Max von Sydow

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Max von Sydow
MaxVonSydow 2006.jpg
Born Carl Adolf von Sydow
(1929-04-10) 10 April 1929 (age 86)
Lund, Sweden
Occupation Actor
Years active 1949–present
Spouse(s) Kerstin Olin (1951–1979; two sons)
Catherine Brelet (1997–present; two sons)

Carl Adolf "Max" von Sydow (/vɒn ˈsd/;[1] Swedish: [fɔn ˈsyːdɔv]; born 10 April 1929) is a Swedish-French actor.[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. His father, Carl Wilhelm von Sydow (1879-1952), was an ethnologist and professor of Irish, Scandinavian and comparative folklore at the University of Lund.[4] The von Sydow family´s origin is in Pomerania, a region in Germany (and recently in Poland). Thus comes the German-Prussian family name ("von" means "of" and usually indicates an aristocratic descent). His mother, Baroness Maria Margareta "Greta" Rappe (1892-1984), was a schoolteacher.[5][6][7] Von Sydow was brought up as a Lutheran and later became an agnostic.[8]

He attended Lund Cathedral School, where he learned German and English starting at the age of nine. At school he and some friends founded an amateur theatrical company. He completed his 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 debuts 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.


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.[9] 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.[10][11]

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.[12]

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

On 29 April 2014, it was announced that von Sydow had been cast in Star Wars Episode VII (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).[13]

In 2016 he will join the HBO series Game of Thrones in Season 6 as the Three-eyed Raven.[14]

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 had to give up his Swedish citizenship to become a citizen of France in 2002.[15]


