LONDON — Swedish screen star Max Von Sydow, whose new film "Pelle the Conqueror" won the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival, is turning to the English stage in a career move he described as "a great surprise."
"It's very exciting," the tall, lanky Von Sydow said of his upcoming role as Prospero in Shakespeare's "The Tempest." The play opens Oct. 6 at London's Old Vic theater for a limited run through Nov. 26.
The production, directed by Jonathan Miller, will mark Von Sydow's first English-language appearance on the London stage. He previously appeared in Britain in 1974 in a Swedish staging of Henrik Ibsen's "The Wild Duck."
That production was directed by Ingmar Bergman, with whom Von Sydow has had a long and illustrious career on stage and in such films as "The Seventh Seal," "Wild Strawberries," "Through a Glass Darkly" and "The Passion of Anna."
On Broadway, Von Sydow has starred in two flops: "The Night of the Tribades," with Eileen Atkins and Bibi Andersson, and "Duet for One," with Anne Bancroft.
"It's a very interesting idea," Von Sydow, 58, said of director Miller's choice that he play Prospero, a part more often associated with English actors in their twilight years.
Miller explained his casting: "I wanted to break out of the noble aria approach English performers often take to the part," said Miller, who is in his first year as the artistic director of London's venerable Old Vic.
"I've never seen Max on stage, but I know he is a great, accomplished actor. I've seen all his films."
Prospero furthers what has been an unusually busy year for Von Sydow. He is presently appearing at the National Theater of Stockholm in August Strindberg's 1872 "Master Olof."
In Bille August's prize-winning Danish film, "Pelle the Conqueror," Von Sydow heads up a family of immigrant farm workers at the turn of the century, giving a performance for which he has won critical praise. The film won La Palme D'Or, the top prize, at the 41st annual Cannes Film Festival.
Von Sydow was also represented at Cannes with his directorial debut, "Katinka," adapted from a novel by the Danish author Herman Bang about a three-way love affair.
He said he had originally hoped to act in a movie version of the book when he first read the novel 25 years ago.
Now, since he was too old for the male leads, he decided to direct the movie instead: "Coincidence put the possibility in my hands."
This version of "The Tempest" will mark the fourth major production of the play to be seen in England this year; both Von Sydow and Miller said they would not be seeing the others.