the drug—this is a true story. Everything is a true story about the guys in Bronx—within a two-mile radius, all fell into a coma. And then they woke up and went back into comas. It’s an unsolved mystery even today. Of course, it’s aliens or the CIA, according to all the rumors. But Milos Forman was supposed to do that part. But the guy was pretty young, an actual researcher from the Netherlands—he was Dutch. And I got cast.
I had a read-through of the script. And then I was sitting next to Robert De Niro and there’s Robin Williams across the table. And Jesus, that was nerve-wracking. I had a scene with Robin Williams and the first day of shooting, I had to perform a big monologue in front of 200 extras. It was so nerve-wracking. I remember taking food from the craft service and a PA comes and screams and hollers at me: “Hey, you! Background! You’re not supposed to be eating from that table.” “Okay,” I said. “I think I’m not just a background—” “Yes, you are! Now move your ass.” [Laughs.] You know, I lost my virginity very fast in this business.
But when I shot with Robin Williams, whenever I was talking, when the camera was on me, he was mocking me, saying [Affects singsong Swedish Chef voice.] “Jorgy-borgy, jorgy-borgy, Swedish Chef is in town. Hello!” [Laughs.] He cracked me up all the time. I said, “Sorry.” And [director] Penny Marshall said, “Robin, stop! Stop. We need to get this now.” He mocked me all the time. But I’m happy that I met him. I met him a couple of times after that, and he always remembered how that started. He was so funny to hang out with. He was a really generous guy in between shots. But, yeah, that’s my first—it was only four days of shooting, but to be around shaking hands with Robert De Niro and Robin Williams and Penny Marshall instead of just doing off-off-off-Broadway theater, it was just—it felt really good.
PS: Yeah. [Laughs.] I’ve never seen the movie fully.
AVC: You’re kidding.
PS: But everybody seems to like it. The funny story with that is, Joel Coen calls us and says, “We’ve been invited to the New York Film Festival.” Because they had won with Barton Fink the previous year in Cannes, I think, so they were invited to the prestigious New York Film Festival in early December. He said—and they said this also to the New York Film Festival—“The movie’s not completed. We’re planning on late February opening. So to have it due in late November is going to be hard, but we’re going to finish as fast as we can with the music. This is a great vehicle for us.” So they finished it up, and then, in late October or early November, they called all the cast members and said, “The New York Film Festival returned our movie with a letter saying, ‘This movie is not up to par with the festival’s standards and it can’t be shown.’ I’m sorry, guys.” [Laughs.]
AVC: Oh, my god.
PS: So I remember Joel calling me. He said, “Peter, you might—this is the first big movie you’ve done here. You’ve done a couple small stuff, but maybe you’re making history with the worst movie ever done in Hollywood.” I said, “What do you mean?” And he told me, “We just got this letter from the New York Film Festival saying it’s a shitty movie, it can’t even be shown on their festival. So it’s got to be really bad then.” [Laughs.] So, there you go, man. And the rest is history.
AVC: That’s amazing.
PS: Yeah. So much for the New York Film Festival, where the winner is a Somalian film where you can’t see anything. It’s, like, too dark. Very artsy.
AVC: Was getting this role a direct result of Fargo?
PS: I believe so. I was called to have a meeting with Steven Spielberg. And of course he had seen Fargo, but he said he was planning a sequel to Jurassic Park—all the parts weren’t there, but he said he really would like me to be part of the script. He wanted to have somebody with maybe a European accent for this…they call them bounty hunters there, too. I think he had Pete Postlethwaite, but there should be a team of people from all over the world. Of course, I think he’d seen Fargo and seen what I’d done, but he sees everything, so I’m sure he had seen some small independent shit I’ve done, too. But it was a general meeting, and I said, “Oh, okay, whatever you do, whether it’s one line or two lines, I would be very happy to work with you.” And we still are—not close friends, but if I send him an email, I get an email back in a couple of days.
And his bond to [Ingmar] Bergman was very strong. I worked as an emissary to Bergman on his final movie for TV and I went back and forth from—you know, for stuff with Spielberg, I had to go and pick up some stuff from his office, and then I have to go to Ingmar, and then I go back and forth. I don’t know what I carried in my briefcase back and forth. But they never met, but they constantly had interactions with me as the middle man, which was very fun. And even when Ingmar passed away, he had told us all in his will who was going to attend—he said nobody was supposed to lay down the flowers: “You can have one rose each; no more.” Spielberg asked me, “Please—do you think he will forgive me if you put one from me?” I said, “I will put one for you, Steven. Absolutely.” And I did.
