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Leçon d'acteur with Max von Sydow

This year at Cannes directors are no longer the only ones to be given the chance to discuss their work. The 57th Festival sees the annual Leçons de Cinéma lecture series extended to actors, with the first lesson delivered by Max von Sydow.

Born in Lund, Sweden, Max von Sydow studied at the Stockholm Drama Conservatory before beginning his career on stage. It wasn't until he met Ingmar Bergman, however, that he let himself be seduced by the silver screen. From that moment on he split his time between the two mediums. At the beginning of the 1970s he began an international career, in front of the cameras of directors such as William Friedkin, Bertrand Tavernier and John Boorman, among others. He was seen in Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.

Employing his usual elegance, Max von Sydow began his “Leçon d'acteur”, with a discussion of technique, personal involvement, and the ins and outs of being an actor. “The art of being an actor consists of staging another art,” he said. “It's about interpreting the material you're given. Being an actor becomes an art when the audience accepts the reality you're presenting them.”

For the Swedish actor, the primary element remains concentration and relentless work. “You need to know your character without necessarily identifying completely with him – that could upset your mental balance. Know your character from top to bottom, look into his past, or imagine it; you don't have to love him, but you have to at least understand him. There's no real method; it's defined by the needs of the role. The golden rule is never to copy an earlier take and to keep your concentration so you can remain fresh and spontaneous. A good actor stands out through his or her energy.”

As for Ingmar Bergman, Max von Sydow said that because the director trained as a musician he only gave directions about movement. This gave his work a particular rhythm and indirectly gave psychological insights into the characters.

The first Leçon d'acteur was brought to a close with Max von Sydow's admission that while he prefers acting in the theatre – because of the direct contact with an audience – he knows how lucky he's been, given the astonishing richness of life in acting.

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