SKARS-GUIDE: Who’s who in Sweden’s Skarsgård acting dynasty?

In honour of the Oscars, the biggest event of the year in Hollywood, we're doing a deep-dive into one of Sweden's most famous international exports: the Skarsgård family of (mostly) actors. Who are they, and what have you seen them in?

SKARS-GUIDE: Who's who in Sweden's Skarsgård acting dynasty?
Stellan, Bill and Gustaf Skarsgård at a premier in 2010. Photo: Anders Wiklund/TT

The Skarsgårds, one of Sweden’s best-known acting families, consist of father Stellan and his first wife My’s six children, as well as Stellan and second wife Megan’s two children.

All of the men in the family are over 6 feet (180 cm) tall, and all the male members of the family made their acting debut before the age of ten.

Here’s our Skars-guide.

Photos: Claudio Bresciani, Jessica Gow, Maja Suslin, Sören Stache, Henrik Montgomery, Björn Larsson Rosvall, Mats Andersson, Kajsa Rasmussen, Fredrik Sandberg/TT Graphic: The Local

Stellan Skarsgård (71)

Let’s start with the patriarch of the Skarsgård family, Stellan Skarsgård. Stellan was born in 1951 in Gothenburg to Gudrun Skarsgård and Jan Skarsgård. 

His first big break was in the Swedish TV series Bombi Bitt och jag in 1968, after which he shot to fame as a teenage heartthrob. This success was followed by theatre roles in Helsingborg, Malmö, Uppsala and Stockholm. 

Stellan Skarsgård’s first film role was in 1982, in the film Den enfaldige mördaren (The Simple-Minded Murderer).

In 1998 he made his international breakthrough with a small role in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, an American film directed by Philip Kaufman.

In recent years, his most well-known roles have been as Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean, and as another Bill in the ABBA film Mamma Mia. He also features as astrophysicist Dr. Erik Selvig in a number of Marvel films.

He is particularly associated with Danish director Lars von Trier, featuring in von Trier films such as Melancholia (alongside son Alexander) Breaking the Waves and Nymphomaniac.

In 1975, he married My Skarsgård, a doctor, with whom he had six of his eight children: Alexander, Gustaf, Sam, Bill, Eija and Valter Skarsgård.

My and Stellan divorced in 2007, and he remarried in 2009, this time to producer Megan Everett, with whom he has two sons, Ossian and Kolbjörn.

Alexander Skarsgård (46)

The oldest and possibly most famous of the Skarsgård children is Alexander Skarsgård, born in 1976. 

Alexander’s first Swedish role was in Åke och hans värld (Åke and his world) at the age of seven. He quit acting at 13, joined the Swedish military at 19 and served for 18 months, before returning to acting. His first international role was a minor role in US comedy Zoolander, although he is most well-known for his role as Eric Northman in vampire series True Blood, Amleth in The Northman and Perry Wright in Big Little Lies.

Alexander is extremely private and prefers to avoid the public eye outside of his films, but is linked to fellow Swede, actress Tuva Novotny, with whom he has one child.

Gustaf Skarsgård (42)

Gustaf, born in 1980, started acting at the age of six and attended Stockholm’s Teaterhögskolan (The Swedish Academy of Mime and Acting) between 1998 and 2003, after which he joined Stockholm’s Dramaten theatre.

Internationally, he is best known for films Evil, Kon-Tiki and The Way Back, as well as his role as Floki in TV series Vikings, and roles in HBO series Westworld and Netflix series Cursed.

He recently played Karl Oskar in the film Utvandrarna (The Emigrants), follwing the story of emigrants from Sweden to North America in the late 1800s.

Gustaf has a daughter with his partner, Caroline Sjöström.

Sam Skarsgård (41)

Sam, born just a year after Gustaf in 1981, took after his mother My, working as a doctor in intensive care, after a brief acting career at the age of four in the film Jim och piraterna Blom (Jim and the Blom Pirates), which his father co-wrote. 

Sam and his wife Sanna live with Gustaf and Caroline in the Södermalm area of Stockholm, just down the road from Gustaf and Sam’s father Stellan and stepmother Megan.

Bill Skarsgård (32)

Bill Skarsgård, the fourth Skarsgård child, was born in 1990, and is best known internationally for playing the clown Pennywise in the adaptation of Stephen King’s horror series It. He  also featured in the most recent John Wick film, John Wick Chapter 4, as well as in superhero movie Deadpool Two.