PS: Yeah. It’s great—I’ve been very lucky and fortunate to meet people that are very inspirational in their spirits, too, and not just as filmmakers—in their personal life. I mean, Steven is very inspirational just to sit down and talk for an hour, like Ingmar was. They know so much about life and, you know, movie-making, so it’s just wonderful to be around those people.
AVC: That would have been your first experience being on the set of one of these massive blockbusters. Do you remember your feelings at the time walking on to one of those sets?
PS: You had to come to Universal Studios, you had to drive on, you had your name on designated parking, which is very awesome. And you had your own trailer, like, so big, you’re looking around thinking, “Am I sharing this with someone maybe?” “No, it’s yours, Peter.” “Okay.” The only thing I remember—because we shot a lot upstate. California, around Eureka or Arcadia—the national forest where all the Sherman trees are. Sherman or Sherwood? [Redwoods National Forest—ed.] A beautiful, beautiful national park.
And of course, when we’re coming up there, there are 200 fucking park rangers saying, “You’re not allowed to smoke. And the blue ribbons tell you where to go. The red ribbons tell you where not to go. And the plastic—the orange—you can’t even look in this direction.” Most of all, craft service had to be fenced in. They said, “You eat your food in craft service. The craft service is a designated, seated area. Don’t bring any food outside the perimeter and the fence which has the color blue!” Of course, one of the first days, I’d never seen sunflower seeds really that you could eat. That became really popular in the ’90s. Salted sunflower seeds, which I ate—and then, if you go to the bathroom two days later, they cut you up and you bleed. So you have to peel them and spit out the peel. I learned that. But I took the sunflower seeds, and I forgot—I leave the designated blue tape area and I walked outside. Coming from Sweden, we don’t have chipmunks, but, you know, Chip and Dale is very popular, of course, when I was a kid. All of a sudden, there was a gang of Chip and Dales, and one jumped onto my right hand, where I held 10 sunflower seeds, and, instead of going for the sunflower seeds, he went for my ring finger. And he bit on my ring finger, the top. And I could see his two fucking prong teeth going deep into my finger.
AVC: Oh, no.
PS: I was trying to get him off. I was trying to get him off, and he held on with his teeth. Finally, screaming, I got him off, and he flew like a tomahawk into a tree. But I was bleeding like crazy, and of course the park rangers came [Affects Southern accent.]: “What the hell is going on here?” And this is a couple of days into shooting. I said, “Oh, a chipmunk bit me.” “Did you carry food outside?” “No.” “Don’t lie!” They were like the SS. [Laughs.] They were like the Nazi troopers. And they had to take an ambulance to drive me to a hospital to get the tetanus shot and rabies shot. So I couldn’t shoot anything more that day.
I was in every scene we were in in the forest, but they closed down. And I thought, when I was in the hospital, “This is the end of my career. What a stupid way to go.” I could see the headlines in my hometown, up in northern Sweden, that little paper: “Peter Stormare kicked out of Hollywood. He feeds chipmunks.” [Laughs.] But the next day—I met Steven Spielberg late that evening—I approached him because I had dailies at the theater close to the little hotel I lived in. I walked up to him and he was laughing and hugged me and said, “How you doing?” I showed him my stitches, and said, “I’m doing good.” He said, “That’s a story you will carry with you for the rest of your life.” [Laughs.] “Am I fired?” “No! Hell, no. But listen to the park rangers from now on.” “Okay.”
But I was deadly afraid, you know. “Take this guy out of this fucking movie. We can reshoot his scenes.” So that’s my great memory from there.
AVC: That’s an excellent one.
PS: It’s absolutely true, man. The chipmunk was there for 10, 15 seconds. Refused to leave my finger. There’s only one way you can get rid of a chipmunk—like you throw a pitch. Finally, he just left. He was a flying chipmunk then. I think he will still remember it. I will.
AVC: If he’s still alive, I’m sure he’s telling his grandchildren about it right now.
PS: [Laughs.] Yeah. I’m sure he’s still alive.
PS: Yeah, because I loved that first movie. Just to be around those two guys was funny. So, when they asked me if I wanted to come on board, it was a no-brainer. Even if the shooting was very chaotic—they had three cameras that can shoot 47 minutes each. The longest scene I ever did was 23 minutes on three cameras. So the crazy directors—they’re super, super talented, but they were shooting everything, saying, “Do this instead. Peter, improvise a little bit. Say something different.” “Okay.” It was a really fun shoot. It was like being on Disneyland and all alone—just a gang. It felt like you were 12, 13 years old and you can do whatever you wanted. It was a great shoot, I must say. I don’t want to be the DP or the editor that had six to eight hours material every day to go through. [Laughs.]
