Max von Sydow

Max von Sydow

Born Carl Adolf von Sydow
(1929-04-10) 10 April 1929
Lund, Sweden
Citizenship France
Occupation Actor
Years active 1947–present
Spouse(s) Christina Olin (m. 1951; div. 1979)
Catherine Brelet (m. 1997)
Children 2

Max von Sydow (/vɒn ˈsd/;[1] Swedish: [fɔn ˈsyːdɔv]; born Carl Adolf von Sydow; 10 April, 1929) is a Swedish actor who became a French citizen in 2002.[2] He has appeared in many films in many languages, including Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, German, English, French, Italian, and Spanish. He received the Royal Foundation of Sweden's Cultural Award in 1954, was made a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 2005, and was named a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur on 17 October 2012.

Sydow has appeared in well over a hundred films and TV shows.[3] Some of his most memorable film roles include Knight Antonius Block in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal (1957), the first of his eleven films with Bergman and the film that includes the iconic scenes in which he plays chess with Death;[4] Martin in Through a Glass Darkly (1961); Jesus in The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965); Oktober in The Quiller Memorandum (1966); Karl Oskar Nilsson in The Emigrants (1971); Roy Lindberg in The Apple War (1971); Father Lankester Merrin in The Exorcist (1973); Joubert the assassin in Three Days of the Condor (1975); Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980); the villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond film Never Say Never Again (1983); Liet-Kynes in Dune (1984); Frederick in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986); Lassefar in Pelle the Conqueror (1987), for which he received his first Academy Award nomination; Dr Peter Ingham in Awakenings (1990); Lamar Burgess in Minority Report (2002); Josiah Kane in Solomon Kane (2009); Sir Walter Loxley in Robin Hood (2010); and The Renter in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2012), which earned him his second Academy Award nomination. In 2016, Sydow joined the cast of HBO's hit series Game of Thrones, playing the role of the Three-eyed Raven for which he received a Primetime Emmy Award nomination.

Early life

Max von Sydow was born Carl Adolf von Sydow in Lund, to a wealthy family. His father, Carl Wilhelm von Sydow (21 December 1879 – 4 March 1952), was an ethnologist and professor of Irish, Scandinavian, and comparative folklore at the University of Lund.[5] His mother, Baroness Maria Margareta "Greta" (née Rappe; 8 December 1892 – 25 July 1984), was a schoolteacher.[6][7][8] Some of his ancestry is German; his family’s origin is in Pomerania, now a region mostly in Poland, formerly part of Prussia, and Sydow is a Prussian family name. The particle von means "of" and usually indicates aristocratic descent. Sydow was brought up as a Lutheran and later became an agnostic.[9]

He attended Lund Cathedral School, where he learned German and English, starting at the age of nine. At school he and some friends founded an amateur theatrical company. He completed his national service before studying at the Royal Dramatic Theatre (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 debuts in Alf Sjöberg's films Only a Mother (Bara en mor, 1949) and Miss Julie (Fröken Julie, 1951), a screen version of Strindberg's scathing drama.


Two hundred years to the day since King Gustav III, who founded Dramaten, was assassinated, von Sydow attended a meeting there on 16 March 1992 commemorating the date.

In 1955, Sydow moved to Malmö, where he met his mentor, Ingmar Bergman. His first work with Bergman occurred on stage at the Malmö Municipal Theatre, and he would go on to 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, Sydow is the knight who plays a chess game with Death. The chess scenes and the film were international breakthroughs for actor and director alike. It was in these films that Sydow honed and perfected his craft.

