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After a career spanning more than four decades, Stellan Skarsgard will soon be seen in what he calls his first “proper” attempt at a TV series.
River, written by Abi Morgan (Suffragette) and set to premiere on the BBC on Oct. 13, sees the Swedish actor playing a London-based detective suffering from mental health issues after witnessing the death of a colleague.
The six-part drama, produced by Kudos (which is part of the Shine Group), lands during a time when the BBC faces severe cutbacks and scrutiny by the U.K. government over its size and scope. Skarsgard wastes no time during an interview with The Hollywood Reporter in offering his thoughts on the assault on the broadcaster.
“Of course it’s under attack, because [U.K. prime minister] David Cameron — who put him there? Rupert Murdoch did,” says Skarsgard, claiming that the media tycoon has been effectively electing British prime ministers — including Tony Blair — for years. “Rupert Murdoch is in bed with Cameron. Of course they want to kill the BBC … anybody who is in the way.”
Skarsgard says it would be “fantastic” for Murdoch if the U.K. became more like the U.S., where his Fox News is “not only dictating the knowledge of the American electorate” but also making networks like CNN follow “in the same f—ing way.”
“That’s why you hear American senators and congressman say the most hilariously stupid things, and be believed,” he adds. “So if you want to have a civilized country, you cannot let all the information come from somebody who wants to make money out of it, and definitely not from Rupert Murdoch. It’s horrifying, horrifying.”
Any attacks on the BBC, which Skarsgard claimed his father would listen to during WWII as the “only source of news you could trust,” would, he says, only benefit Murdoch.
“You want to give him more power? Go ahead,” he says. “You’re going to f— up whatever is left of civilization!”
But while the BBC remains in its current state, Skarsgard has River, the first police show he accepted after rejecting numerous projects over the years.
“When I read the script I said, ‘Not another f—ing cop show,’ but after a few pages I realized this was something completely different, because of Abi Morgan’s poetry and her enormous art, compassion and her interest in the characters,” he says.
Skarsgard’s issue with most police dramas is the procedural dialogue.
“I’m really bad at it. It’s more to do with my incompetence than anything bad with cop shows in general,” he says, adding that he actually asked Morgan to write out the few procedural lines that were in the script.
“Abi definitely has taken a new tack on how to deal with a cop show,” Skarsgard adds. “She’s got all the ingredients — the buddy, the boss, the aging cop — but she kind of put them in the blender and made something totally different.”
Although he claims the six hours of River are “like a finished piece,” he is optioned for another series, but only so long as Morgan is writing. “I’m not a serf to them, I still have my integrity intact,” he says.
And River could be followed by another TV series for Skarsgard, this time with his long-standing collaborator Lars Von Trier, who last year revealed he was working on The House That Jack Built, an eight-part series about a serial killer.
“We’ve talked about it, and if he says let’s go and play, I’ll come,” says Skarsgard. “I don’t have to read it. I said yes to Nymphomaniac before it was written.”
Von Trier, he says, hasn’t yet written the series, but is working on it “off and on depending on how he feels.”
And then there’s Skarsgard’s less arthouse-y role as scientist Erik Selvig in Marvel’s increasingly interwoven franchises. He most recently appeared as Selvig in a couple of scenes with Chris Hemsworth’s Thor in this year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron, though his superhero adventures may be drawing to a close.
“They have one more option on me. The contract was five films and I’ve ticked off four,” he says. “So we’ll see. I think they’re making another Thor, so I might be in that. If they call, I’ll come.”
And how does Marvel call?
“It’s a special phone,” he jokes. “It’s red and it’s a direct line from Kevin Feige.”
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