AVC: That’s got to be one of the most exhausting jobs in Hollywood.
PS: Yeah, that’s the down side—the flip side of this golden age of digital. Sometimes the camera’s just rolling and rolling—they don’t say “cut” anymore. But they can come on set and we can talk for four to five minutes, and the camera’s just rolling, rolling, rolling. And they continue shooting: “Change the line. Maybe say something different.” Sometimes they say “cut” but it’s very rare these days. Very rare. When Swedish Dicks was being produced, we had to say “cut”—otherwise, you make talent and the crew nervous if you never say “cut.” Because they don’t know what’s going on, really.
But that’s my greatest memory of Jump Street. Sometimes you could hear from three Alexa cameras: “Beep beep beep!” “That’s a cut! The memory card is full.” You know, it’s 47 minutes. [Laughs.] That’s a lot of footage.
The Zero Theorem (2013)—“Doctor”
The Imaginarium Of Doctor Parnassus (2009)—“The President”
The Brothers Grimm (2005)—“Cavaldi”
AVC: There were three times you worked with Terry Gilliam, is that right?
PS: Yeah. Terry Gilliam is one of the greatest brains I ever met. Because he’s a Minnesotan guy, he has a Scandinavian background. Just the Scandinavian background is something that unites us. But just to sit down by his side—you can ask him any question in the world when it comes to art or poetry, paintings, music, whatever. And he knows the answer. Or you can ask him about Greek mythology, Roman mythology, Egyptian mythology—it’s like he has two brains. Just to be around him is a hoot because there’s something going on all the time. And I worked with him three times and he has become a really good friend and he’s going to be part of a thing we’re doing. I want him to direct a couple of episodes of a thing we’re working on hopefully together with Lionsgate—a new thing which we’re turning into a series.
His whole brain is art. He’s such a beautiful painter. He draws and paints the most incredible stuff. He still sends postcards and letters—if you get a letter from Terry Gilliam, it’s like a beautiful, beautiful painting. I think he’s one of the only people I’ve met in my life—he always says he’s an agnostic, but he believes in everything. And he knows everything. You can ask him—sometimes he has asked me, when we were shooting, I remember he asked me—you know, now I make up something—but he said, “Isn’t this guy, Geiger Hartford or Hartswift?” And I said, “Geiger Hartswift?” He said, “Yeah, it’s a painter from the 19th century. He’s Swedish.” And I said, “I’ve never heard of him.” “You’ve never heard of him? He’s one of the fucking groundbreaking painters. He was never acknowledged, but all of the painters sort of took...”“You have to show me the pictures.” And he showed me, and I said, “I never learned this in school.” And he said, “What the fuck are you doing in Sweden? This guy’s a genius.” So that’s his brain.
And if you just take your time to breathe and let him lure you in on a journey that you never done before, then all of his movies are super great. But a lot of people over here don’t really like him and they don’t become successful. And I don’t understand—the rest of the world thinks he’s renowned as one of the greatest filmmakers. But over here, people don’t see his movies. I can’t figure out why. But Monty Python never became a big hit here either.
AVC: No, it was always a cult thing.
PS: Except a little on the West Coast. You know, the WASP-y. [Laughs.] Don’t say that. You know, the WASP-y side of this country, they like it. But the rest of the U.S. never got it. It’s like Fawlty Towers never really took off either. But it’s seen in the rest of the world. I’m just watching Fawlty Towers again because I base Ingmar’s movement sometimes on John Cleese in Fawlty Towers.
AVC: I didn’t expect that.
PS: Not that I’m imitating him, but sometimes he does really, really cool things and you can see they’re really improvised. Sometimes you have to trust your guts and your instinct and improvise a little. So Ingmar is a mix of Tom Selleck, Burt Reynolds, John Cleese, and Agent Dale Cooper from Twin Peaks.
AVC: [Laughs.] That’s quite an amalgam.
PS: Yeah. And sometimes, you know, a little bit Clint Eastwood. So those are my guys.
PS: Yeah. The funny thing with that script—there was not one single line written. The Russian was there. I have to say, Michael Bay—I’ve been with him three times now—to me, he’s one of the outstanding directors in this town. I love him dearly. I have all the respect for him. There’s a lot of stories about him, a lot of people trash him, but, as an actor—I said to him, “You’re the closest to Ingmar Bergman out of anybody that I ever met in this country as a director.”
