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Max von Sydow (born 10 April 1929) is a Swedish-born actor. He has also held French citizenship since 2002. He has starred in many movies and had supporting roles in dozens more. He has performed in movies filmed in many languages, including Swedish, Norwegian, English, Italian, German, Danish, French, and Spanish.

Early life

Von Sydow was born as Carl Adolf von Sydow to a wealthy family in Lundmarker, Skåne, Sweden. His father, Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, was an ethnologist and professor of Irish, Scandinavian, and comparative folklore at the University of Lundmarker. His mother, Baroness Greta (née Rappe), was a school teacher. Von Sydow was raised Lutheran and later became an agnostic.

He attended the Cathedral Schoolmarker of Lund, and learned German and English starting at the age of nine. At school, he and some friends founded an amateur theatre company, where his acting career began. He completed National Service before going on to study at The Royal Dramatic Theatremarker ("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 Swedish playwright August Strindberg's well known play.


In 1955, he moved to Malmömarker, 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 to buy time for his companions—a scene and a film which were both international breakthroughs for actor and director alike. It was in these films where von Sydow honed and perfected his craft, evincing a brilliant talent that has made him a screen icon through a six decade screen career.

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. Working profusely on both stage and screen while Scandinavia resisting the increasing calls from the United States to go to Hollywoodmarker.

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 was to lead to much greater recognition, in the role of Jesus in George Stevens' grandly titled, all-star epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Because his talents were soon in demand in other American productions, von Sydow and his family eventually moved to Los Angeles.

From 1965, von Sydow 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. Though perhaps typecast as a villain, he was rewarded in the United States with two Golden Globe nominations for Hawaii and The Exorcist in 1973. 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 Alsatiamarker 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, von Sydow appeared in such films as Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), David Lynch's Dune (1984), Flash Gordon (1980) and Strange Brew (1983).

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 widely popular sci-fi 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 USA 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 award-winning foreign film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Recently, von Sydow made his television debut on 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 will later be seen in Martin Scorsese's film adaptation of Shutter Island.

Personal life

On 1 August 1951, von Sydow married actress Kerstin Olin, with whom he has two sons, Claes and Henrik. His children appeared with him in the film Hawaii, playing his son at different ages. They divorced in 1996.

Von Sydow then married French filmmaker Catherine Brelet on 30 April 1997 in Provence; they have two sons, Yvan and Cedric. He currently lives with his wife in Paris, where he enjoys reading, listening to music and gardening. He received French citizenship in 2002 and now holds dual Swedish/French citizenship.


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 The Adventures of Nils Holgersson The Father
The Swedish Mistress Married Man
1963 Winter Light Jonas Persson
1965 4 x 4 Kvist (segment "Uppehåll i myrlandet")
The Reward Scott Swenson
The Greatest Story Ever Told Jesus
1966 The Quiller Memorandum Oktober
Hawaii Rev. 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
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
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
Exorcist II: The Heretic Father Lankester Merrin
1978 Brass Target Shelley
1979 Hurricane Dr. Danielsson
1980 Death Watch Gerald Mortenhoe
Flash Gordon The Emperor Ming / Ming's Floating Servant 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
Conan the Barbarian King Osric
1983 Strange Brew Brewmeister Smith aka: "The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew"
Never Say Never Again Ernst Stavro Blofeld
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 Mini-series
The Last Place on Earth Fridtjof Nansen TV Mini-series
Kojak: The Belarus File Peter Barak (TV)
Quo Vadis? The Apostle Peter TV Mini-series
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 Nominated - Academy Award for Best Actor
1988 Katinka First and only film as director
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
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
1993 Och ge oss skuggorna Eugene O'Neill (TV)
Needful Things Leland Gaunt Nominated - Saturn Award for Best Actor
1994 Time Is Money Joe Kaufman
1995 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)
Samson and Delilah Narratore (TV) (voice)
Hamsun Knut Hamsun
1997 The Kingdom of Solomon David (TV) aka: "Solomon"
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 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 & additional roles Voice
Solomon Kane Josiah Kane
2010 Shutter Island Dr. Jeremiah Naehring post-production


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