Bill is in a relationship with Swedish actress Alida Morberg, who he appeared alongside in Netflix series Clark. The couple has one daughter.

Eija Skarsgård (31)

Eija, Stellan Skarsgård’s only daughter, was born in 1992. Just like her brother Sam, she does not work as an actor, instead working as a club manager in Stockholm for a number of years after a  modelling career as a teenager.

Since 2020, she has worked in casting on multiple projects, recently on Swedish TV series Young Royals and Lust.

She also lives on Södermalm with her husband, Zeke Tastas.

Valter Skarsgård (27)

The youngest of My and Stellan Skarsgård’s shared children, Valter, was born in 1995. Within Sweden, he is probably most known for his roles in the Beck TV series, where he played policeman Vilhelm Beck.

Valter is currently working on a TV series about the life of Swedish ice hockey legend Börje Salming, where he will play Salming.

Ossian Skarsgård (13)

Ossian, born in 2009, is Stellan Skarsgård’s first son with second wife Megan Everett. Ossian already has some acting credits to his name despite his youth, such as voicing a character in film The Wife at the age of eight, as well as a role in Alex Schulman’s autobiographical film Bränn alla mina brev (Burn All of my Letters), where he played a younger version of Schulman alongside his brother, Bill Skarsgård.

This year, fans of SVT’s TV advent calendar can look forward to seeing him in 2023’s advent calendar, where he will play a troll named Love.

Kolbjörn Skarsgård (10)

Finally, the youngest Skarsgård for this generation at least is Kolbjörn, born in 2012. Despite being only ten years old, Kolbjörn already has a few acting credits, which is perhaps not much of a surprise, considering his siblings had also all had acting jobs by the age of ten.

Kolbjörn starred alongside his half-brother Bill and aunt Alida in Clark at the age of 9, and has also featured as Milo in TV series Kenny Starfighter.

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INTERVIEW: ‘Returning to Stockholm from Mumbai is so horrible’

For foreign correspondent Malin Mendel, moving to India in 2005 was "like coming home". The Local spoke to her about the cultural differences living in India as a Swede and her TV programme with Swedish-Indian comedian David Batra.

INTERVIEW: 'Returning to Stockholm from Mumbai is so horrible'

“I spent some time living in Lahore in Pakistan with my family when I was a small girl. So, that was mainly the reason why I became a foreign correspondent, I wanted to return to that part of the world,” Mendel explains, with her English noticeably influenced by almost two decades living in India.

“Even if India and Pakistan are different countries, so much is similar, like the food and the colours and what people look like.”

Another draw for Mendel was the food – growing up in Sweden in the 70s and 80s, staple ingredients in Indian food like basmati rice and fresh coriander weren’t readily available.

“My main goal was to just go back and eat,” she laughs.

The first time she landed in Mumbai with her husband and her young son was “like a dream”.

“I immediately just recognised that particular smell and the warm, humid climate, the people and the sounds and everything was very familiar to me.”

She has noticed, however, that friends visiting from Sweden often need some time to adapt to the radically different culture.

“If they haven’t been in similar countries, they’re in a complete shock, at least for a week,” she says. “I’m brought up in Sweden so I understand where they come from.”

‘As a Swedish person, India has taught me so much’

India and Sweden couldn’t be greater opposites, Mendel says, adding that India has given her new perspectives on social life and the attitude to religion which she didn’t have living in Sweden.

“It’s a luxurious situation for me to have one foot in both of these different worlds, because I learned so much from India, and I think many people in Sweden can learn a lot from India,” she adds.

Indians in Sweden often appreciate things which Swedes take for granted, Mendel believes.

“There aren’t so many people, it’s very clean everywhere, you can breathe the air, you can swim in the water, you can buy everything in Ica. Life is quite convenient, compared to many places in India.”

‘Have patience with Swedish people’

However, there are downsides to living in Sweden for those who are more used to a more social, faster pace of life.

“Many of the people I know from India who stay in Sweden feel lonely. They are isolated and not used to this ‘one-by-one’ society.”

This can be a big culture shock for Indians arriving in Sweden, Mendel says.