PS: He’s very precise, he knows exactly what he wants. But he’s sort of on speed all the time—natural speed—but if you could see the enthusiasm he has, which Spielberg also had when he was younger. When he did Lost World, Spielberg was bouncing around like a young kid, showing us, “Look at this set, isn’t it fantastic? Come on, let’s do it! Let’s do it!” And the thing with Michael—he’s very precise. For me as an actor, I take no offense when a director says, “Little faster. No, too fast. Little more anger. Don’t say it in anger. You know, say it in a kind way. I know it’s written like it’s anger, but say it nice and smile.” He’s very precise, at least with me, and Armageddon and Bad Boys II and even in a little part, which they cut out, in the one—
AVC: Pain & Gain?
PS: Pain & Gain. Because I was a penile expert, they cut out two scenes because they can’t show erect plastic penises in movies. [Laughs.] They can shoot heads off.
But just to be with him for a couple of days is amazing because he knows what he wants. He has the whole movie in his head already. He knows how he wants to edit it. And I have the biggest respect for him. I think he’s wonderful to work with, he’s wonderful just to sit and talk to, and he sets the bar for all the movies here. Who can do X-Men? No one else could surpass his version of X-Men. If you let him do a Marvel movie, he would set the bar so high that no one could follow him.
And now I know he’s stuck with Transformers because it’s like a give and take. If he does this, he gets to do this. He had to do Transformers 5 to do Pain & Gain and blah, blah, blah. It’s a give and take for him. He’s smart, but he’s ADHD or whatever it’s called. And if you just look away, he’s very much like Bergman. Enthusiastic, very precise, and he said this one—this is funny. A story from Armageddon.
We were shooting—I don’t know what scene, but we were at least five or six people—and we all have, you know, one line here, one line there, and we all had to scream at each other. And he said, “Faster, faster, faster” to everybody, you know: “Faster, faster, faster. You got to go quick, guys, you don’t have time. Put some energy into it. Blah, blah, blah. Faster, faster!” And then he says to me, “Peter, Peter! Don’t take a pause in your line. It stops the flow when you take a pause.” And I said, “I don’t take a pause.” “Yes, you do!” “I don’t take a pause, I say the line!” “Shut up and come and watch the replay!” So I watched the replay and he said, “There! See? You take a pause.” “There’s not a pause, Michael—I’m breathing! I have to breathe in to say the rest of the line.” “That’s the pause!” he screamed. “That’s the pause! Don’t breathe! Say the whole line and breathe before. Take a big gulp of air and say the line because I don’t have a camera on you until it pans over. Take a deep breath and say the whole fucking line. Stop breathing.” “Okay.” I got the whole line out. [Laughs.] And, for me, that was fun. That’s fun.
AVC: That sounds like Michael Bay, all right.
PS: It reminds me of Bergman—when we had a run-through of a play with Bergman I did, it was just me and another girl on stage—big, big thing to work with Bergman. After one week of rehearsal, we go through the first act, with the book in our hands, but a little bit off the book, and he just stopped after five minutes and said to me, “What the hell are you doing, Peter?” I was like, “What?” “Are you imitating Humphrey Bogart?” He didn’t say Humphrey Bogart, it was a big Swedish star, from the ’40s and ’50s. “Are you imitating this actor or that actor? Because you sound horrible. You’re imitating an actor. Can you just say it like yourself, like you’re the actor? I picked you because you’d say these lines, not like some old fucking time actor. It sounds horrible.” He was like, “I don’t want to continue rehearsal because it’s so horrible.”
I just started laughing. “Does it really sound like an imitation?” “Yes, it sounds like you’re imitating this actor especially.” You know, a name that I knew at the time. “I had no idea.” “Please stop. Otherwise I’ll have to fucking skip this whole production.” But if you—like, Michael Bay can say those things. I know there’s actors and actresses who will go home and stand in the cold shower and just feel humiliated, like, “How could he say this to me?” But, for me, I laugh and I think it’s cleansing. It’s great. And I say, “Michael, great. I breathe because I don’t have air. But I can take a big gulp of air if you promise the camera’s not on me, then I can say, ‘Fine, maybe’ in one breath.”
So I like when directors have no bullshit. Go on a walk around the block. Did you lose a family member? Did you have a dog when you were a kid and the dog died? No. Did you have a mother or a father that you lost or a grandmother that you lost? No? You know, when psychology comes in. And psychology was not for Bergman, either. Even if his movies are far away from Michael’s. But Ingmar said to me, “The more simple you are, the more shit people read into your thing.” And also Michael’s a very—he’s always been simple with me. I always had a very good time, always smile, always laugh, and always feel enlightened every time I go. I learn something. He’s always very specific and very direct, because, as with Bergman, he always knows exactly what he wants, and he doesn’t want to improvise and do a lot of shit. He’s very prepped—he knows exactly what he wants.
