Max von Sydow: everything you need to know about the Swedish film legend

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A character actor who will be remembered for a long time to com. Over seven decades, the Swede Max von Sydow made it into international cinemas again and again, embodying the character of Jesus as well as the occasional villain. He appeared in a total of 160 productions. Find out what else there is to know about the Swedish film legend here.

Max von Sydow

Carl Adolf von Sydow, known as Max, (born on 10 April 1929 in Lund) was a Swedish actor with French citizenship. He became famous in the late 1950s and appeared in numerous international productions until shortly before his death. Von Sydow died at the age of 90 in Provence, France.

Born10 April 1929 in Lund, Sweden
Died8 March 2020 in Provence, France
Known fromThe Seventh Seal (1957), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), The Exorcist (1973), Never Say Never Again (1983), Shutter Island (2010), Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011), Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)
AwardsEmmy Award, European Film Award, 3x Guldbagge (national Swedish film award), 2x Oscar nomination, 2x Golden Globe nomination
Copyright and legal information: Author: LJP assistant, Southerly Clubs of Stockholm; Material:, public domain.

Film career

Youth and education

Carl Adolf “Max” von Sydow was the son of the Swedish professor Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, who taught at the University of Lund, and the teacher Maria von Sydow. The family’s ancestors had emigrated to Sweden from German Pomerania in the 18th century.

Max von Sydow gained his first acting experience during his school years at the cathedral school in Lund, where he, among other things, founded a theatre group. From 1948 to 1951, he trained as an actor at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. His film debut was in 1949 in the Swedish drama Rya-Rya – Only a Mother at the age of 20.

International breakthrough and work with Ingmar Bergman

In 1955, von Sydow went to Malmö to work at the theatre, where he met his future mentor and patron: The director and screenwriter Ingmar Bergman. Max von Sydow’s international breakthrough came in 1957 with his film drama The Seventh Seal (see picture).

Bergman casted Max von Sydow in the leading role in his drama The Virgin Spring (1960). The film won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film a year later. Further international roles were to follow. In 1965, von Sydow appeared in an American production for the first time and played Jesus Christ in The Greatest Story Ever Told.

Other roles and Oscar nominations

From the mid-1970s, Max von Sydow increasingly appeared in Hollywood productions, including The Exorcist in 1973. He was also originally intended for the role of Dr No in the James Bond film of the same name, but only made his appearance in the film series a few years later as the villain Stavro Blofeld in Never Say Never Again (1983). Von Sydow achieved further fame through his role as Emperor Ming in Flash Gordon (1980).

Other notable films from the 2000s include Minority Report, in which he starred alongside Tom Cruise, and Shutter Island with Leonardo DiCaprio. However, the two Oscar nominations for his acting were for roles Max von Sydow had in dramas: The first as Best Leading Actor in the film adaptation of the Danish novel series Pelle, the Conqueror (1987), in which he plays a single widower, and the second as Best Supporting Actor in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock).

He was the first and so far only Scandinavian actor to be nominated for an Oscar in the Best Actor category. Most recently, Max von Sydow has also appeared in internationally acclaimed productions such as Star Wars (2015) and as the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones (2016). His acting range was enormous and he is still regarded as a distinguished character actor who has been involved in around 160 film and television productions.

Private life

Max von Sydow was the father of four children and has been married to film producer Catherine Brelet since 1997. His first wife was the Swedish actress Christina Olin.

Following his success in The Greatest Story Ever Told, he moved from Sweden to Los Angeles with his family. In the mid-70s, he moved to Rome and appeared in several Italian productions. Max von Sydow had French citizenship since 2002 and lived in Paris. He died in his holiday home in Provence, France.

Incidentally, his German origins can be deduced from his surname: Von Sydow is a noble family originally from Brandenburg.

Filmography (selection): Max von Sydow’s films

  • The Seventh Seal (1957)
  • The Greatest Story of All Time (1965)
  • The Uncanny Visitor (1971)
  • The Exorcist (1973)
  • The Steppenwolf (1974)
  • The Exorcist II – The Heretic (1977)
  • Flash Gordon (1980)
  • Never Say Never Again(1983)
  • Christopher Columbus (1985)
  • Codename: Emerald (1985)
  • Pelle the Conqueror (1987)
  • Time of Awakening (1990)
  • Citizen X (1995)
  • Minority Report (2002)
  • Rush Hour 3 (2003)
  • Shutter Island (2010)
  • Robin Hood (2010)
  • Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (2011)
  • Star Wars: The Awakening of the Force (2015)
  • Game of Thrones (2016, 3 episodes)
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