Max 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. He worked profusely on both stage and screen while in Scandinavia, resisting the increasing calls from the United States to go to Hollywood. 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 led to much greater recognition, in the role of Jesus in George Stevens's all-star epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). As his talents were soon in demand in other American productions, von Sydow and his family relocated for some time to Los Angeles. From 1965, he 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, and in 1971 gave a powerful, quiet performance in Jan Troell's acclaimed The Emigrants alongside actress Liv Ullmann. Though often typecast as a villain, he was rewarded in the United States with two Golden Globe nominations, for Hawaii in 1966 and The Exorcist in 1973. In the mid-1970s, Sydow moved to Rome and began to appear in a number of Italian films, becoming friendly with another screen legend, Marcello Mastroianni. In the U.S., he played a memorably professional Alsatian 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, he appeared in Flash Gordon (1980), Conan the Barbarian (1982), Strange Brew (1983), David Lynch's Dune (1984), and Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters (1986). In 1985, he was a member of the jury at the 35th Berlin International Film Festival.[10] He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in the Danish film Pelle the Conqueror (1987), which won an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

Max von Sydow at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival.

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. Also in 1993, he appeared as Leland Gaunt in Needful Things. In 1996, he starred in Liv Ullmann's Private Confessions (Enskilda samtal). Back in Hollywood, he appeared in What Dreams May Come (1998).

He was acclaimed for his role as an elderly lawyer in Scott Hicks's Snow Falling on Cedars. In 2002, Sydow had one of his largest commercial successes, co-starring with Tom Cruise in Steven Spielberg's science fiction 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 US as Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King. In 2007, Sydow starred in the box-office hit Rush Hour 3. He followed that with Julian Schnabel's foreign film The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on the memoir by Jean-Dominique Bauby.

Max von Sydow appeared in Showtime's drama series The Tudors, in which he portrayed Otto, Cardinal Truchsess von Waldburg, a German-born clergyman who tries to organize the defeat of King Henry VIII. He also appeared in Martin Scorsese's 2010 film adaptation of Shutter Island and Ridley Scott's 2010 adaptation of Robin Hood, playing Robin's blind stepfather Sir Walter Loxley.[11]

Sydow voices the character of Esbern in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, which was released on 11 November 2011. He narrated the initial teaser trailer for the game.[12][13]

In April 2013, Max von Sydow was honored at the Turner Classic Movie (TCM) Festival in Hollywood, with screenings of two of his classic films, Three Days of the Condor and The Seventh Seal.[14]

In March 2014, Sydow guest-starred in the animated sitcom The Simpsons, and in 2015 he had a role in the sequel Star Wars: The Force Awakens.[15] In 2016, he joined the HBO series Game of Thrones in Season 6 as the Three-eyed Raven.[16]

Personal life

On 1 August 1951, Max von Sydow married actress Christina Inga Britta Olin (1926–98); the couple had two sons, Clas and Henrik, who appeared with him in the film Hawaii, playing his son at different ages. He and Olin divorced on 26 February 1979.

He is currently in his second marriage, to the French filmmaker Catherine Brelet; they married on 30 April 1997 in Provence. In 2002 he became a citizen of France, at which time he had to give up his Swedish citizenship.[2]

Sydow is reported to be either an agnostic[9] or an atheist.[17]