And that’s rare. That’s rare. A lot of directors here say, “What do you want to do?” And I usually answer, “I can do it in a thousand ways. It’s going to take three days to get through all that crap. What do you want? You must have an idea, you casted me in this. Please.” So my experience with Michael is all just thumbs up. I hope he does some more interesting movies like Pain & Gain. He might have to do Transformers 6 to get some money to do something. Because he has managers and agents, too, who don’t want him to do small movies because they get 10 percent. I’ve been seated with him and Will Smith when they wanted to do a small, small little movie and I had a part in it, and they couldn’t do it. They were fighting for two years and they couldn’t do the movie. Because each other’s agents or reps just fucked it up so they never could do it. Which was a bummer, because it was a good script that will never be made.
AVC: That is a bummer.
PS: [Laughs.] They’ve all got to have their 10 percent, you know.
Dancer In The Dark (2000)—“Jeff”
PS: I know Lars [Von Trier]—we keep in contact now and then. I haven’t worked with him since. And, of course, I like him as a director—he’s very unique and he tells stories in a different way, which is kind of rare these days when you paint by numbers and you know exactly where the camera’s going to be set up: establishing shot, two shot, over-the-shoulder, close-up, close-up. So working with him—all of the stories I’ve heard afterwards and all the scandals with him—but he’s very mercantile in a way. He knows how to make a whirlwind around himself. He’s like a director from the ’40s and ’50s when they all had stories that made headlines all the time. And he knows how to make headlines. He’s very, very smart about PR—being his own PR guru.
But working with him was fantastic, and his vision and everything, and the script he wrote, and the way that Bjork was doing this thing—it was incredible to see her work. It was hard work for her—you know, she’s never been on a movie set. And she’s small—she’s like a little gnome. She’s an elf! She’s Santa’s elf. She’s from Iceland—she has Eskimo blood in her veins. For her to start every morning 6, 7 o’clock with dance lessons, and then to go through her day—10-hour day—and then have dance lessons in the evening, and then go home and record songs and rewrite things and work on lyrics. She did a magnificent job, and—all the stories you hear—and if you ever talk to Stellan Skarsgard, who worked with Lars, would say the same—all the stories we hear, I never saw him being crazy or throwing fits or disappearing from a set and stuff. I’ve never seen it. At least not spending so much time on Dancer In The Dark. It was sheer pleasure.
It was hard for Bjork. She was a little freaked out occasionally, but that was highly anticipated because she worked 18 hours a day, six days a week, for three weeks. Then you get a little tired and you start screaming, “Leave me alone!” But that’s understandable. But I think—that movie I actually saw in Cannes, because we were all invited to Cannes, so I saw it there, and I must say that movie really kicked me right in the groin.
The end when she walks to the gallows and she’s singing the song from Sound Of Music but with herself and the whole audience started crying. And it’s amazing that that movie could get the Palme d’Or because it’s a sad story. And based on a true story, too—the last woman to get executed up on a gallows was in Washington State in ’63 or ’66. So he took that story and sort of wrote freestyle. But he used her story as an inspiration and formed it from there to his own vehicle. Just to have me and Bjork singing a duet into hundreds of cameras on a train—and that train thing I’ve seen on YouTube—people have shown it to me. That’s one of the most amazing things when she’s standing on the tracks and all the lumberjacks are leaving her and the song continues with the sound of the wheels still on the track. It’s such a heartbreaking moment, I think in film history.
Maybe also it’s my attitude—if you want to learn, and you talk to director with a positive attitude, you get positive attitude back, I guess. Maybe if you’re an asshole on set, the director will treat you as an asshole and the director becomes an asshole. But I know they talk about Lars being an asshole—they also talk about Bergman being an asshole, and Michael Bay being an asshole. And I’ve never seen it. I never saw it. And maybe Spielberg doesn’t have a rumor of being an asshole on set. That’s the only one, maybe.
AVC: You might be right.
PS: There’s so many stories about—and usually those stories come from people who never worked with him, they come from people who had a friend who worked with him. But Lars Von Trier, I think—all the things he’s done, and everything that comes out of his brain is so refreshing and very far away from the regular kind of movies. And sometimes, it’s good for us as spectators to see something that is not just paint by numbers, something a little bit—it demands something from the viewer to come along on the journey. Not just say “goodbye” after three minutes: “This is too hard for me, this is too deep, this is too pretentious.” No. I say, read a book even if you don’t like it. Maybe you learn a new word or something. Maybe you learn something. You can’t just say no to everything. That’s what art is—that’s what I think about art as well.
