MAX VON SYDOW (Lamar Burgess), an internationally-renowned actor of more than a hundred films, received an Academy Award Best Actor nomination in 1988 for Pelle the Conqueror, one of only four men so honored in a foreign language role. Within the broad American filmgoing public, he is perhaps best known for his indelible portrayals of spiritual figures: Tracker in What Dreams May Come, Father Merrin in The Exorcist, an indomitable minister in Hawaii, and Christ in his American debut film, The Greatest Story Ever Told.
Von Sydow played very different roles in such films as Snow Falling on Cedars, Non Ho Sonno (I Can’t Sleep), Judge Dredd, Hannah and Her Sisters and Duet For One, and is memorable as the charismatic mercenary in Sydney Pollack's 1975 film, Three Days of the Condor. He has shared the screen with icons such as Conan the Barbarian, James Bond in Never Say Never Again and Flash Gordon.
Though his career spans five decades and several languages, von Sydow is mainly identified with the great Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, for whom he made ten now-classic films including The Seventh Seal, The Virgin Spring, Winter Light, Hour of the Wolf and The Magician. He also starred (with Liv Ullman) in two popular films directed by Jan Troell, The Emigrants and The New Land. A later Troell film, Hamsun, garnered him numerous European best actor awards.
A scholarly, literate man, von Sydow is the son of a professor at the Royal University of Lund, where he was born and raised. He began performing in student dramas. After military service, he enrolled at the Royal Academy in Stockholm and while there appeared in two films by another master, Alf Sjoberg (Only a Mother and Miss Julie). He commenced the Swedish equivalent of repertory after graduation and within four years had become one of Scandinavia's best known actors. He received the Royal Foundation Culture Award in 1954 when he was only 25 years old.
In 1955 he joined the Malmo Municipal Theatre where Ingmar Bergman was chief director. Bergman directed him in such plays as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Peer Gynt and Faust. Their first film together, The Seventh Seal (1956), was an allegory in which von Sydow is cast as a disillusioned Knight who plays chess with a black-robed figure representing Death. The Seventh Seal won a special award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957 and was a huge success in American art houses. Three years later, another von Sydow/Bergman collaboration, The Virgin Spring, won the Academy's Best Foreign Film Oscar.
Though he makes his home in France, with his wife, documentary filmmaker Catherine Brelet, the actor is constantly in motion to spots around the world. He has amassed a large body of international television work, including: Citizen X (HBO), The Last Place on Earth (U. K.'s Central Television), Radetzky March (Progefi) and, most recently, Solomon for Lux and The Princess and the Pauper for Anfri, both in Italy. Any request from Scandinavia gets special attention. When noted Bergman cinematographer Sven Nykvist made his directorial debut with The Ox, the actor was there to lend a supporting presence, as he also did for Bille August in The Best Intentions. He responded to the call of Danish director Lars Von Trier for Zentropa.
A singular presence, von Sydow rightfully belongs in the company of unforgettable performers Scandinavia has given to the world.