or Fifty Reasons Why An 87-Year Old Man Is Cooler Than You If I ever get old, and if I can’t be Jack Nicholson, Leonard Cohen, or Yoda, the old man I would most like to be is Max von Sydow. Sure, now that he’s in his eighties, he looks a bit like my grandfather, just another elderly guy bouncing great-grandchildren on his knee and talking about his fifty years at the paper plant. But don’t let appearances fool you. Von Sydow has an amazing history etched into the silver screen, mostly portraying ordinary men who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances. No matter what size role he takes, or into which earthly or unearthly realm that role takes him, he manages to fill it with humanity. From his cinematic debut as Nils in 1949’s ONLY A MOTHER to his recent turns in THE FORCE AWAKENS and GAME OF THRONES, Max von Sydow has been a legend for longer than some of us have been alive. These are just fifty of the reasons why he’s cooler than the rest of us. – He played chess with Death. – He was the freakin’ Exorcist. – Hell, he’s been both the Devil and Jesus Christ. – He’s worked with such directors as Ingmar Bergman, John Huston, Sydney Pollack, Woody Allen, David Lynch, and Steven Spielberg. – Born on April 10, 1929, Sydow is an Aries. Typical traits of this sign include optimism, honesty, and loyalty. The Aries is a strong personality that is drawn to new experiences and likes to be where the action is, like on a movie set. They can also be very stubborn and don’t like to lose an argument. Two of my children and my best friend are Aries, so, believe me, they aren’t kidding about any of these things. – Von Sydow’s father was a professor of folklore and a master at telling stories. Max was very shy as a child, believing that it was his father’s stories which prompted his imagination and, thus, his eventual acting career. – He is a distant relative of the Swedish speaker of Parliament. – He’s been in over a hundred movies, stage performances, and TV shows, starting all the way back in 1949. – He’s performed in numerous languages, including Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, French, Italian, Spanish, and, of course, English. – He gained international recognition for his work with renowned director Ingmar Bergman, making thirteen films together, including THE SEVENTH SEAL (1956), WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957), THE MAGICIAN (1958), THE VIRGIN SPRING (1959), and SHAME (1968). – One of the best moments of purely physical acting you’ll find anywhere is in THE VIRGIN SPRING. After killing the men who raped and murdered his daughter, Tore (played, obviously, by Von Sydow) stops beside a stream. He’s been strong, resolute all this time, one might even say that he’s a hardened man. But now he just crumples to the ground. No words, no fancy shots, just a devout man dropping under the weight of what he’s done. – Following his act of vengeance, Tore makes this confession: “God, you saw it, the death of an innocent child and my vengeance. You allowed it to happen. I don’t understand you, yet still I ask your forgiveness. I know no other way to make peace with myself than with my own hands. I don’t know any other way to live. I promise you, God . . . here, by the dead body of my only child, I promise that, as penance for my sin, I shall build you a church.” – VIRGIN SPRING inspired Wes Craven to make LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT. – He was offered the title role of DOCTOR NO (1962), but didn’t play an Asian super-villain until he appeared as Ming the Merciless in FLASH GORDON (1980). He went on to play Bond’s ultimate nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, in NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983). – His first role in an American movie was as Jesus Christ in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD (1965), outranking even John Wayne. He had earlier been considered for the same role in THE KING OF KINGS (1961), which went instead to Jeffrey Hunter. Hunter was the original captain of the USS Enterprise in the STAR TREK pilot. Sydow was almost cast as the bad guy in THE FINAL FRONTIER. Coincidence? – He said, “The more I had to act like a saint, the more I felt like being a sinner.” – He also said, “If Jesus came back today and saw what was going on in his name, he’d never stop throwing up.” – Despite playing numerous religious figures, and characters who struggle with their spirituality, he is an agnostic. – He had a hard time convincingly saying the EXORCIST line, “I cast you out unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost.” When director William Friedkin said that he’d bring Ingmar Bergman in to direct the scene, Sydow replied “It’s not a matter of Bergman. I just don’t believe in God.” Friedkin reminded him that he had played Jesus in THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD. “Yes,” Sydow said, “But I played him as a man. I did not play him as the son of God or as a man of God.” Friedkin responded, “Why don’t you play this guy as a man?” Sydow went to his dressing room for half an hour. When he returned, he nailed the scene and made horror history. – Sydow was actually 44-years old in THE EXORCIST, not the old man he appeared to be. Thanks to the incredible make-up work of Dick Smith, and Sydow’s acting, in 1973 he looked approximately the age he is now. – He was a menacing, mostly silent freelance assassin named Joubert in THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR (1975). His character was the inspiration for Javier Bardem’s character in NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. – In THE ULTIMATE WARRIOR (1975), he was only 11 years older than Joanna Miles, despite playing her father in the movie. – Here’s just some of the horror and fantasy movies he’s been in: THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY (1961), HOUR OF THE WOLF (1966), THE NIGHT VISITOR (1970), THE EXORCIST (1973), EXORCIST II: The Heretic (1976), DEATH WATCH (1980), CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981), DREAMSCAPE (1984), DUNE (1984), GHOSTBUSTERS II (1988), UNTIL THE END OF THE WORLD (1991), NEEDFUL THINGS (1993), JUDGE DREDD (1995), WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998), MINORITY REPORT (2001), and SHUTTER ISLAND (2009). – At some point in FLASH GORDON (1980), Ming the Merciless says that when he destroys a planet he calls upon the god Daizan, which is Japanese for “great cruelty.” There’s really few better gods to call upon if you’re a bad guy, and few better actors to call upon if you’re casting a bad guy. – He was King Osric in CONAN THE BARBARIAN (1981). Come on, now. That’s cool. – He agreed to play evil hoser Brewmeister Smith in STRANGE BREW (1983) because his son was a fan of Bob and Doug McKenzie. – In that movie, he said, “I could crush your head like a nut, but I won’t because I need you.” – He also voiced the Devil in an animated film for PBS in 1984 (before playing him in the flesh nine years later in NEEDFUL THINGS). – His Oscar-nominated role of Lasse Karlsson in PELLE THE CONQUEROR (1987) is not only his favorite movie, but his performance is ranked #57 in Premier Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. – They’re not kidding. – In regards to acting, he has claimed, “There’s really nothing to it. It’s not like making a piece of furniture or writing a book.” As someone who’s currently writing a book, I thank you, sir, and hope my pages are half as good as the least of your roles. – He’s 6’4″, which means he might whip your ass in basketball. You know, if he had ever really wanted to play basketball. – He’s directed a movie, KATINKA, back in 1988, though he has said that he would never do it again. Unlike many Hollywood hyphenates, he doesn’t need to prove himself anywhere else. – That’s right, he was in GHOSTBUSTERS II (1988). While Wilhelm von Homburg physically played Vigo the Carpathian, it was an uncredited Max von Sydow who provided the character’s voice. – Speaking of voice work, he’s also lent his pipes to a few video games, including The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. – He played Sigmund Freud in an episode of THE YOUNG INDIANA JONES CHRONICLES (1993). – He was a kind of serial killer exorcist in the excellent HBO movie CITIZEN X (1995). Seriously, you’ve gotta see this movie. Finish reading this article, then go watch it. Right now. – He still managed to show his face in public, and became more sought-after in Hollywood, after appearing in JUDGE DREDD. That takes balls. – He was a pivotal character who helped Robin Williams find his wife in the afterworld in a movie that apparently moved no one else on earth but me, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME (1998). – He’s been in a Dario Argento movie. Sure, it was SLEEPLESS (1999), not one of Argento’s better movies, but how many times has Dario asked you to be in one of his flicks? – He wears fantasy-appropriate costumes as if he were born in them. – He’s actually a terrible chess player, but he does some really fine gardening. – He steals his two scenes in THE DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY (2007), one of them merely by getting a shave from his son, then looking in the mirror and saying, “God, they don’t make them like me anymore.” No truer words have ever been spoken, sir. – He took the role in EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (2012) because both he and his wife were very moved by the script. He also wanted to be in the film in order to work with Tom Hanks, an actor whose integrity he admires very much. They never did meet on the set. – He’s been in an episode of THE SIMPSONS (2014). – He’s gotten more awards than any of us could even imagine, appearing in five Oscar-nominated films: THE EMIGRANTS (1971), THE EXORCIST (1973), HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986), AWAKENINGS (1990), and EXTREMELY LOUD AND INCREDIBLY CLOSE (2011). He’s personally been nominated for two. – He’s got a dream project that he’s hoping will happen, but he’s not going to tell us what it is. – Rumors of Max von Sydow’s death began to circulate on Facebook in early October of this year, with the originators of the rumor requesting that everyone show their sympathy by liking their page. Sydow is not dead, and saying such things about Jesus, the Devil, and the Exorcist will probably result in the most confusing curse ever being placed on their site. – In his eighties, when most people are thinking about taking it slow, he’s become part of both the Star Wars and Game of Thrones universes. – He has begun to receive “last billing,” a kind of cinematic honor reserved for famous, highly-regarded old actors. You know, someone who is, without a doubt, a legend deserving of our respect and adulation. With all of this in mind, I tip my hat to you, Max von Sydow. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.