He is the star of some of cinema’s greatest films, including Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and “The Virgin Spring,” not to mention “The Exorcist.” (His favorite: the 1987 father-and-son drama “Pelle the Conqueror,” which brought him his only Oscar nomination).
Yet Max von Sydow, 82, whose credits represent a virtual compendium of movie history, wasn’t above lending his famously sonorous rumble to last year’s hottest video game, “The Elder Scrolls V.”
Strange then, that a man with such a classic voice should remain utterly mute in “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.”
In Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, von Sydow plays the Renter, the mum, mysterious companion to a 9/11 victim’s traumatized son. Did the Renter’s refusal to speak, even in moments when that reticence seems almost inhuman, present an interesting new challenge to a 62-year screen veteran?
Von Sydow smiles. It’s a question he’s been expecting. “No, no, it’s not hard not to speak,” he says. “Why should it be? The Renter is not that different from any normal part. He communicates in his own way - he just doesn’t talk.”
When terrorists brought down New York’s World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, von Sydow was driving with his wife, French filmmaker Catherine Brelet, in his native Sweden.
“My French son, Cédric, called on the auto phone and told us, ‘There’s a war, America is under attack, they’re bombing New York.’ I told him he was crazy,” von Sydow recalls. “We rushed back to the hotel and watched the TV all day and night. It was awful. I think it meant as much to us, to the world, as here.”
He dismisses any notion that “Extremely Loud” comes too soon, that the world isn’t yet ready for such an unflinching depiction of the tragedy and its aftermath. Having long sought to work with Daldry, the Oscar-nominated director of “Billy Elliot,” “The Hours” and “The Reader,” he read Foer’s book and was “deeply moved.”
He admits, though, that whatever emotions the book inspired, the filmmaking process is always, for him, a workmanlike experience. “However deeply moved you might be by what’s on the screen, as an actor you concentrate on character,” he says.
“Some of that intensity might creep into a scene, but you cannot focus on the catastrophe of 9/11. You have to focus on a character’s motives - why is the Renter here, what does he hope to accomplish?” In that sense, he suggests, the actor’s job is always the same.
Starring Tom Hanks, Thomas Horn, Sandra Bullock, Max von Sydow, Viola Davis, Jeffrey Wright
Written by Eric Roth
Directed by Stephen Daldry
Running time 2 hours