As a child of the 70’s and the 80’s the first time Max Von Sydow came to my attention was in his role as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980). His presence and ability along with Brian Blessed managed to raise the film from what could have been bad pantomime of a film, to what is a glorious burst of colourful celebration of Flash Gordon.
Later while exploring films I came across his role in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal (1957). The image of him as a knight playing chess with death is now iconic. As a classical actor his roles in Science Fiction and fantasy films could have felt like a back step for him however in all his roles though you never felt he was just treading water for the paycheck. His performances in films like David Lynch’s Dune (1984) and Conan the Barbarian (1982) all helped give those films more gravitas whilst still showing off his acting ability.
As a veteran of over 100 films there are so many career highlights, for me and the films I love, there are many fantastic films and roles that come to mind. His role as Director Lamar Burgess in Steven Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002) perfectly offset Tom Cruises more action orientated role. In a non Science Fiction role I loved him in Extremely Loud and Incredibly close in which he played a character who couldn’t speak but he was so expressive non the less.
One film that has always stuck with me is Father (1990) this is an Australian film in which he played a retired German immigrant living in Australia who is accused of being a Nazi with associated War crimes. The story revolves around his daughter who is not sure whom to believe the man she has known all her life or his accuser. It is not an easy film to find but well worth searching for.
I could sit here for days reeling off the films Max Von Sydow was in and his always great performances. It may not being his biggest or best part but seeing him in The Force Awakens (2015) and being the first person to speak in the new trilogy gave me and many others the confidence in the film.
No matter what his performances will be missed but we are lucky to have a huge body of his work to view. An actor who can portray Jesus in The Greatest Story ever Told (1965) and also Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon certainly shows a range of acting ability that puts many to shame. His presence on screen will be sorely missed.