A towering presence in cinema –literal and figurative– had died. Max von Sydow, an actor we’ve seen on screens since the 1950s, has died at the age of 90.
You can read (and listen) to accounts in the BBC, Variety, and NPR among many others.
What struck many of us moviegoers was the wide range of parts he would play… and could play with such quiet conviction. Here is a man who played the Son of God as well as the Eternal Adversary. But whether as tormentor or tormented, he would bring a bit of gravitas to whatever work he was in, even if the work was more than a little cartoony (I’m looking at you, Ming).
His unequivocally prolific body of work means that audiences will find him in dozens of films for decades to come — and personally, that has always been a delight. Especially for some of his later work, where he moved from leading man to supporting character, his presence wasn’t always announced, so I adored his appearance in Intacto and wished for a few more scenes of him in Star Wars, but enjoyed it nonetheless.
As some have noted, he’s been a presence in our cinema lives for so long, it’s hard to imagine him not popping up again in this TV show or that movie, whether to be chilling or entertaining, but always affecting.
It’s been one amazing chess game, sir. Well played.
This past weekend, I was talking about the National Theater Institute of which I am quite a happy alumnus. They practice a maxim of “Risk. Fail. Risk again” which is kind of like the positive spin of the War Boys’ outlook in Mad Max: Fury Road. Same flamethrower guitars (metaphorically), less desolation.
For those of you who aren’t adverse to making lists and know that producing a film means you need to know what Inland Marine insurance is, this is the nitty-gritty (albeit lightning-paced) panel for you as we go through the unglamorous aspects of filmmaking.
For whatever reason, back when I was in school busy with acting training, many instructors felt the need to let me know that I’m not a “leading man” type of actor. My guess is they dealt with many acting students who would feel that was beneath them or represented failure. Little did they know that, having grown up with my Dad giving us Turner Classic Movies before TCM existed, I already enjoyed the work of George Macready, Arthur Hunnicutt, and Victor McLaglen — to say nothing of the rest of John Ford’s “stock company.” And I also was noticing and following the careers of the current generation of character actors whose work I kept on seeing and enjoying like David Warner, Bob Balaban, and Charles Martin Smith.
One of the better instances of this truth being delivered to me was from a director who was an actor himself — and he said that one needed to put in the work and work hard, and then in one’s 50s, things bloomed. Without prompting, he said, “You work hard, you’ll wake up one day and be a David Warner.” I kept my poker face on, but inside I was “Hell, yeah, that’s a goal!” It was incredibly motivating.
I have a number of events coming up in the next 30 days, so I fear my posts may become a tad more erratic. Luckily, indomitable blogger Mark Evanier had a post this past week that perfectly meets my needs: how actors are like cats.
Yes, I know many actors who are dog lovers. Don’t worry guys and gals, you can still love your dogs (just as surely as they love you), but you’re still cat people. I’m with Betty White on this one.
I’m not going to lie, I probably like this because it scratches me right in the confirmation bias. Nevertheless, his personal experience rings true with mine. People like to work with people they know, sure. But they also want to work with someone who can deliver for the project in question.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’ve experienced being on both sides of the equation. I know that sometimes I’m not the best choice. And when I’m called in as a “pinch hitter?” You better believe I do my best to make sure that even if I’m not the first choice, that I’m not a bad choice (one acting role with a couple hours notice comes to mind).
It also helps that, 26 years running, the people I’ve met who insist on this baseline “you hire someone simply because they’re a friend” are uniformly schmucks.