When I was in school, they say everybody can do art. And I was like a little bit obstinate—not an anarchist, but I was always asking questions. I said, “Isn’t art supposed to be difficult?” If we can all do art, then it’s not really art. It’s supposed to be difficult. You have to use your brain and you have to think, “What the heck is this?” Art’s supposed to demand something. Otherwise I won’t develop my own brain or learn something. Art, for me, is so I can learn something. Then I can say, “It’s not really my kind of art, it’s not really what I need in life, but I like it anyway.” But it’s not really—I’m not going to carry it with me for the rest of my life, but I’m happy I saw it. I’m a curious human being and I love things that are a little bit off. That’s why Swedish Dicks is a little bit off, too. It’s not a regular half-hour comedy like you have here in the U.S. with three cameras and a laugh track, and sometimes a live audience, even. I hope we’re going to leave those dinosaurs behind.
AVC: Speaking of those comedies, do you remember this?
PS: Yeah. Yeah. Because it was supposed to be me and Steve Buscemi for two or three episodes reoccurring.
PS: And Steve was busy with other things and then they tried to work out the schedule—at least two episodes—but then, it was one of the last shows to be shot of the whole Seinfeld era. So finally Steve was busy with other things—he couldn’t participate, so they invited me to be on the show for one episode. I couldn’t wait to be on it. And the part is great. And I was so happy when I get on the Seinfeld Fan Club, or whatever—I get an email from Twitter, it’s the only thing I do. And they have the yearly—you know, every half year they have the most popular Seinfeld episodes, and “The Frogger” is always among the 10 best. That makes me very happy.
What I learned there—that was a live audience—what Seinfeld did after it was taped, the audience had been sitting there for six to eight hours, watching rehearsals, doing this, doing that. Finally it’s taping—“Cut! We have to reshoot this. Sorry, audience.” This is very interesting, but exhausting. Afterward, Jerry stayed on stage and the audience could come down. And he talked to everybody. And I was there, just looking—45 minutes he talked to the audience, thanked them for coming. I asked the others, they said, “He does that all the time, unless he has to go and do his stand-up. He says, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go do another gig. Excuse me.’ But most of the time he does it.”
And I realized, if you’re from, let’s say, anywhere in the Midwest—small town, Arizona, wherever—and you come to Hollywood, you get in line, you got lucky to be on the show. And the main star stays and shakes your hand and take a photo, and you can write their signature, and then you go home—that’s good karma. Because you’re going to tell your neighbor, “This guy is good. You should look at his show. Because he was so nice. He signed this for me. And he stayed on, he took a photo with my husband and me, blah, blah, blah.” And I think it’s not programmed in his brain to do that—I think he wanted—but it was also mind-boggling to me to realize—that’s how you build a fan base. That’s how you treat your fans. That’s how you can conquer, you know, TV land. If it’s live TV, don’t disrespect your audience, especially the ones who have been sitting for 10 hours.
So after that day—because Bruce Willis said to me, “Don’t answer your fucking fan mail. You don’t have to answer your fan mail.” But, after that thing with Jerry, you know—I don’t get a lot of fan mail, but every three months, I sit down and I answer all the fan mail. And they come from all over the world and they say occasionally, “Oh, they never wrote me back—fucking asshole.” And the letter’s going to come one day, and they’re going to say, “Wow, look—he answered!” And they’re going to tell their 16-year-old, or a 65-year-old’s going to tell their friends, “This guy answered—look at this! He signed it to me from Peter Stormare. It’s a signed photo. Wow! We like this guy.” So that’s part of the business: never disrespect the people who gave you the fortunate seat of making a living on a hobby, really.
For me, this has been such a beautiful journey. It’s like getting a VIP—you can cut every line in Disneyland all the time. It’s getting a free ticket to Disneyland where you can cut the lines. And you have to treat it right. You have to be nice to your fans, you have to be nice to the crew that works with you all the time. You have to treat people with respect and show up with a smile and be on time. And don’t drink or drug your life away, because the talent is given from somewhere—it’s not there for free. You have an obligation to treat it right. To nurture it, to take care of it, and just to mold it into the future. Because hopefully it stays with you, like with B.B. King. You sit on that bar stool and you play your guitar until you’re 93 and you fall off and they take you to the graveyard. That’s the beauty of our profession.
AVC: Is that something that still, with each new role you take, you sort of try and look for that thing you can learn on each project that you’re on?
