QUITE A CHARACTER
The Wild, Deliciously Weird Career of ‘Swedish Dick’ Peter Stormare
He’s stuffed Steve Buscemi into a woodchipper, terrorized The Dude, and drunkenly manned a Russian space station. Now Stormare is taking the lead in the TV series ‘Swedish Dicks.’
Peter Stormare makes everything better—a point the 63-year-old Swede has been proving ever since he fed Steve Buscemi into a woodchipper in Joel and Ethan Coen’s Oscar-winning 1996 neo-noir Fargo.
A character actor whose distinctive off-kilter magnetism is ideal for both loopy humor and unnerving menace (often at the same time), Stormare has spent the past two decades delivering jolts of weirdo energy to countless A-list projects, including many by the world’s foremost filmmakers, from the Coens (The Big Lebowski) and Steven Spielberg (Minority Report) to Michael Bay (Armageddon), Lars Von Trier (Dancer in the Dark), and Terry Gilliam (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus). That he’s also improved a wide array of genre works—notably, two collaborations with Keanu Reeves: 2005’s Constantine (in which he plays the devil), and this year’s John Wick: Chapter 2 (as the brother of the late Michael Nyqvist’s criminal)—only further underscores the fact that Stormare’s appearance is, on average, apt to elevate a film’s quality by at least a factor of 10.
Ask him what role he’s most often recognized for, however, and he expresses personal surprise at the answer. “Of course, there’s always Fargo,” he admits. “But I’m amazed, the movie that’s still brewing and cooking in every darned country—and I’ve shot nearly everywhere—is Armageddon. It’s on all the time throughout the world, and people come up in China, Japan, and New Zealand, and [affecting a Russian accent], ‘American components, Russian components—all made in Taiwan.’ People can quote those things. It is strange, and I’m amazed; Armageddon is such an old movie.”
Storemare’s impressive resume is largely defined by stellar supporting parts, which is why it’s so refreshing to see him finally assume the spotlight in Swedish Dicks, a half-hour comedy series premiering on the Pop Network this Wednesday night, after having debuted overseas last September. It’s an endeavor dear to his heart, given that he both co-created and stars in it as Ingmar, a former stuntman-turned-second-rate L.A. private eye who establishes a sleuthing partnership with young, struggling DJ Axel (Johan Glans). Shot in both English and Swedish—thanks to the fact that the main characters are expats—and co-starring both Reeves (as a mysterious figure from Ingmar’s past) and Traci Lords (as an investigative rival), the series is a goofy lark that takes ideal advantage of Stormare’s gift for electric oddness. Featuring the actor in a tasseled jacket and colorful Hawaiian shirts, as well as sporting a bushy mustache and greasy hair, it’s the sort of bizarro project he was born to headline.
Speaking to me from Los Angeles, where he’s lived since 1986—and where, he told his parents as a 5-year-old, he always wanted to reside—the amiable Stormare explains that Swedish Dicks came about because he feared running out of time. “Since I started like 200 years ago, I’ve always wanted to direct and write,” he says. “But I’ve been so busy—and fortunate and lucky—as an actor. So a lot of ideas are just put to the side. And I said one day, I’m going to do this. The latter part of my life, the last twenty years in this business, I’m just going to do the things I really love.”
Inspired by two of Stormare’s friends, one ex-military and the other an ex-stuntman, who really did become P.I.s, Swedish Dicks began as an idea for an hour-long drama. It soon transformed into a supremely silly half-hour comedy, however, thanks to the input of Scandinavian showrunner Peter Settman, who also introduced Stormare to Glans (“I thought Swedish Dick is a cool name, but Swedish Dicks is even cooler.”). And when Stormare found Hollywood less than wholly receptive to his original concept, he took matters into his own hands. “I said, ‘There’s something called a Viking strategy.’ You live on water and rice for a year, and then when you hit the shore, you take everything you can.” Stormare and his cohorts raised some money from Northern Europe streaming giant Viaplay, and then, “We put up our own money—Mr. Settman and me, our little companies. That’s how you do it, credit cards and shit,” he confesses with a laugh. “We said, ‘Let’s do it as a five-hour independent movie.’ That’s how it started.”
Despite having grown up overseas, Stormare has long been a fixture of the domestic movie industry, and of Los Angeles itself, an adopted home he adores. “I love this city, and I love parts of this city that I never see in any movie. Usually, if it’s L.A., it’s stock footage of Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, Bel-Air, Beverly Hills, palm trees, big broad streets, nice cars.” That’s a far cry from the locales spied in Swedish Dicks, which feels like a vision of the city filtered through a bygone lens. “I wanted to bring in a Lincoln Continental-ish old style, and Ingmar represents the old style. You know, he’s an ex-stuntman, and he represents the movies from the ’70s and ’80s. That’s why the office looks like it does. It’s a little nod to Twin Peaks. And there’s a little nod to Midnight Cowboy and Jon Voight, with Ingmar’s jacket.”
Plus, he adds, “It’s cheaper to use some areas that are not frequently shown in movies.”
As it turns out, Swedish Dicks’ guerilla-style production helped it enlist some of its high-profile talent, including old pal Reeves. “I approached a couple of friends to be on the show, and for a lot of actors, because we shoot it here in L.A., where a lot of people are based, people are very happy to be a guest star for a day or two, to do something they never get to do in other movies or on TV,” he says. “I asked Keanu and he said, yeah, he wouldn’t mind.” There was a condition, however. “He said, ‘As long as I get shot. You have to kill me. I kill you in other movies, so you have to kill me.’”
Also lending support is Traci Lords, who—as an upscale private investigator with considerable contempt for Ingmar—proves a constant scene-stealer. For her part, Stormare never imagined anyone else. “I had never met her, but whenever I saw her in a photo or anything, I just felt a connection to that face. And then she had written a book that is fantastic, about her survival, and how that girl survived is a miracle. So it was like a voice within me when I was writing, saying, ‘You have to get Traci Lords, Traci Lords, Traci Lords.’ Like she was channeling me.”
Their rapport is one of the series’ consistent high points, and Stormare is quick to compliment her for bringing something vital to the action. “I think she’s a big inspiration for a lot of young women, how to survive in this world of show business, being a woman,” he says. “Our first meeting, when we first got together to talk about it, we just fell in love. We have similar souls, I guess. We have a lot in common, and we have a couple of projects already lined up that we want to do together.”
When it comes to revisiting some of his most famous turns, Stormare sounds more than game, especially with regards to Constantine, the 2005 comic book-based supernatural thriller in which he appears as Lucifer opposite Reeves’ demon-combatting hero. “I think Constantine would be nice, because in the original sequel—I don’t know if it holds together anymore, because they said it’s not good enough—but I was God, instead,” he reveals. “Looking the same, in a darker suit, but I was God, not Satan.” Alas, he thinks any chance for such a sequel has passed, stating with a chuckle, “We’re too old. We’re going to be in wheelchairs when we do the second one.”
For now, his primary focus is Swedish Dicks, which is set to continue for the foreseeable future. “We’re shooting season two now; that’s going to air in Northern Europe in December, and then it’s going to come here in January, which means they’re going to be pretty much in sync. Then, hopefully, we’ll go straight into season three, which would be my dream.” The key to making that dream a reality, he says, is to both create a welcoming environment for fellow artists, and, like so many of his own unforgettable performances, to push the boundaries of what’s normally expected.
“The best paycheck you can get as a producer and creator is when people are happy to be on the show,” he confides. “We’re like a family. It’s a different, smaller crew—more Scandinavian, more Viking mentality. We work over the borderlines. There are so many red tapes in this industry, and we try to break them all.”