Max von Sydow

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Max von Sydow
MaxVonSydow 20050924.jpg
BornCarl Adolf von Sydow
(1929-04-10) 10 April 1929 (age 85)
Lund, Skåne, Sweden
Years active1949–present
Spouse(s)Kerstin Olin (1951–1979; two sons)
Catherine Brelet (1997–present)
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Max von Sydow
MaxVonSydow 20050924.jpg
BornCarl Adolf von Sydow
(1929-04-10) 10 April 1929 (age 85)
Lund, Skåne, Sweden
Years active1949–present
Spouse(s)Kerstin Olin (1951–1979; two sons)
Catherine Brelet (1997–present)

Carl Adolf "Max" von Sydow (/vɒn ˈsd/;[1] Swedish: [fɔn ˈsyːdɔv]; born 10 April 1929) is a Swedish actor who has also held French citizenship since 2002.[2] He has starred in many films and had supporting roles in dozens more in many languages, including Swedish, Norwegian, English, Italian, German, Danish, French and Spanish. Von Sydow received the Royal Foundation of Sweden's Cultural Award in 1954, was made a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2005, and was named a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur on 17 October 2012.

Some of his most memorable film roles include Knight Antonius Block in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), the first of his eleven films with Bergman, and the film that includes the iconic scenes in which he plays chess with Death;[3] Martin in Through a Glass Darkly (1961); Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); Oktober in The Quiller Memorandum (1966); Karl Oskar Nilsson in The Emigrants (1971); Roy Lindberg in Eblekrigen (The Applewar) (1971); Father Lankester Merrin in The Exorcist (1973); Joubert the assassin in Three Days of the Condor (1975); Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980); the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983); Liet-Kynes in Dune (1984); Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986); Lassefar in Pelle the Conqueror (1987), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination; Dr. Peter Ingham in Awakenings (1990); Lamar Burgess in Minority Report (2002) and The Renter in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2012), which earned him his second Academy Award nomination.

Early life[edit]

Max von Sydow was born Carl Adolf von Sydow, to a wealthy family, in Lund, Skåne. His father, Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, was an ethnologist and professor of Irish, Scandinavian and comparative folklore at the University of Lund. His mother, the late Baroness Maria Margareta "Greta" Rappe, was a schoolteacher.[4][5][6] Von Sydow was brought up as a Lutheran and later became an agnostic.[7]

He attended Lund Cathedral School, and learned German and English starting at the age of nine. At school, he and some friends founded an amateur theatre company. He completed national service before studying at the Royal Dramatic Theatre ("Dramaten") in Stockholm, where he trained between 1948 and 1951 with the likes of Lars Ekborg, Margaretha Krook and Ingrid Thulin. During his time at Dramaten, he made his screen debut in Alf Sjöberg's films Only a Mother (Bara en mor, 1949) and Miss Julie (Fröken Julie, 1951), a screen version of Strindberg's scathing drama.


Von Sydow plays chess with Death in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal

In 1955, he moved to Malmö, where he met his mentor, Ingmar Bergman. His first work with Bergman occurred on stage at the Malmö Municipal Theatre. Von Sydow later would work with Bergman on films such as The Seventh Seal (Det sjunde inseglet, 1957), Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället, 1957) and The Virgin Spring (Jungfrukällan, 1960). In The Seventh Seal, von Sydow is the knight who plays a chess game with Death. The chess scenes and the film were international breakthroughs for actor and director alike. It was in these films where von Sydow honed and perfected his craft.

Von Sydow came to dominate the screen as he did the stage, becoming an idol of the international arthouse film scene. Critical recognition came as early as 1954 when he was awarded the Royal Foundation Culture Award. He worked profusely on both stage and screen while in Scandinavia, resisting the increasing calls from the United States to go to Hollywood. After being seen in Bergman's Academy Award–winning films and having been first choice for the title role of Dr. No, von Sydow finally went to America after agreeing to star in the film which led to much greater recognition, in the role of Jesus in George Stevens' all-star epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). As his talents were soon in demand in other American productions, von Sydow and his family relocated for some time to Los Angeles. From 1965, he became a regular on the American screen while maintaining a presence in his native Sweden. In 1969, he appeared in John Huston's The Kremlin Letter, and in 1971 gave a powerful, quiet performance in Jan Troell's acclaimed The Emigrants alongside actress Liv Ullmann. Though often typecast as a villain, he was rewarded in the United States with two Golden Globe nominations, for Hawaii in 1966 and The Exorcist in 1973.

Two hundred years to the day since King Gustav III, who founded Dramaten, was assassinated, von Sydow attended a meeting there on 16 March 1992 commemorating the date.

