By Signe Hansen | Photo: Kia Naddermier
Michael Nyqvist, it is a name that will make most Scandinavians, or at least those with a TV, nod in recognition, and when adding the name of his renowned alias Mikael Blomqvist, heads all over the world will confirm the actor’s great talent by joining in. Since the BAFTA-winning Millennium movies, Nyqvist’s talent has been in high demand; most recently the Swedish actor has been jetting between Dubai, Prague and Vancouver to film the new Mission Impossible. Still, back on a break in his hometown of Stockholm, the charismatic 50-year-old found time to catch up with Scan Magazine.
When Nyqvist comes through the door at Stockholm’s historic Opera Bar, it is quickly evident that a reflective artist, and not just a performer, has entered the room. Before we have even sat down at our table, the Millennium star has commenced a humorous anecdote about British society, which he experienced while filming London Voodoo in 2004. “I think that’s very British,” he ends his story about a fancy doorman dressed in, on closer inspection, a rather shabby uniform and looks smilingly out the window, where a beautiful but cold day is sweeping through Stockholm. Dressed unassumingly in a dark suit jacket and blue jeans, it is the actor’s charisma and renowned, intense gaze that catch your attention.
Life or death
Even though Nyqvist stumbled into acting rather coincidentally (he applied for drama school on the advice of an ex-girlfriend), he has always felt intensely about his art. “I came to this school, and I knew in a second that this was very interesting. It was the questions that you have to ask yourself as an actor with your character: where do I come from, where do I go? Hard questions, especially for me, because I did not know where I came from; I came from an orphanage, so I hid behind my character in life,” Nyqvist candidly recalls. “When I started, people, like my teachers, would say, ‘Great Micke, but could you calm it down a bit; it’s not life or death’. But it was, and I still have that kind of feeling; it’s for real, and I don’t know if it’s psychotic or if it’s talent.”
Even though Nyqvist felt an immediate connection with his art, he was not always convinced acting would be his path in life. “No, it was such an unanswered love. Everyone said, ‘Michael you are too tall, too small’, and all these things, but I did not care about it. I just wanted to answer these questions.”
After his years at the Swedish Academic School of Drama in Malmö, Nyqvist did, however, prove his critics wrong and appeared in countless roles in plays, TV series and films. In 2000, he had his major breakthrough with his portrait of the drunken and abusive husband Rolf in the award-winning Swedish film Together. In 2004, his star rose even further when he became internationally known as the lost conductor Daniel Daréus in Oscar-nominated As It Is in Heaven.
A struggle for identity
When Nyqvist’s lunch arrives, I ask him what he is having. “Well, it’s a traditional dish I suppose. It’s very good; it’s like something my mom would make. My mom was an awful cook though,” he answers rather confusingly, while shovelling down his cutlets and potato stew with an impressive appetite.
Nyqvist’s parents adopted him from an orphanage at the age of one, and in 2009, the actor published his critically acclaimed book När barnet lagt sig (Just After Dreaming). In it the author describes the moment when he realises he is adopted and his following struggle to find his right place in the world. “I am very proud of that book, writing it was very scary,” he says. When I ask if he thinks the book changed the way people perceive him, he answers without hesitation: “Yeah, it did, and that was sort of a part of it. I think sometimes people treat actors like small children who don’t know how to tie their own shoelaces or like big baboons walking around without emotions, and I am not like that; I always read a lot, wrote a lot… felt a lot.”
After having his first child, Nyqvist went on an exhaustive search to find his real parents, and today he has regular contact with his Italian father. His adoptive father passed away some years ago, and his death was an eye-opener for the actor, who never received any recognition from him when he was alive. “When he died, I had to go through his apartment and empty it… I opened this cupboard, and it was filled with pictures of me, reviews of every part that I had ever played and films, and not just papers from Stockholm – from all over Sweden,” says Nyqvist. “He supported me in a shy, silent way; you could say a Swedish way.”
Poking the stars
While ordering his second cup of coffee, Nyqvist rejects being tired, although he has been, as he says, “working nonstop for the last 11 months”. The last half year he has been on the set of MI4, which he travelled to just one day after wrapping up filming John Singleton’s Abduction, in which he co-stars with the likes of Sigourney Weaver and Taylor Lautner.
“It’s fun when you work with big movie stars like Sigourney Weaver; you want to go and like [he pokes at my shoulder] to see if she is real, and then when Tom and I were fighting… I mean Jesus! That’s the way it is.” But even though he did find the experience a bit surreal, working with Hollywood legend Tom Cruise did not make the actor nervous. “No, not at all, I liked him very much. I loved his energy.”
When asked why he was picked for the role, the actor’s answer is characteristically self-deprecating. “Because I was handsome, intelligent and talented, that’s why,” he smiles and quickly adds, “No, I don’t know, I never asked. They probably had five better ones!”
Coming back as a ghost
After an intensive year during which Nyqvist, his wife and their 16-year-old son had their base in Paris, Nyqvist is now back in his hometown for a well deserved break. “I have to give myself some time; I know that I opened a couple of doors in myself that I really have to look into, and I had a lot of new experiences. I felt very happy about that, but I don’t want to just run around chasing; I want to wait for the good, fun things to do,” the actor reflects.
But when I ask him if he would ever consider doing something else than acting, maybe something less exhausting, the response is firm: “Acting is not something you turn on and off. If you turn it on, you can’t really turn it off again. If I have a brain that still works, I would love to stand on a stage when I am 102 years old playing a ghost – maybe Hamlet’s father.”
Well, in case he is still standing at 102, we would not mind a couple of the front row seats – he is sure to make an unusually intense ghost.
The last movie in the Millennium trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, is now out on DVD in the UK.