PS: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And if you don’t learn from the character, you learn from someone in the crew or the cast. Because, I think in my life, it’s been all about meeting someone. I always meet someone that sort of gives me inspiration to continue what I’m doing, spreading the word of inspiration and trying to find balance in this world and help other people, and help people in need. And sometimes on set it’s wonderful: “Maybe I’m doing this part just because we met.” [Laughs.] “We met, and this is fantastic.” But also the character of course. Because if you do the same character over and over and over again, I think it eats you up after a while and you stop thinking and you stop being creative. That’s why I never gone to TV for seven years on the network. I’ve been offered so many parts to sign on with the big networks for seven years. I’m not a greedy human being.
AVC: I wanted to ask you about that. Because you did have the one time—you were on the show Prison Break for the full season.
PS: Yeah. And then I was the first one to be killed. Because the series was supposed to last for two years, and then Fox said, “No, you have your contract here and you have to work with us.” But I know Paul Scheuring, the guy who wrote it—I said, “Please kill me off in the second season as soon as possible. Because I have six other offers.” Because you’re under a slave contract, really. You can’t do anything else unless the network approves it. And, if there’s something you want to do and the network doesn’t approve it, you’re not allowed to do it. And you’re not allowed to be on any other TV shows—that little conflict. Or shows that put you in a bad light that would harm the character that you have for the network. Those contracts are from the ’60s and they still try to stay with them. That’s why you never see on the big networks—there’s no new talent coming in. There’s no—because you can’t get Robert De Niro to sign his life away for seven years. Or Ryan Gosling. Or Hugh Jackman. Or Brad Pitt. That’s why they go now and do eight episodes for Netflix. They do a thing and then they’re free. Because it’s 11 months out of the year—you have one month off and then you continue.
And also, the networks shoot the pilots in New York or L.A. or in some fancy place you like, and then they move it up to Canada. Nothing to say—if they move it up to Canada, you have nothing to say. They can move it to Siberia—you have nothing to say. Because it’s cheaper. But I think it’s going to change, because they have a hard time getting talent to the networks. And I think they’re starting now to do 12 or 13 episodes to maybe see how it goes. And they’re starting up the satellite companies that has Netflix and Hulu and Amazon formula. But I think on the bigger networks, it’s not going to last long to have those kind of contracts.
AVC: So what was the thing you did learn or you enjoyed or your takeaway from your time on that show?
PS: On Prison Break? That it’s very hard—I realized how hard it is for the creator and the showrunner, together with the director, to actually maneuver a show, because there are people moving in—I call them the suits. Suits are moving in and they start firing people, and then, from an actor’s point of view or from the talent point of view, they always fire the people that are talented. They always fire the talented showrunner, or the talented writer, because they work too close with the actors usually. The network really wants to have super control—everything is scrutinized. You can’t shoot ad-lib, because then you get a call the next day: “You’re not supposed to ad-lib here. It’s got to be exactly what’s written.”
So it’s a very, very fenced-in environment to take part of, because it feels like, if you’re a creative person—like I am and like most of us are—there’s no need for your own input and ideas. You learn your lines at home and you come up with some ideas and you come and the director says, “That sounds great—let’s do it.” Then somebody makes a phone call and say, “Nope! Can’t do that.” “Okay. It was a brilliant idea.” “Can’t do it.” So that’s the hard thing with the networks—to be creative. Or you take the position of saying, “I’m going to do this for seven years and hopefully I’ll make a lot of money. I can buy this dream house and then I don’t fucking care what I do.” There are those persons, too. Those people exist, and I respect and honor them and pass off kudos and everything, but I can’t do that.
And many of my friends that I know in the business, they can’t work on those premises. It’s like being—it’s claustrophobic after a while. And I felt, being on Prison Break, “This is too claustrophobic. Why did they hire me if they don’t want to listen to my ideas and my input? I can bring something great to this character. I can evolve him into something fantastic.”
AVC: You got to play the devil!
PS: Yeah, yeah. [Laughs.] A great part. Because Jack Nicholson said no to—he didn’t get his 10 million dollars or something. I don’t know. The director wanted me all the time and then I got the part, and when I did costume fittings it was leather pants, bare-chested—I had, like, a dog collar with spikes. I had punky hair. I had tattoos on my face, all over my chest that would be CGI-ed like they were moving all the time. And I had—it was a costume fitting, so I went to Mr. [Lorenzo Di] Bonaventura, the producer, and the director [Francis Lawrence] and said, “If I’m going to be dressed like this, no one’s going to hear what I have to say. I have some great lines, I’ll come up with some other lines that Keanu [Reeves] loved when we rehearsed and the director loved and to work them in.”