Year Title Role Director Notes
1949 Only a Mother Nils Alf Sjöberg
1951 Miss Julie Hand Alf Sjöberg
1953 Ingen mans kvinna Olaf Lars-Eric Kjellgren
1956 Rätten att älska Bergman Mimi Pollak
1957 The Seventh Seal Antonius Block Ingmar Bergman
Wild Strawberries Henrik Åkerman Ingmar Bergman
Prästen i Uddarbo Gustaf Ömark Kenne Fant
1958 Brink of Life Harry Andersson Ingmar Bergman
Rabies Bo Stensson Svenningson Ingmar Bergman
The Magician Albert Emanuel Vogler Ingmar Bergman
1960 The Virgin Spring Töre Ingmar Bergman
The Wedding Day Anders Frost Kenne Fant
1961 Through a Glass Darkly Martin Ingmar Bergman
1962 Adventures of Nils Holgersson The Father Kenne Fant
The Mistress Married Man Vilgot Sjöman
1963 Winter Light Jonas Persson Ingmar Bergman
1965 4x4 Kvist Palle Kjærulff-Schmidt,
Klaus Rifbjerg,
Rolf Clemens,
Maunu Kurkvaara
& Jan Troell
Segment: "Uppehåll i myrlandet"
The Greatest Story Ever Told Jesus Christ George Stevens
The Reward Scott Swenson Serge Bourguignon
1966 Hawaii Reverend Abner Hale George Roy Hill Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama
The Quiller Memorandum Oktober Michael Anderson
Here's Your Life Smålands-Pelle Jan Troell
1968 Hour of the Wolf Johan Borg Ingmar Bergman
Black Palm Trees Gustav Olofsson Lars-Magnus Lindgren
Shame Jan Rosenberg Ingmar Bergman
1969 Made in Sweden Magnus Rud Johan Bergenstråhle
The Passion of Anna Andreas Winkelman Ingmar Bergman
1970 The Kremlin Letter Colonel Kosnov John Huston
1971 The Night Visitor Salem László Benedek
The Emigrants Karl Oskar Jan Troell
The Touch Andreas Vergerus Ingmar Bergman
The Apple War Roy Lindberg Tage Danielsson
1972 Embassy Gorenko Gordon Hessler
The New Land Karl Oskar Jan Troell
1973 The Exorcist Father Lankester Merrin William Friedkin Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Motion Picture
1974 Steppenwolf Harry Haller Fred Haines
1975 Egg! Egg! A Hardboiled Story The Father Hans Alfredson
Le miroir éclate Matthew Lawrence Claude d'Anna
Three Days of the Condor G. Joubert Sydney Pollack KCFCC Award for Best Supporting Actor
The Ultimate Warrior Baron Robert Clouse
1976 Cuore di cane Professor Filipp Filippovich Preobrazenski Alberto Lattuada
Illustrious Corpses Supreme Court's President Francesco Rosi
Foxtrot Larsen Arturo Ripstein
The Desert of the Tartars Hortiz Valerio Zurlini
Voyage of the Damned Captain Schroeder Stuart Rosenberg
1977 Exorcist II: The Heretic Father Lankester Merrin John Boorman
March or Die François Marneau Dick Richards
Black Journal Lisa Carpi Mauro Bolognini
1978 Brass Target Shelley John Hough
1979 Hurricane Dr Danielsson Jan Troell
Bugie bianche Marcello Herrighe Stefano Rolla
1980 Death Watch Gerald Mortenhoe Bertrand Tavernier
Flash Gordon Ming the Merciless Mike Hodges Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
1981 Escape to Victory Major Karl von Steiner John Huston aka Victory
1982 Conan the Barbarian King Osric John Milius
Flight of the Eagle Salomon August Andrée Jan Troell Venice Film Festival Pasinetti Cup for Best Actor
Hit Man Colonel O'Donnell José Antonio de la Loma aka Jugando con la muerte
1983 Le Cercle des passions Carlo di Vilalfratti Claude d'Anna
Strange Brew Brewmeister Smith Rick Moranis
& Dave Thomas
aka The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew
Never Say Never Again Ernst Stavro Blofeld Irvin Kershner Independently produced James Bond film
1984 Dreamscape Doctor Paul Novotny Joseph Ruben
Dune Doctor Kynes David Lynch
1985 Code Name: Emerald Jurgen Brausch Jonathan Sanger
The Repenter Spinola Pasquale Squitieri
1986 Hannah and Her Sisters Frederick Woody Allen
The Second Victory Dr Huber Gerald Thomas
The Wolf at the Door August Strindberg Henning Carlsen aka Oviri
Duet for One Dr Louis Feldman Andrei Konchalovsky
1987 Pelle the Conqueror Lassefar Karlsson Bille August Bodil Award Best Actor
European Film Award for Best Actor
Guldbagge Award Best Actor[18]
Robert Festival Best Actor
National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Actor (3rd place)
Nominated – Academy Award for Best Actor
1988 Katinka Max von Sydow First and only film as director
Won the awards for Best Film and Best Director at the 24th Guldbagge Awards.[19]
1989 Ghostbusters II Vigo the Carpathian Ivan Reitman Voice, dubbed voice
Red King, White Knight Szaz Geoff Murphy Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor - Miniseries or a Movie
1990 The Bachelor Von Schleheim Roberto Faenza
A Violent Life Pope Clement VII Giacomo Battiato
Father Joe Mueller John Power Australian Film Institute Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role
Awakenings Dr Peter Ingham Penny Marshall
1991 A Kiss Before Dying Thor Carlsson James Dearden
Europa Narrator Lars von Trier Voice
Until the End of the World Henry Farber Wim Wenders
The Ox Vicar Sven Nykvist
The Best Intentions Johan Åkerblom, Anna's father Bille August
1992 The Silent Touch Henry Kesdi Krzysztof Zanussi aka Dotknięcie ręki, Tokyo International Film Festival Best Actor Award[20]
1993 Grandpa's Journey Simon S.L. Fromm Staffan Lamm
Needful Things Leland Gaunt Fraser C. Heston Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Actor
1994 Time is Money Joe Kaufman Paolo Barzman Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Best Actor
1995 Judge Dredd Judge Fargo Danny Cannon
1996 Hamsun Knut Hamsun Jan Troell Guldbagge Award Best Actor
Valladolid International Film Festival Best Actor
Jerusalem Vicar Bille August
1998 What Dreams May Come The Tracker Vincent Ward
1999 Snow Falling on Cedars Nels Gudmundsson Scott Hicks
2001 Sleepless Ulisse Moretti Dario Argento
Druids Guttuart Jacques Dorfmann
Intacto Samuel Juan Carlos Fresnadillo
2002 Minority Report Director Lamar Burgess Steven Spielberg Nominated – Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor
Les amants de Mogador Souheil Ben-Barka
2005 Heidi Uncle Alp Paul Marcus
2006 The Inquiry Tiberius Giulio Base
2007 Rush Hour 3 Reynard Brett Ratner
Emotional Arithmetic Jakob Bronski Paolo Barzman Nominated – Genie Award for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly Papinou Julian Schnabel
2009 Solomon Kane Josiah Kane Michael J. Bassett
A Man and His Dog The Commander Francis Huster Cameo
2010 Shutter Island Dr Jeremiah Naehring Martin Scorsese
Robin Hood Sir Walter Loxley Ridley Scott
The Wolfman Man on train with silver cane (uncredited) Joe Johnston Even though his part was removed from the theatrical cut, there is still a credit for "Assistant to Mr. von Sydow".
2011 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close The Renter Stephen Daldry Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Boston Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – Georgia Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated – San Diego Film Critics Society Award for Best Supporting Actor
2012 Truth & Treason Frank Fikeis
Branded Joseph Pascal Jamie Bradshaw
& Aleksandr Dulerayn
2013 Dragons 3D Dr Alistair Conis Marc Fafard
2015 The Letters Father Celeste van Exem William Riead
Star Wars: The Force Awakens Lor San Tekka J. J. Abrams
2016 The First, the Last The undertaker Bouli Lanners