Year Film Role Notes
1949 Only a Mother Nils
1951 Miss Julie Hand
1953 Ingen mans kvinna Olaf
1956 Rätten att älska Bergman
1957 Herr Sleeman kommer The Hunter TV
The Seventh Seal Antonius Block
Wild Strawberries Henrik Åkerman
1958 Brink of Life Harry Andersson
Rabies Bo Stensson Svenningson
The Magician Albert Emanuel Vogler
1960 The Virgin Spring Töre
The Wedding Day Anders Frost
1961 Through a Glass Darkly Martin
1962 Adventures of Nils Holgersson The Father
The Mistress Married Man
1963 Winter Light Jonas Persson
1965 4x4 Kvist (segment "Uppehåll i myrlandet")
The Reward Scott Swenson
The Greatest Story Ever Told Jesus Christ
1966 The Quiller Memorandum Oktober
Hawaii Reverend Abner Hale Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture Actor - Drama
Here's Your Life Smålands-Pelle
1967 The Diary of Anne Frank Otto Frank TV
1968 Hour of the Wolf Johan Borg
Black Palm Trees Gustav Olofsson
Shame Jan Rosenberg
1969 Made in Sweden Magnus Rud
The Passion of Anna Andreas Winkelman
1970 The Kremlin Letter Colonel Kosnov
1971 The Night Visitor Salem
The Emigrants Karl Oskar
The Apple War Roy Lindberg
The Touch Andreas Vergerus
1972 Embassy Gorenko
Cabaret Old German Man Cameo (Song "Tomorrow Belongs to Me")
The New Land Karl Oskar
1973 The Exorcist Father Lankester Merrin Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor - Motion Picture
1974 Steppenwolf Harry Haller
1975 The Ultimate Warrior Baron
Egg! Egg! A Hardboiled Story The Father
Three Days of the Condor G. Joubert KCFCC Award for Best Supporting Actor
1976 Cuore di cane Professor Filipp Filippovich Preobrazenski
Voyage of the Damned Captain Schroeder
The Desert of the Tartars Hortiz
Foxtrot Larsen
Illustrious Corpses Supreme Court's President
1977 March or Die François Marneau
Black Journal Lisa Carpi
Exorcist II: The Heretic Father Lankester Merrin
1978 Brass Target Shelley
1979 Hurricane Dr. Danielsson
1980 Death Watch Gerald Mortenhoe
Flash Gordon Ming the Merciless Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1981 Escape to Victory Major Karl von Steiner—The Germans aka: "Victory"
1982 Flight of the Eagle Salomon August Andrée Venice Film Festival Pasinetti Cup for Best Actor
Conan the Barbarian King Osric
Hit Man Colonel O'Donnell aka: "Jugando con la muerte"
1983 Strange Brew Brewmeister Smith aka: "The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew"
Never Say Never Again Ernst Stavro Blofeld independently produced James Bond film
1984 Dreamscape Doctor Paul Novotny
Samson and Delilah Sidka TV
The Soldier's Tale The Devil
Dune Doctor Kynes
1985 Code Name: Emerald Jurgen Brausch
Christopher Colombus King John of Portugal (TV miniseries)
The Last Place on Earth Fridtjof Nansen (TV miniseries)
Kojak: The Belarus File Peter Barak TV
Quo Vadis? The Apostle Peter (TV miniseries)
The Repenter Spinola
1986 Duet for One Dr. Louis Feldman
Hannah and Her Sisters Frederick
The Second Victory Dr. Huber
The Wolf at the Door August Strindberg aka: "Oviri"
1987 Pelle the Conqueror Lassefar Bodil Award Best Actor
European Film Award for Best Actor
Guldbagge Award Best Actor[16]
Robert Festival Best Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor (3rd place)
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
1988 Katinka First and only film as director
Won the awards for Best Film and Best Director at the 24th Guldbagge Awards.[17]
1989 Red King, White Knight Szaz Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor - Miniseries or a Movie
Ghostbusters II Vigo the Carpathian Voice, dubbed voice
1990 A Violent Life Pope Clement VII
Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Father Siemes TV
Father Joe Mueller Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Awakenings Dr. Peter Ingham
1991 The Ox Vicar
Until the End of the World Henry Farber
Europa Narrator (voice)
A Kiss Before Dying Thor Carlsson
The Bachelor Von Schleheim
1992 The Best Intentions Johan Åkerblom, Anna's father
The Silent Touch Henry Kesdi a.k.a. "Dotknięcie ręki" (Polish Wikipedia), Tokyo International Film Festival Best Actor Award[18]
1993 Grandpa's Journey
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Sigmund Freud Episode: Vienna, November 1908
Och ge oss skuggorna Eugene O'Neill TV
Needful Things Leland Gaunt Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Actor
1994 Time Is Money Joe Kaufman Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Best Actor
1995 Radetzkymarsch (de) Baron Franz von Trotta und Sipolje TV
Citizen X Dr. Alexandr Bukhanovsky (TV)
Nominated – CableACE Award for Supporting Actor in a Movie or a Miniseries
Judge Dredd Judge Fargo
1996 Private Confessions Jacob TV
Jerusalem Vicar
Samson and Delilah Narrator TV (voice)
Hamsun Knut Hamsun Guldbagge Award Best Actor
Valladolid International Film Festival Best Actor
1997 Solomon David TV
The Princess and the Pauper Epos TV
Hostile Waters Admiral Chernavin TV
1998 What Dreams May Come The Tracker
1999 Snow Falling on Cedars Nels Gudmundsson
2000 Nuremberg Samuel Irving Rosenman TV Mini-series
2001 Intacto Samuel
Druids Guttuart
Sleepless Ulisse Moretti
2002 Minority Report Director Lamar Burgess Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
2004 Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King Eyvind TV
2005 Heidi Uncle Alp
2006 The Inquiry Tiberius
2007 Rush Hour 3 Reynard
Emotional Arithmetic Jakob Bronski Nominated – Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Papinou
2009 The Tudors Cardinal von Walburg (TV series) (4 episodes)
Ghostbusters: The Video Game Vigo the Carpathian (video game) (voice)
Solomon Kane Josiah Kane
A Man and His Dog The Commander Cameo
2010 Shutter Island Dr. Jeremiah Naehring
Robin Hood Sir 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."
2011 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Esbern (video game) (voice)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close The Renter Nominated - 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
2012 Truth & Treason Frank Fikeis
Branded Joseph Pascal
2013 Dragons 3D Dr. Alistair Conis
2014 The Simpsons Claus Sigler (TV series) (voice)
2015 Star Wars: The Force Awakens
2016 Game of Thrones Three-eyed Raven (TV series)


  1. ^ FrenchSay 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. ^ Dundes, Alan (1999). International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 137. ISBN 0-8476-9515-8. Retrieved 14 July 2015. 
  5. ^ Max von Sydow Biography
  6. ^ The Swedish-American Historical Quarterly - Google Books. Retrieved 6 October 2013. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ Gordon Gow (1976). "The Face of the Actor (Reprint)". Films and Filming. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  9. ^ "Berlinale: Juries". Retrieved 8 January 2011. 
  10. ^ "2010 VGAs: Elder Scrolls V trauker reveals 11-11-11 release date". 11 October 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012. 
  11. ^ "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cover". Game Informer (United States: GameStop Corporation) (213): 50–64. February 2011. 
  12. ^ "2013 TCM Classic Film Festival Adds Legendary Stars and Filmmakers, Fascinating Presentations and More" (PDF). Turner Classic Movies. 19 February 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2013. 
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Legendary actor Max von Sydow joins Game of Thrones season 6!". Watchers On The Wall. 3 August 2015. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ "Pelle Erobreren (1987)". Swedish Film Institute. 15 March 2014. 
  17. ^ "Ved Vejen (1988)". Swedish Film Institute. 15 March 2014. 
  18. ^ Award in Tokyo, (in Polish) Retrieved 16 January 2015

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

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