Dinner with Millennium Trilogy co-star Michael Nyqvist
Michael Nyqvist, 50, the Swedish actor who became world famous after portraying the Blomqvist character in the Millennium Trilogy movies (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest), is spending some time in Vancouver while shooting scenes for the next "Mission Impossible" movie with Tom Cruise.
I have followed Michael's movie career over the years in Sweden, and when I heard he was in Vancouver, I contacted his agents and inquired if it was possible to meet him for an interview. I wanted to hear Michael's impressions of Vancouver, to hear him talk about his vast career and to find out if he really is such a nice and down to earth guy as he is in the movies. However, the agents were not sure if he would have the time to meet with me due to his busy schedule.
So, when I received a casual email from Michael himself one morning I was both stunned and surprised. The email said: "I hear you want to interview me. I'm in town so give me a call." I dialed his number with a bit of hesitation and introduced myself.
"Hey, sorry I'm mumbling a bit. I'm eating sausage," he said. I bursted out laughing.
"How typically Swedish," I replied, and we both laughed. We Swedes love sausage and liquorice.
"So, you want to meet me for an interview?" he asked, straight to the point.
We agreed to meet the next day for dinner. He asked me to pick him up in the lobby of the hotel he was staying at and to "take him somewhere."
But where do you take a movie star for dinner? And what do you wear? These were the questions I only had time to ponder for a day. I received a lot of suggestions from friends. But as usual, I ignored all the advice, and decided to play it by ear.
From our casual phone conversation, I could tell that Michael is not the kind of guy who expects to be wined and dined at the fanciest restaurants in town.
As I was waiting for Michael in the lobby of the fancy hotel he was staying at, I chatted with the concierge and asked him if he knew that Michael was a major movie star and absolutely everyone knows who he is in Scandinavia. After his performance in the Millennium Trilogy movies, he has become a household name all over the world.
The concierge smiled politely and told me that Michael is one of the most down to earth actors who has ever stayed at the hotel and that it's been a pleasure getting to know him.
I turned around to see Michael step out of the elevator. He looked a bit tired. His dark hair was tousled and he was dressed in all green. He was wearing big brown hiking boots and army pants with a matching long jacket with fake fur around the collar.
He was so much taller and muscular than I had expected. He exuded confidence, tranquility and a certain star quality.
"How nice to meet you, Michael," I said, and we shook hands the way we always do in Sweden when meeting a stranger. I must have looked him up and down, because he said with a smile: "I wasn't supposed to dress up in a suit, was I? You're not taking me anywhere fancy, I hope?"
I laughed and assured him we would go somewhere casual. "Good, I prefer casual," he said, as we left the hotel and walked towards Robson street.
I decided to take him to Earls on Top. I remember when I first moved to Canada years ago, and how much I enjoyed going to big chain restaurants, as I was not used to that from back home. His first remark when we came inside was that it seemed like a nice restaurant, and he asked the waitress for a quiet table with a view over Robson street.
We ordered a couple of beers and studied the menus. He seemed a bit lost with all the choices and when I told him I was going to have chicken quesadillas, he quickly ordered the same thing.
"What are these? Swedish pancakes?" he said with a laugh when we got our plates. After his first bite, he announced that it was "absolutely delicious." For some reason, I had expected him to order steak and lobster, and perhaps champagne. Instead, he was perfectly happy with a pint of Stella Artois beer, quesadillas and a green salad. I really liked his style.
The waitress and the manager kept coming up to our table throughout the meal, asking if everything was okay. They were pleased to hear Michael answer each time that the food was just delicious. I wondered if they recognized him, and I asked Michael if he usually gets approached in Vancouver.
"I was surprised to be met by paparazzi at Vancouver airport, but generally everyone respects my privacy here, and I get to enjoy some anonymity. I really appreciate that. I stayed in Paris for half a year before coming here, and I was constantly approached on the streets there. The Vancouverites are very gentle and polite."
"Vancouver is such a majestic city. I love that it is surrounded by the ocean and the mountains. It is stunningly beautiful, and, compared to a lot of North American cities, it is quite cultured."
Michael is on a strict daily workout schedule with a personal trainer in order to prepare for some of the stunt scenes he is performing in the "Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol" movie. A professional stunt man performs the high risk stunts.
"It feels a bit like being in boot camp, but I really enjoy getting in shape. Shooting this movie is so much fun, and it is completely different than anything else I have done before."
Michael has spent a few weeks in Vancouver and will be here for another couple of months. In between working out and doing film shoots, he has been busy discovering the city and enjoying some of the local sports culture.
"I went to a Canucks game recently and met the Sedin twins as well as the other Scandinavian players. I really enjoy hockey, and Mats Sundin is a good friend of mine."
"I would love to do some skiing while I am here, but, due to insurance clauses in my movie contract, I cannot do any sport with a high risk of injury. I did a lot of skiing when I was younger and I miss it. And not cross country skiing. That is only for grandmothers," said Michael with a laugh. "I like fast downhill skiing, slalom as we call it in Swedish."
Michael, who is the top earning actor in Sweden, has spent the last few years travelling all over the world from one movie set to another.
"I am tired, and I could use a break, but it is hard to say no to a great role. I review every single script that is sent to me and I generally like everything. My agents always have to try and talk some sense into me."
Michael compares making a movie to being on a big ship. There are different levels: action, seriousness, playfulness, sadness. And no matter what happens, the ship has to reach its port.