In the mid-1970s, von Sydow moved to Rome and appeared in a number of Italian films, becoming friendly with another screen legend, Marcello Mastroianni. In the U.S., he played a memorably professional Alsatian assassin in Three Days of the Condor (1975), a role which won him the KCFCC Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, he appeared in Flash Gordon (1980), Strange Brew (1983), David Lynch's Dune (1984), and Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). In 1985, he was a member of the jury at the 35th Berlin International Film Festival.[8] He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the Danish film Pelle the Conqueror (1987), which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Von Sydow at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

Von Sydow has since won the Australian Film Institute's Best Actor Award for his title role in Father (1989), the Guldbagge Best Director Award for his only directorial foray, Katinka (Ved vejen, 1988), based on a novel by Herman Bang, and the Best Actor Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival for The Silent Touch (Dotknięcie ręki, 1993). He received international acclaim for his performance as Nobel Prize–winning novelist Knut Hamsun in Jan Troell's biopic Hamsun. He received his third Swedish Guldbagge and his second Danish Bodil for his depiction of a character often described as his King Lear. In 1996, he starred in Liv Ullmann's Private Confessions (Enskilda samtal). Back in Hollywood, he appeared in What Dreams May Come.

He was acclaimed for his role as an elderly lawyer in Scott Hicks' Snow Falling on Cedars. In 2002, von Sydow had one of his largest commercial successes, co-starring with Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's science fiction thriller Minority Report. In 2003, he played mentor character Eyvind in the European TV adaptation of the Ring of the Nibelung saga. The show set ratings records and was released in the US as Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King. In 2007, von Sydow starred in the box-office hit Rush Hour 3. He followed that with Julian Schnabel's foreign film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Recently, von Sydow appeared in Showtime's drama series The Tudors, where he portrayed Cardinal Otto Truchsess von Waldburg, a German-born clergyman who tries to organize the defeat of King Henry VIII. He also appeared in Martin Scorsese's 2010 film adaptation of Shutter Island and Ridley Scott's 2010 adaption of Robin Hood, playing Robin's blind stepfather, Sir Walter Loxley.

Von Sydow voices the character of Esbern in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which was released on 11 November 2011. He narrated the initial teaser trailer for the game.[9][10]

In April 2013, von Sydow was honored at the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Festival in Hollywood, with screenings of two of his classic films, Three Days of the Condor and The Seventh Seal.[11]

In March 2014, von Sydow guest starred in the animated sitcom The Simpsons.

On April 29, 2014, it was announced that von Sydow had been cast in Star Wars Episode VII.[12]

Personal life[edit]

On 1 August 1951, von Sydow married actress Christina Inga Britta Olin (born 1926 – died 1998); the couple had two sons, Clas and Henrik, who appeared with him in the film Hawaii, playing his son at different ages. He and Olin divorced on 26 February 1979.

Von Sydow married French filmmaker Catherine Brelet on 30 April 1997 in Provence. He received French citizenship in 2002 and holds only French citizenship now.