“Usually whoever I meet in my work, if I interview people, they just invite me to their house immediately. ‘Just come over for food, come over for dinner’. If you’re used to that and you end up in Sweden, that can be a shock, because people in Sweden don’t do that.”

Her advice to Indians arriving in Sweden is to “have patience with Swedish people”.

“Don’t expect them to invite you over like you’re used to. Maybe you have to invite them first. And even if you do, maybe they won’t invite you back,” she laughs.

“They hardly invite their friends or family,” Mendel adds, saying that this ‘closed-door’ mentality often makes her feel “ashamed of Sweden”.

‘Where is everybody?’

For Mendel, she often experiences a kind of reverse culture shock returning to Stockholm from her home in Mumbai.

“It’s horrible, I’m so depressed when I return, because it’s like coming from a normal world where people are looking into your eyes and they will greet you and say ‘hello, how are you?’ and things like that.”

“Everybody is quiet. My neighbours will not even say hi, they will kind of run away like Swedish people.”

Mendel’s family and friends live in Sweden, so she still has a social life here, but she explains that she is often struck by the difference between the two countries when she takes a taxi from Arlanda airport to Stockholm city centre.

“It’s like ‘wow, what happened? Where is everybody? Has there been some kind of nuclear disaster?'”

‘The response is overwhelming’

Since 2018, Mendel has had a TV programme with Indian-Swedish comedian David Batra, Världens sämsta indier (which literally translates to ‘The World’s Worst Indian’, although the English title is ‘Homecoming’). In the first series, Batra travelled to India, enlisting the help of Mendel to better understand the country and his Indian heritage.

In the second series, Batra tried to break through as a successful comedian in India, again with Mendel’s help, and in the third series, broadcast in March and April 2023, Batra and Mendel try opening a restaurant together to see if that will make Batra a “real Indian”.

All three series investigate some of the cultural differences between Sweden and India in a tongue-in-cheek way, while aiming to teach Swedes more about India and Indian culture.

“The response from Swedes is just overwhelming,” she says, “even if they weren’t interested in India before, they are now interested in India, and learned more than they would from news coverage, because this is different. So I’m happy about that.”

Their programme has been heavily advertised on public broadcaster SVT and is one of the main programmes Swedes were watching this month, Mendel says.

Although Mendel and Batra often joke in the programme, which Mendel describes as “infotainment”, she explains that it makes fun of the differences between Sweden and India through Batra and is not seeking to ridicule India or Indians themselves.

In the most recent series, Mendel and Batra also show the modern side of India, visiting wine producers, discussing how to appeal to the growing Indian middle class who have an increasing interest in eating out in restaurants, and sourcing ingredients for their restaurant from young female entrepreneurs.

They also highlight the diversity of India, discussing how to ensure that their menu fits the dietary requirements of the locals in Saligao, northern Goa, where the restaurant is located, who eat a lot of fish, as well as Hindus – many of whom avoid beef, while others avoid all meat, fish and eggs – and the Jains, who don’t eat meat, fish, animal products or items grown underground like onions, garlic and potatoes.

“I know that many in the Indian community recognise many things, but some of them also maybe feel like ‘why are you showcasing poor people or dead rats? Why are you joking about so many things?’,” Mendel says.

“The reason we do not focus on ultra modern office environments is because we all in Sweden know what that is like. So even if there are such environments in India as well, it will not be interesting, it will not be a clash for David coming from Sweden experiencing this.”

“When we sometimes deal with different stereotypes of India, we usually try to break these stereotypes or at least nuance them.”

‘They get suspicious when they hear my accent’

Batra, born in Lund to a Punjabi father and Swedish mother, is a household name in Sweden, while most Indians living in India have never heard of him, which led to some entertaining situations while filming.

“The very second they start to talk with us, they notice that my accent is a little bit Indian, and he has more of an American accent,” she says. “They get suspicious.”

Often, they would be filming in a group of four consisting of Batra as well as Mendel, their camerawoman and their producer. 

“So when we three blonde ladies come along, and he’s with us – usually carrying the tripod – they think he’s the carrier, the Indian wallah who is working with us,” she explains.

“Sometimes they’re like ‘oh, you can wait outside’. He’s a really big star in Sweden, so it’s really funny to see this reaction when nobody cares.”

You can watch all seasons of Världens sämsta indier/Homecoming on SVT Play here.