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Stellan Skarsgård’s Promise to Be “Gentle”

Stellan Skarsgård’s Promise to Be “Gentle” (photo)

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There are few actors as in demand these days as Stellan Skarsgård, who will be appearing in no less than three of the year’s most anticipated films — and strangely all with Scandinavian ties — in “Thor,” Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” and David Fincher’s adaptation of the “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” Yet the film industry’s desire to cast him is no comparison to the odd pull he has on middle-aged women in “A Somewhat Gentle Man,” an idiosyncratic and distinctly Norwegian comedy about a recently paroled criminal who attempts to rebuild his life as a mechanic while reaching out to the family that he deserted and trying to ignore the entreaties of the gang he once served. Although he’s only moderately successful at both, Skarsgård’s Ulrik is unique amongst former thugs onscreen since he emerges from prison as a people pleaser, whether it’s looking out for the pregnant secretary at his garage or dutifully schtupping his landlady who never fails to heat him up a plate for dinner.

Incidentally, one shouldn’t underestimate the importance of a warm meal to Skarsgård, since as he’ll explain later he nearly gave up filming in his native Scandinavia because of the rigid lunch habits. For everyone’s sake, it’s good he didn’t since “A Somewhat Gentle Man” is the kind of low-key charmer he might not get offered anywhere else, given his reputation as a heavy, but one that seems true to who he is when he’s not on camera. A consummate gentleman when he called from his home overseas, the actor’s actor talked about his third collaboration with Norwegian director Hans Petter Moland, why he might make a solid obstetrician, working with David Fincher and how he became the unwitting patriarch of an acting dynasty.

You’ve done a couple of lighter films in recent years, but it’s not necessarily what you’re known for, so is it a nice thing for you to use different kinds of muscles?

No, it’s…I don’t know. I never get cast as it. Everybody thinks I’m so serious and the dark side is very accessible to me, so of course it’s a challenge to do something funny. Hans Petter Moland and I have done two films before that have been really realistic and dark, so nobody thought we could do a comedy, so we had to try. And of course, it’s a different kind of comedy. It’s more personal in that sense, but it has a lightness. It’s about humans, even if they’re caricatures in some ways.

01092011_StellanSkarsgard2.jpgI’ve read it took a little bit of time to develop the script and for you and the director to settle on this in particular. Was it a matter of striking the right tone?

Yes, that was the big problem. We’re always looking for things that we can do together because we work so well together and we have so much fun when we do it. So he sent me this script before Christmas two years ago and asked me if I was interested and I thought it was very, very funny. The people that had read it before saw it as a tragedy. [laughs] So I said, yeah, if we can do it within two months because I’m having a baby. So he raised the money in six weeks and then we shot it for six weeks.

The baby came a little early and fucked up our schedule, but in principle, it worked. But when we started working, we had rehearsals. I always rehearse with this director, which is very nice, not to decide everything, but to figure out the tone of the scenes and of course, all the actors started playing in their own films, very different films. So we had to find the tone for all the actors — they’re very good actors. It was easy to rein them in and get them to be in the same movie I was.

That’s interesting you were expecting a child when one of the story threads is about a father reconnecting with his son. Was there any special resonance for you?

No, not really. [laughs] The baby came during the shoot, so we closed down for three days. You can do that on small independent films. You can never do it on a big film. And it was very civilized. The only way our personal lives interfered with the film was that when the girl delivers her baby in my car. When we shot that scene, I was there and Hans Petter Moland, the director, he had six kids and I also had at the time also six kids, so we were trying to teach this girl everything about what it looks like and feels like to give birth. And that was a hilarious situation – two middle-aged men teaching a woman about how to give birth!

What was it like reuniting with Hans on this film? It’s been more than a decade since you last worked with him.

I didn’t know it was so long because it doesn’t feel like it and we talk frequently, so it feels like it was just a couple of years ago. But it feels fantastic because we know each other so well. We pull each other further than we usually go, both of us. We become a little braver together. That’s probably because we’re not alone. [slight laugh]

01092011_StellanSkarsgard5.jpgIs it true that you have a contract stipulation on your Scandinavian films to require a hot lunch?

Yeah. When you work in Norway, you actually have to have a contract about lunches because Norwegians don’t eat lunch normally, so they just throw out a loaf of bread and some coldcuts. And when I did “Insomnia,” I lost eight kilos, which is like 20 pounds during the shoot and that was not being method. That was just starving. And then I promised the Norwegian crews that I’ll never work in this country again unless we get good catering of the highest European standards. So I always have that in the contract that everybody should have good food and I reduce my salary to make it possible. But they don’t have it. It’s not in the tradition, not even the schoolkids have hot lunches in Norway. They bring a couple of sandwiches from home. But I can tell you the crews like it.

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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