"There is such a thrill in that challenge. I could afford to take a few years off work and just relax, but I know I would get bored. I enjoy being busy."
Talking to Michael was a unique experience. Throughout the conversation, which was colourfully blended with jokes and stories from his adventures around the globe, I kept thinking that he was a real artiste. He is extremely well-read and cites quotes and lines from poetry, literature and movies. And yet he is down to earth, approachable and quick-witted.
"Friends tell me I should try stand up comedy, but I am too scared. What if the audience would not laugh at my jokes? I would just jump out the window," he said, and gestured expressively with his hands.
Michael found out at an early age that he was adopted from an orphanage, and his heritage is part Italian, part Swedish. As a young child, he embraced the Italian culture, and it is apparent in his dark good looks and lively manner that he has some Latin blood.
"I love everything Italian. Food, movies, history and culture. After connecting with my Italian side of the family, I have had the opportunity to spend more time in Italy and it is been just wonderful. We are one happy La Familia," he said and fired one of his trademark smiles.
Michael recently published an autobiographical book in Sweden called "Just after dreaming" (Swedish title När barnet lagt sej). The book, which has received rave reviews, will also be published in English. A review can be found on the Vancouver Observer here.
"I spend a lot of time in hotel rooms, waiting for the next shoot, and I relax by either cooking up a great meal or writing something. There were a lot of rumours circulating about me and my childhood, and I felt I needed to set the record straight. It was a great sense of relief to write this book. I am extremely proud of it."
Michael does not know if he will write another book, but since childhood he has followed the motto Not a day without a line. He recently got his own column in a new Swedish magazine called Yourlife. His fascinating columns (called krönikor in Swedish) recount his personal memories, travel stories, exotic experiences and discoveries while working on different movies: http://www.yourlife.nu/micke-nyqvists-kronikor/
"I love reading all kinds of books, from main stream literature to the classics by Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde. The English language is so beautiful. History was one of my favourite subjects in school, and I could have easily become a history professor. I spent a lot of time travelling through Greece and Italy as a teenager, visiting all the famous ancient sites."
Michael met his wife, Catharina, a movie set designer, at film school in Sweden, 17 years ago. He still remembers, vividly, when he first saw Catharina and how beautiful he thought she was. She came over to him, handed him a movie script and asked his opinion of it.
"I was so taken with her that I did not notice I was holding the script upside down. When I told her that I thought the script was great, she hissed at me and said, 'Really, this piece of garbage?'" Michael laughed heartily.
"I thought she was hilarious and I loved her from that first moment we met. I appreciate that she always speaks her mind, and I value her opinion about everything."
It is apparent that Michael misses his family when he is away from them, and it is touching to hear him talk so fondly of his wife, and their two children: Arthur, 14, and Ellen, a film student, 20.
"I love spending time with my wife, and she is my best friend. She is the one I tell everything to: my thoughts and ideas, everything that goes through my mind. I am still amazed every morning when I wake up and find her beside me. She is so perfect and I sometimes wonder what she sees in me," said Michael, and then he smiled, almost shyly.
"I miss my family terribly when I am away on location. I am thrilled when they come to visit me and so miserable when they leave. It is wonderful to be able to travel so much in this profession, but it can be a very lonely existence."
Ellen works part time in a café in downtown Stockholm. Recently, a movie crew came through the door and asked if they could shoot some scenes there. It turned out to be the American crew for the "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" movie.
"Ellen ended up getting a few lines in the movie, and now all she talks about is her budding Hollywood career," said Michael with a proud smile.
Michael is thrilled that there will be an American version of the "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" and thinks that Daniel Craig is a great choice for the Blomqvist character.
"I'm really curious to see how the movie will turn out. The American movie industry is like a dream factory, and very different to the European style. American movies explain how life should be whereas European movies try to explain life."
Michael's favourite actors are Robert DeNiro, James Woods and Marcello Mastroianni. Some of his favourite movies are "1900," (an Italian epic film directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, starring Robert De Niro and Gérard Depardieu), "Fanny and Alexander" (a Swedish film written and directed by Ingmar Bergman) and all the "Godfather" movies.
"But I also enjoy softer types of movies like "Notting Hill," and "Love Actually" is my absolute favourite Christmas movie."
Michael estimates that he has acted in 80 movies (for cinema and TV) and his own personal favourite is "Together," a Swedish movie about a commune set in the 70s and directed by Lukas Moodysson. The movie was shown at the Vancouver Film Festival a few years ago.
"I love performing in theatre plays, and I am still employed at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. I will never forget the play called "If This Is a Man," which is based on a book by Primo Levi and accounts of his experience as a prisoner in the Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. I was alone on stage and recited 150 pages of monologue. It was such a challenge learning the lines, and I remember reading them over and over again until they became a part of me, and I was completely immersed in it. It was an intense and unforgettable experience," said Michael, as he gazed out reflectively on Robson street.
"My life still feels unreal to me sometimes. I marvel at having reached this type of success: to be able to travel all over the world, meet so many interesting people, stay in wonderful places and perform my craft in great movies. I never expected all of this to happen to me. I am grateful, and I want to make sure I stay grounded. I don't want to lose my perspective of reality or lose myself in this crazy business. I strive to stay real, curious and, to some degree, naive."
"There is a great line by a Finnish poet called Saarikoski: A day with a new thought is a great day. I truly believe that," said Michael with a gentle smile.