Max Von Sydow
Birth Date:
April 10, 1929
Birth Place:
Lund, Skåne län, Sweden
Famous for:
Golden Globe nominee for 'The Exorcist' (1973)
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The Exorcist


One of Sweden's most respected actors, Max Von Sydow is famous as a result of his long-running affiliation with director Ingmar Bergman. First working together at the Malmo Municipal Theatre, the twosome went on to collaborate in noted movies like “The Seventh Seal” (1957), which won Von Sydow a Fotogramas de Plata Award, “The Magician” (1958), “The Virgin Spring” (1960), “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961), “Winter Light” (1962), “Hour of the Wolf” (1968), “Shame” (1968), “The Passion of Anna” (1969) and “The Touch” (1971). Max is also known for his partnership with director Jan Troell, who cast him in “Here Is Your Life” (1966), “The Emigrants” (1971), “Nybyggarna/The New Land” (1972, netted a Western Heritage Award), “The Flight of the Eagle” (1982, earned Venice Film Festival's Pasinetti Award) and “Hamsun” (1996, won a Valladolid International Film Festival Award, a Guldbagge Award and a Bodil Award).

Making his Hollywood debut in George Stevens' “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965), Von Sydow is probably best recalled by American audiences as Father Merrin in the successful horror classic “The Exorcist” (1973), from which he nabbed his second Golden Globe nomination. He won his first Golden Globe nomination for George Roy Hill's “Hawaii” (1966). Since “The Exorcist,” Von Sydow has acted in a number of American movies, including Sydney Pollack's “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), “Flash Gordon” (1980), “Never Say Never Again” (1983), Woody Allen's “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), “What Dreams May Come” (1998), “Snow Falling on Cedars” (1999), Steven Spielberg's “Minority Report” (2002) and “Rush Hour 3” (2007).

Apart from the aforementioned honors, Von Sydow has been nominated for an Oscar thanks to his work in Bille August's “Pelle the Conqueror” (1987). The role also brought him a Bodil Award, an European Film Award, a Guldbagge Award and a Robert Festival Award. He received an Emmy nomination for the TV film “Red King, White Knight” (1989), a Tokyo International Film Festival Award for “The Silent Touch” (1992) and a Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Award for “Time is Money” (1994). More recently, he took home a Festival Trophy from the 2004 Cannes Film Festival and a Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award from the 2006 San Sebastián International Film Festival.

Von Sydow has been married twice. He and his first wife, actress Kerstin Olin, with whom he was married to from 1951 to 1996, have two sons, Claes and director Henrik Von Sydow. He also has two sons, Cedric and Yvan, with his current wife, filmmaker Catherine Brelet. He and his wife now reside in Paris, France.

“People seem to think I'm a very religious person, very serious, that I'm an old man by now and that I play a great deal of chess. Actually, I'm a family person. I'm rather private. I enjoy my work very much when it's interesting and fortunately, it's been mostly interesting. I like nature and being outdoors. I'm a gardener at my summer home. I like to travel. I'm not as serious as they think I am. I don't even play chess and I really don't know myself too well.” Max Von Sydow

Timid Boy

Childhood and Family:

Max Carl Adolf von Sydow was born on April 10, 1929, in Lund, Skåne län, Sweden. His father, Carl Wilhelm von Sydow, was an anthropologist and professor of Irish, Scandinavian, and comparative folklore at the University of Lund and his mother, Greta von Sydow, was a school teacher. As a child, he was shy and quiet.

Max was educated at the Cathedral School of Lund and studied English and German from age nine. His acting career began when teen Max founded an amateur theater company with some friends at school. After completing National Service, he went on to pursue his acting studies at the Royal Dramatic School in Stockholm and made his screen acting debut there.

On August 1, 1951, Max married actress Kerstin Olin. The marriage ended in divorce in 1996 after producing two sons, Claes and Per Henrik. Both of them appeared with him in the 1966 movie “Hawaii,” portraying his son at different ages. Max next married French filmmaker Catherine Brelet on April 30, 1997, in Provence, France. They have two sons, Cedric and Yvan. In his spare time, Max enjoys listening to music, reading and gardening.

Pelle the Conqueror


Max Von Sydow became interested in acting after starting a theatre club at high school. A student of Stockholm's Royal Dramatic Theatre School from 1948 to1951, he had his first taste in front of film cameras in Alf Sjöberg's “Bara en mor/Only a Mother” (1949). He was seen two years later in the noted drama starring famed Swedish actress Anita Björk, “Miss Julie,” which was also directed by Sjöberg. Upon graduation, Von Sydow honed in on his craft at the Halsingborg Stadsteater and Norrkoping-Linkoping Stadsteater. He met director and mentor Ingmar Bergman when he moved to Malmö in 1955 and joined the Malmo Municipal Theatre. Before long, Max was hired to play the prominent role of Antonius Block in the director's award-winning comedy, “The Seventh Seal” (1957), from which Von Sydow won a 1962 Fotogramas de Plata for Best Foreign Performer.