Year Title Role Notes
1957 Herr Sleeman kommer The Hunter
1967 The Diary of Anne Frank Otto Frank
1984 Samson and Delilah Sidka
The Soldier's Tale The Devil (voice) Animated film by R. O. Blechman for PBS
Le Dernier Civil Johann Kaspar Bäuerle Miniseries
1985 Kojak: The Belarus File Peter Barak
The Last Place on Earth Fridtjof Nansen Miniseries
Quo Vadis? The Apostle Peter Miniseries
Christopher Columbus King John of Portugal Miniseries
1986 Gösta Berlings saga Melchior Sinclaire Miniseries
1990 Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Father Siemes
1993 Och ge oss skuggorna Eugene O'Neill Björn Melander
The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles Sigmund Freud Episode: "Vienna, November 1908"
1994 A che punto è la notte Archbishop of Turin
Radetzkymarsch Baron Franz von Trotta und Sipolje
Uncle Vanya Professor Serebryakov
1995 Citizen X Dr Alexandr Bukhanovsky Nominated – CableACE Award for Supporting Actor in a Movie or a Miniseries
1996 Samson and Delilah Narrator Voice
Private Confessions Jacob
1997 Hostile Waters Admiral Chernavin
La principessa e il povero Epos
Solomon David
2000 Nuremberg Samuel Irving Rosenman Miniseries
2004 Hidden Children - Escape of the Innocents Valobra
Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King Eyvind
2009 The Tudors Cardinal von Walburg 4 episodes
2014 The Simpsons Claus Sigler Voice
2016 Game of Thrones The Three-eyed Raven 3 episodes
Online Film & Television Association Award for Best Guest Actor In a Drama Series[21]
Nominated – Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series[22]
Nominated - Gold Derby TV Awards for Best Drama Guest Actor[23]