1949Only a MotherNils
1951Miss JulieHand
1953Ingen mans kvinnaOlaf
1956Rätten att älskaBergman
1957Herr Sleeman kommerThe HunterTV
The Seventh SealAntonius Block
Wild StrawberriesHenrik Åkerman
1958Brink of LifeHarry Andersson
RabiesBo Stensson Svenningson
The MagicianAlbert Emanuel Vogler
1960The Virgin SpringTöre
The Wedding DayAnders Frost
1961Through a Glass DarklyMartin
1962Adventures of Nils HolgerssonThe Father
The MistressMarried Man
1963Winter LightJonas Persson
19654x4Kvist(segment "Uppehåll i myrlandet")
The RewardScott Swenson
The Greatest Story Ever ToldJesus Christ
1966The Quiller MemorandumOktober
HawaiiReverend Abner HaleNominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama
Here's Your LifeSmålands-Pelle
1967The Diary of Anne FrankOtto FrankTV
1968Hour of the WolfJohan Borg
Black Palm TreesGustav Olofsson
ShameJan Rosenberg
1969Made in SwedenMagnus Rud
The Passion of AnnaAndreas Winkelman
1970The Kremlin LetterColonel Kosnov
1971The Night VisitorSalem
The EmigrantsKarl Oskar
The Apple WarRoy Lindberg
The TouchAndreas Vergerus
CabaretOld German ManCameo (Song "Tomorrow Belongs to Me")
The New LandKarl Oskar
1973The ExorcistFather Lankester MerrinNominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1974SteppenwolfHarry Haller
1975The Ultimate WarriorBaron
Egg! Egg! A Hardboiled StoryThe Father
Three Days of the CondorG. JoubertKCFCC Award for Best Supporting Actor
1976Cuore di caneProfessor Filipp Filippovich Preobrazenski
Voyage of the DamnedCaptain Schroeder
The Desert of the TartarsHortiz
Illustrious CorpsesSupreme Court's President
1977March or DieFrançois Marneau
Black JournalLisa Carpi
Exorcist II: The HereticFather Lankester Merrin
1978Brass TargetShelley
1979HurricaneDr. Danielsson
1980Death WatchGerald Mortenhoe
Flash GordonMing the MercilessNominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1981Escape to VictoryMajor Karl von Steiner—The Germansaka: "Victory"
1982Flight of the EagleSalomon August AndréeVenice Film Festival Pasinetti Cup for Best Actor
Conan the BarbarianKing Osric
1983Strange BrewBrewmeister Smithaka: "The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew"
Never Say Never AgainErnst Stavro Blofeldindependently produced James Bond film
1984DreamscapeDoctor Paul Novotny
Samson and DelilahSidkaTV
The Soldier's TaleThe Devil
DuneDoctor Kynes
1985Code Name: EmeraldJurgen Brausch
Christopher ColombusKing John of PortugalTV Mini-series
The Last Place on EarthFridtjof NansenTV Mini-series
Kojak: The Belarus FilePeter BarakTV
Quo Vadis?The Apostle PeterTV Mini-series
The RepenterSpinola
1986Duet for OneDr. Louis Feldman
Hannah and Her SistersFrederick
The Second VictoryDr. Huber
The Wolf at the DoorAugust Strindbergaka: "Oviri"
1987Pelle the ConquerorLassefarBodil Award Best Actor
European Film Award for Best Actor
Guldbagge Award Best Actor[13]
Robert Festival Best Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor (3rd place)
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
1988KatinkaFirst and only film as director
Won the awards for Best Film and Best Director at the 24th Guldbagge Awards.[14]
1989Red King, White KnightSzazNominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor - Miniseries or a Movie
Ghostbusters IIVigo the CarpathianVoice, dubbed voice
1990A Violent LifePope Clement VII
Hiroshima: Out of the AshesFather SiemesTV
FatherJoe MuellerAustralian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
AwakeningsDr. Peter Ingham
1991The OxVicar
Until the End of the WorldHenry Farber
A Kiss Before DyingThor Carlsson
The BachelorVon Schleheim
1992The Best IntentionsJohan Åkerblom, Anna's fatherTokyo International Film Festival Best Actor
The TouchHenry Kesdia.k.a. "Dotknięcie ręki" (Polish Wikipedia)
1993Grandpa's Journey
The Young Indiana Jones ChroniclesSigmund FreudEpisode: Vienna, November 1908
Och ge oss skuggornaEugene O'NeillTV
Needful ThingsLeland GauntNominated – Saturn Award for Best Actor
1994Time Is MoneyJoe KaufmanKarlovy Vary International Film Festival Best Actor
1995Citizen XDr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky(TV)
Nominated – CableACE Award for Supporting Actor in a Movie or a Miniseries
Judge DreddJudge Fargo
1996Private ConfessionsJacobTV
Samson and DelilahNarratorTV (voice)
HamsunKnut HamsunGuldbagge Award Best Actor
Valladolid International Film Festival Best Actor
The Princess and the PauperEposTV
Hostile WatersAdmiral ChernavinTV
1998What Dreams May ComeThe Tracker
1999Snow Falling on CedarsNels Gudmundsson
2000NurembergSamuel Irving RosenmanTV Mini-series
SleeplessUlisse Moretti
2002Minority ReportDirector Lamar BurgessNominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
2004Dark Kingdom: The Dragon KingEyvindTV
2005HeidiUncle Alp
2006The InquiryTiberius
2007Rush Hour 3Reynard
Emotional ArithmeticJakob BronskiNominated – Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
The Diving Bell and the ButterflyPapinou
2009The TudorsCardinal von Walburg(TV series) (4 episodes)
Ghostbusters: The Video GameVigo the Carpathian(video game) (voice)
Solomon KaneJosiah Kane
A Man and His DogThe CommanderCameo
2010Shutter IslandDr. Jeremiah Naehring
Robin HoodSir Walter Loxley
The Wolfman (Extended Cut)Man on train with silver cane (uncredited)Even though his part was removed from the theatrical cut, there is still a credit for "Assistant to Mr. von Sydow."
2011The Elder Scrolls V: SkyrimEsbern(video game) (voice)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseThe RenterNominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Georgia Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
2012Truth & TreasonFrank Fikeis
BrandedJoseph Pascal
2013Dragons 3DDr. Alistair Conis
2014The SimpsonsClaus SiglerTV (voice)
2015Star Wars Episode VIITBA


  1. ^ Say How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures
  2. ^ "Han bryter med Sverige". Aftonbladet. Retrieved 15 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Philip French, Screen Legends, The Observer, 10 February 2008 [1]
  4. ^ Max von Sydow Biography
  5. ^ The Swedish-American Historical Quarterly - Google Books. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ Gordon Gow (1976). "The Face of the Actor". Films and Filming. Retrieved reprint 2009-12-16.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  8. ^ "Berlinale: Juries". Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  9. ^ "2010 VGAs: Elder Scrolls V trauker reveals 11-11-11 release date". 11 October 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  10. ^ "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cover". Game Informer (United States: GameStop Corporation) (213): 50–64. February 2011. 
  11. ^ "2013 TCM Classic Film Festival Adds Legendary Stars and Filmmakers, Fascinating Presentations and More". Turner Classic Movies. 19 February 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Pelle Erobreren (1987)". Swedish Film Institute. 15 March 2014. 
  14. ^ "Ved Vejen (1988)". Swedish Film Institute. 15 March 2014. 

9. Sveriges befolkning 1970, Svensk Arkivinformation (SVAR), 2002 10. Sveriges dödbok 1901 - 2009, Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, 2011

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