Von Sydow was seen in other Bergman's films, including “Wild Strawberries” (1957), “Brink of Life” (1958), the Venice Film Festival winner “The Magician” (1958, starred in the title role), “The Virgin Spring” (1960), which netted an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, “Through a Glass Darkly” (1961), which again picked up an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and “Winter Light” (1962). In 1965, Von Sydow broke into the American market with his starring role as Jesus in director George Stevens' epic, “The Greatest Story Ever Told,” in which he had the opportunity to act with Carroll Baker and Martin Landau.

Von Sydow was next cast in the George Roy Hill highly-acclaimed drama, “Hawaii” (1966), in which his portrayal of the strict missionary Abner Hale earned him a Golden Globe nomination for Best Motion Picture Actor- Drama. Also that year, he supported George Segal and Alec Guinness in the Michael Anderson-directed thriller “The Quiller Memorandum.” Max then returned to Sweden to star in “Har Har Du Ditt Liv/Here Is Your Life” and after playing Otto Frank in the ABC TV film “The Diary of Anne Frank” (1967), which marked his U.S. TV debut, he rejoined Bergman for such remarkable fares as “Hour of the Wolf” (1968), “Shame” (1968), “The Passion of Anna” (1969) and “The Touch” (1971), the director's first English-language movie and last project with Von Sydow.

Von Sydow briefly revisited the Hollywood cinema with John Huston's “The Kremlin Letter” (1970), where he was cast as a Russian dictator, before reteaming with frequent costars Liv Ullmann and director Troell for the Oscar nominees “The Emigrants” (1971) and “Nybyggarna/The New Land” (1972). Von Sydow co-won a Western Heritage Award for his work in the latter. It was in 1973 that Von Sydow experienced his first huge Hollywood blockbuster thanks to his role of Father Merrin in the horror film “The Exorcist,” directed by William Friedkin. The role also brought the actor his second Golden Globe nomination.

Von Sydow starred as Harry Haller in Fred Haines' “Steppenwolf” (1974), received Cartagena Film Festival's Golden India Catalina for Best Actor and a Kansas City Film Critics Circle for Best Supporting Actor after portraying professional killer G. Joubert in Sydney Pollack's “Three Days of the Condor” (1975), costarred with Yul Brynner in Robert Clouse's “The Ultimate Warrior” (1975), played Professor Filipp Filippovich Preobrazenski in the Italian-produced “Cuore di cane” (1976) and worked in several more projects before reprising his role of Father Merin for the sequel “Exorcist II: The Heretic” (1977). Also in 1977, he debuted on Broadway in “The Night of the Tribades.” He closed out the decade with roles in the movies “March or Die” (1977), “Brass Target” (1978) and “Hurricane” (1979).

The industrious actor relocated to Rome in the 1980s and gave a memorable performance in Mike Hodges' “Flash Gordon.” He received a Marshall Trophy for Best Actor at the Napierville Cinema Festival and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Saturn for his work in the film. He continued to appear in such movies as John Huston's “Victory” (1981, opposite Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine), John Milius' “Conan the Barbarian” (1982, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger), Troell's “The Flight of the Eagle” (1982), from which he nabbed a Pasinetti Award for Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival, Irvin Kershner's “Never Say Never Again” (1983, with Sean Connery), “The Adventures of Bob & Doug McKenzie: Strange Brew” (1983), “Dreamscape” (1984), “Code Name: Emerald” (1985) and “The Second Victory” (1986).

After offering a scene-stealing performance as the artist-lover of Barbara Hershey in Woody Allen's “Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986), Von Sydow reached the zenith of his success with his Oscar-nominated starring turn as Lasse Karlsson in Bille August's “Pelle the Conqueror” (1987). He enjoyed further recognition on the small screen when he was cast in the supporting role of Szaz on the drama/thriller movie “Red King, White Knight” (1989), from which he took home a 1990 Emmy nomination. In between the celebrated work, Von Sydow made his debut as a director with “Ved vejen/Katinka” (1988), based on a novel by Herman Bang. He earned a Guldbagge for Best Direction for his effort.