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2009 Ghostbusters: The Video Game Vigo the Carpathian Voice
2011 The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim Esbern Voice
2016 Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens Lor San Tekka Voice


  1. FrenchSay How? A Pronunciation Guide to Names of Public Figures
  2. 1 2 "Han bryter med Sverige". Aftonbladet (in Swedish). Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  3. Terrence Rafferty (December 2015). "The Greatest Actor Alive". The Atlantic.
  4. Philip French (10 February 2008). "Philip French's screen legends: No 3: Max von Sydow 1929–". The Observer.
  5. Dundes, Alan (1999). International Folkloristics: Classic Contributions by the Founders of Folklore. USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc. p. 137. ISBN 0-8476-9515-8. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  6. "Max von Sydow".
  7. The Swedish–American Historical Quarterly. Swedish Pioneer Historical Society. 1996. p. 110. Retrieved 6 October 2013.
  8. "Ancestry of Max von Sydow, from Charlemagne".
  9. 1 2 Gordon Gow (1976). "The Face of the Actor (Reprint)". Films and Filming. Archived from the original on 17 July 2012. Retrieved 2009-12-16.
  10. "Berlinale: Juries". Berlin International Film Festival. Retrieved 8 January 2011.
  11. Tim Robey (11 May 2010). "Robin Hood, review". The Daily Telegraph.
  12. "2010 VGAs: Elder Scrolls V trauker reveals 11-11-11 release date". 11 October 2012. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  13. "The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim cover". Game Informer. United States: GameStop Corporation (213): 50–64. February 2011.
  14. "2013 TCM Classic Film Festival Adds Legendary Stars and Filmmakers, Fascinating Presentations and More" (PDF). Turner Classic Movies. 19 February 2013. Retrieved 22 February 2013.
  15. "Star Wars: Episode VII cast announced". 29 April 2014.
  16. Watchers on the Wall (3 August 2015). "Legendary actor Max von Sydow joins Game of Thrones season 6!". Twitter.
  17. Tim Appelo (29 March 2014). "Exorcist Director: It Worked Because 'I Made That Film as a Believer'". The Hollywood Reporter.
  18. "Pelle Erobreren (1987)". Swedish Film Institute. 15 March 2014.
  19. "Ved Vejen (1988)". Swedish Film Institute. 15 March 2014.
  20. Award in Tokyo, (in Polish) Retrieved 16 January 2015
  21. "20th Annual TV Awards (2015-16)". Online Film & Television Association. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  22. Prudom, Laura (July 14, 2016). "Creative Arts Emmy Awards Winners: 'Game Of Thrones' Leads Way On Night 1". Archived from the original on September 11, 2016. Retrieved September 11, 2016.
  23. Montgomery, Daniel (September 7, 2016). "Gold Derby TV Awards 2016: 'People v. O.J. Simpson' leads winners, 'Game of Thrones' & 'Veep' also prevail". Gold Derby. Retrieved September 11, 2016.

9. Sveriges befolkning 1970, Svensk Arkivinformation (SVAR), 2002 10. Sveriges dödbok 1901 – 2009, Sveriges Släktforskarförbund, 2011

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