But I said, “My experience from stage is, if you do a devil or a really, really mean guy onstage, you usually come in like in Chekhov, off-white linens suit. My suggestion would be an off-white linen suit. I should come from a bog, not from underneath, and I should have tar on my feet dripping down. And then I can shave away my eyebrows, I can shave my head—you know, the sides of my head—looks weird, and the makeup artist added some veins on my face.” And I said, “If I’m dressed like that, everybody’s going to listen to me. They’re not going to be disturbed by, ‘He looks too fat. Wow. Fit? No, there’s a little belly. The tattoos are moving—they are cool.’ I could say whatever then. I could donate every single sentence to the starving people of Somalia. No one would hear.”
And then Bonaventura and Lawrence said, “We fight for your idea.” And they really had to fight with the other producers. But finally they said, “We want to do it Peter’s way. Because it’s good.” And also, Keanu said, “Less is better. I’m dark, and he comes in in an off-white suit—it’s so great.” But then finally they said, “Let’s do it that way.” And I’m happy, because there’s tons of people, when I walk the streets—some people, every day, more or less—that comes up and says, “You’re the guy from Constantine? I love that movie. Will there ever be a sequel?” And I think it must be on streaming and pushed on many of the streaming services—I don’t know—but it’s the last two years, people have seen Constantine over and over again. And that’s all over the world when I’m traveling. So it has become a small cult movie from being sort of dissed a little bit.
AVC: Absolutely. It’s very cult—I have friends who quite like it.
PS: Yeah. And I was very happy that they listened—otherwise, no one would have listened to us and what we were talking about in the end. And I added a line—you know, with him smoking, continuous smoking: “I got stuck in the tobacco business.” I couldn’t say Philip Morris. But a lot of the lines are improv, or during rehearsals we came up with dialogue, me and Keanu. The core was there, but we took it even further. And that’s the first thing we did together. Then we did his Henry movie up in New York together, and then John Wick, and then he was with me in Swedish Dicks.
AVC: Do you guys have a shorthand when you work together now? You sort of understand each other when you get together on set?
PS: Yeah. Yeah, he has the same curiosity as me. And he has a lot of creativity—really comes with great ideas. Not just his part. But, when it comes to Swedish Dicks, he reads all the script and comes with great ideas. He says, “This is a little bit strange. Why are you saying this to him here? I don’t understand this.” And I say, “That’s good.” So hopefully he’s going to be a producer on season three of Swedish Dicks.
Mercenaries: Playground Of Destruction (2004)—“Mattias Nilsson”
Until Dawn (2015)—“Dr. Hill”
AVC: We have a lot of video game fans who read our site, and a lot of them are big fans of your work. Is there one in particular that stands out for you?
PS: I do a lot of voice-over. I have an agency, Vox, that is a voice-over agency, and I do—whenever I’m in Los Angeles, I do a lot of voice-over work. It’s a great side gig. There are a lot of actors that entirely survive on doing voice-overs and they are extremely good. I just love doing different voices. I know a lot of accents from different—German or Spanish or Russian, Swedish. I love being in the studio with mics together with an ensemble or on my own. And, when it comes to computer games, I’m a little bit tired of, “Hey, give me the RPG. Get out of here! There! Shoot him down. Shoot him! Shoot the chopper!” You know, it’s like Mercenaries 3, I don’t know if I can do any more fighting. But the thing I love the most—I know Until Dawn, a lot of people find so creepy.
AVC: Yeah. That’s the one I wanted to ask you about. That’s the one that everybody said, “Oh, you’re talking to Peter Stormare? You have to ask him about Until Dawn.”
PS: [Laughs.] Yeah, Until Dawn was a blast to do, of course. Because it’s so innovative and completely new—the first set the bar for computer games. And then they have a lot of imitators coming. They did a fantastic job, I must say. And it’s so fun to work with them, very easy. But the one thing I love to do the most is to be the spokesperson for the—the… aw, fuck. Sorry. Call OF Duty. I’m the replacer for Call Of Duty. And I love to do those short commercials. [Laughs.] They’re crazy and funny. “I’m your replacer.” “You’re not my husband.” “Eh, don’t care. Just push the baby out, for god’s sake.” So. Yeah, they are so fun to shoot. And the scripts are so fun and so different than anything else. I’m not into the game, but I’m a spokesperson for it. And that’s an honor. But, oddly enough, I don’t play myself. I don’t have time to play video games. [Laughs.] There’s no time in my life.