Next up for Von Sydow, he starred as Father Siemes in the NBC TV movie “Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes” (1990), was cast in the based-on-true-story “The Ox” (1992), and “The Best Intentions” (1992). Max also starred in the Australian Indie-drama “Father” (1990), from which he netted an Australian Film Institute for playing Joe Mueller, and in the Poland-produced drama “The Silent Touch”(1992), which won the actor a Best Actor Award at the Tokyo International Film Festival. He went on to star as Leland Gaunt in “Needful Things” (1993), a horror film adapted from the Stephen King bestseller, and earn a Karlovy Vary International Film Festival award for his starring role of Joe Kaufman in Paolo Barzman's “Time is Money” (1994).

1995 to 1999 saw Von Sydow in movies like “Judge Dredd,” “Jerusalem,” “Private Confessions,” Vincent Ward's “What Dreams May Come,” and Scott Hicks' “Snow Falling on Cedars,” starring Ethan Hawke. In 1996, he collected a Valladolid International Film Festival, a Guldbagge and a Bodil in the category of Best Actor for his role in the 1996 biography “Hamsun.”

Entering the new millennium, Von Sydow teamed up with Alec Baldwin, Brian Cox and Christopher Plummer for the made-for-TV film “Nuremberg” (2000), for director Yves Simoneau, before costarring with Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise in the Steven Spielberg thriller “Minority Report” (2002). He was also seen in such international movies as “Intacto,” “Vercingetorix” and “Non ho Sonno” (all 2001).

In 2004, Von Sydow played Eyvind in the miniseries “Dark Kingdom: The Dragon King.” He was then cast as Uncle Alp in the British family movie “Heidi” (2005), opposite Emma Bolger, portrayed Tiberius in the festival-premiered “Inchiesta, L” (2006) and appeared in Julian Schnabel's “Scaphandre et le papillon, Le” (2007), which received four Oscar nominations. Also in 2007, Max costarred with Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker in Brett Ratner's “Rush Hour 3” and supported Gabriel Byrne and Roy Dupuis in the Canadian drama “Emotional Arithmetic.”

Currently, the 79-year-old performer has two films in post-production: “Solomon Kane” (2008), directed by Michael J. Bassett and starring James Purefoy, and “Un homme et son chien” (2009), a French drama helmed by Francis Huster. He is filming “Shutter Island” (2009), which is being directed by Martin Scorsese. Among his costars in the mystery/thriller are Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Emily Mortimer and Michelle Williams. Von Sydow will also be cast as Franz Fikeis in the upcoming drama/history “Truth & Treason” (2009).


  • San Sebastián International Film Festival: Donostia Lifetime Achievement Award, 2006

  • Cannes Film Festival: Festival Trophy, 2004

  • Bodil: Best Actor (Bedste mandlige hovedrolle), “Hamsun,” 1997

  • Guldbagge: Best Actor (Bästa manliga huvudroll), “Hamsun,” 1997

  • Valladolid International Film Festival: Best Actor, “Hamsun,” 1996

  • Karlovy Vary International Film Festival: Best Actor, “Time Is Money,” 1994

  • Tokyo International Film Festival: Best Actor, “Dotkniecie reki/The Silent Touch,” 1992

  • Australian Film Institute: Best Actor in a Lead Role, “Father,” 1991

  • Guldbagge: Best Direction (Bästa regi), “Ved vejen,” 1989

  • Bodil: Best Actor (Bedste mandlige hovedrolle), “Pelle erobreren/Pelle the Conqueror,” 1988

  • European Film: Best Actor, “Pelle erobreren/Pelle the Conqueror,” 1988

  • Guldbagge: Best Actor (Bästa manliga huvudroll), “Pelle erobreren/Pelle the Conqueror,” 1988

  • Robert Festival: Best Actor (Årets mandlige hovedrolle), “Pelle erobreren/Pelle the Conqueror,” 1988

  • Venice Film Festival: Pasinetti Award, Best Actor, “Ingenjör Andrées luftfärd/The Flight of the Eagle,” 1982

  • Napierville Cinema Festival: Marshall Trophy, Best Actor (Meilleur Comédien), “Flash Gordon,” 1980

  • Cartagena Film Festival: Golden India Catalina, Best Actor (Mejor Actor), “Three Days of the Condor,” 1976

  • Kansas City Film Critics Circle: Best Supporting Actor, “Three Days of the Condor,” 1976

  • Western Heritage: Bronze Wrangler, Theatrical Motion Picture, “Nybyggarna/The New Land,” 1974

  • Fotogramas de Plata: Best Foreign Performer (Mejor intérprete de cine extranjero), “Sjunde inseglet, Det/The Seventh Seal,” 1962

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