Stellan Skarsgård’s pulled off some fine villainous characters throughout his storied career. Just to name a few, he played a despicable monster in David Fincher’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a real slimeball in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia. He’ll embody the big bad in the upcoming Dune reboot, but Skarsgård’s Chernobyl role is a more decidedly nuanced one. Although his Soviet government official, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Shcherbina, sits on the wrong side of the radioactive debate and makes some disastrous decisions, there’s much more at work, as viewers will discover. Skarsgård makes a compelling turn alongside Jared Harris as scientist Valery Legasov, and the duo helps HBO launch its post-Game of Thrones programming future.
The miniseries is a sweeping one, written and executive produced by Craig Mazin, about one of the worst man-made disasters — the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion in Ukraine, Soviet Union on April 26, 1986 – and all the radioactive and political fallout that follows. Skarsgård was kind enough to chat with us about his role and assorted subjects that arose along the way.
How are you?
I’m doing well. I’m talking to you and sitting and watching the New York Public Library from the window here. It’s sunny and warm, balmy, not too hot.
That’s awesome because I’m chilly, and we need to do some time travel. Chernobyl takes us back to the 1980s. Are a big history buff?
Well, I read a lot of historical materials, but I’m a nerd in the sense that I like to know what’s going on in the present world as much as what has led to the present world. What are the parallels between history and now? In that sense, I am. The last book I read is the beautiful book by John Williams, who wrote Stoner. He’s fantastic, and he wrote a book about Augustus, that emperor, so if you get a chance, you’ll have to look at it.
This is where I awkwardly tell you that I often watch too much TV to read. However, I did recently read that you originally wanted to be a diplomat, but you fell into acting instead. How much did you know about all the maneuvering behind the Chernobyl investigation?