Beyond ‘Beck’: Mikael Persbrandt’s Top 10 Tough Guys


We bring you closer to gaze into the steely blue Scandinavian stare of the Swedish star.

With all new episodes of Beck on BBC Four, fans have welcomed back the crime fighting duo, including the gruff demeanour and undeniable charm of Martin Beck’s force-to-be-reckoned-with partner Gunvald Larsson, played by Swedish actor Mikael Persbrandt.

Persbrandt’s career began on stage with a minor supporting role in William Shakespeare’s King Lear in 1984, as part of the national Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre company. However this production was far from mediocre as Persbrandt found himself under the tutelage of renowned auteur and influential filmmaker Ingmar Bergman. Persbrandt went on to star in an assortment of plays including Death of a Salesman, Don Juan and Miss Julie.


Television and cinema soon beckoned the versatile thespian with his most iconic role in Beck (1997- ). With this in mind, fans may be surprised to discover that the actor who has come to be associated with the blunt and temperamental detective Larsson, has lent his gravelly voice to the Swedish dubbed versions of animated family movies, such as Mulan (1998), Dinosaur (1999), Titan A.E. (2000) and Finding Nemo (2003).

Join us as we take a look at the Top 10 performances of Mikael Persbrandt in film and television.


The Hypnotist (2012)


Based on the international best-selling Swedish novel by Lars Kepler (a pseudonym for Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril) and directed by established filmmaker Lasse Hallström (The Cider House Rules, 1999 and Chocolat, 2000), The Hypnotist tells the story of a brutal murder which envelops the lives of Erik Maria Bark (Persbrandt) and Simone Bark (Lena Olin). Criminal consultant and hypnotist Erik is called in to shed light on the killing by retrieving clues from the sole survivor Josef Ek; the son of the slain family who lies in a coma. However, when it becomes clear the victim may be involved, Erik’s becomes the next target in the ruthless plot. The suspense escalates when their son is kidnapped by the mysterious perpetrator and Erik and Simone must overcome their grief to find out the truth before it is too late. The film was selected to compete for the Best Foreign Language film at the 85th Academy Awards, the same year the Danish costume drama A Royal Affair (2012) was nominated, starring Persbrandt’s on-screen brother in The Salvation (2014) Mads Mikkelsen.


In a Better World (2010)


From the award-winning director of After the Wedding (2006) and A Second Chance (2014), Susanne Bier’s In a Better World saw Persbrandt win Best Actor at the 2011 Robert Festival for his portrayal of Anton. He plays a Swedish doctor in a fragile relationship with wife Marianne (Trine Dyrholm, Festen, 1998 and The Legacy, 2014- ) and two young sons as he attempts to balance his life in Denmark, whilst treating patients in a war-torn Sudan. Claus, played by Ulrich Thomsen (Festen, 1998 and A Second Chance, 2014) has an equally dysfunctional family as a widower raising his son. As the volatile relationships merge, the passions and repressions between the two families spark to create life-changing consequences. The film offers a profound contrast between the portrait of human nature in Scandinavia and the Sudanese refugee camp. Kim Bodnia (The Bridge, 2011-2013 and Nightwatch, 1994) also stars In a Better World which won Best Foreign Language Film of the Year at the 2011 Oscars.


The Salvation (2014)


In Kristian Levring’s stylish thriller which is a self-professed homage to the classic Western genre by the Dogme95 filmmaker, Persbrandt is cast as Peter Jensen; a Danish immigrant who has settled in America following the devastating result of the Second Schleswig war in 1864. Along with his brother Jon (Mads Mikkelsen), Peter welcomes Jon’s wife Marie (singer Nanna Øland Fabricius) and son Kresten to their new beginnings, after awaiting their arrival for 7 years. When tragedy strikes, Jon seeks bloody vengeance against the outlaws who killed his family. This malevolent act pits him against the lawless prospectors led by Henry Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); intent on claiming the township, rich with oil. Peter is entangled in the conflict; bound by an infallible loyalty that puts him in the crosshairs of Delarue and his menacing gang. Eva Green and Jonathan Pryce round up the international cast.


The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) and The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies (2014)


The second cinematic triptych from special effects master of fantasy Peter Jackson (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) tackles the precursor to Frodo’s epic journey to Mordor. In the second and third chapters of Jackson’s reimagining of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, Persbrandt bursts into Middle Earth as Beorn “The Shape-Shifter” when Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), Thorin (Richard Armitage), Gandalf the Grey (Sir Ian McKellen) and the company of dwarves seek refuge from Azog and the Orcs. Initially regarded with fear due to his animalistic tendencies, Beorn proves to be an ally on their treacherous mission fighting within the Five Armies. Conceptual designer John Howe emphasises how Scandinavian Persbrandt’s character is due to his ability as a “skin changer” to change into a bear, which has roots in Norse mythology. Persbrandt describes Beorn’s feral nature: “Even in his human form there is something wild about him.” Perhaps as wild as Gunvald Larsson?


Everlasting Moments (2008)


In a period drama set in 1911, the poignant narrative centres round Maria Larsson (Maria Heiskanen) as she unwittingly stumbles upon a creative outlet to escape her troublesome life in Malmö, Sweden. After meeting eccentric gentleman Sebastian Pedersen (Jesper Christensen from Casino Royale, 2006 and The Legacy, 2014- ), Maria in convinced to experience life through her camera as opposed to pawning it. Her passion for photography develops and is matched by her burgeoning love for Sebastian. Persbrandt is the embodiment of her woes in the shape of alcoholic and abusive husband Sigfrid or “Sigge”. Sigge is not a straightforward villain as his weakness for liquor to ease his arduous work on the docks clearly shows an inherent unhappiness within him. His performance won him Best Actor in the Best Foreign Language Film category at the 66th Golden Globe Awards.


Hamilton: In the Interest of the Nation and Hamilton: But Not If It Concerns Your Daughter (2012)


Carl Hamilton (Mikael Persbrandt) is a spy from the mind of Jan Guillou’s trilogy of books. In In the Interest of the Nation, the Secret Agent is tasked to go undercover in order to thwart the sale of Swedish nuclear weapons to international terrorist cells. The mission is a failure and reflects badly on his record. Upon his return home things rapidly worsen for Hamilton as his training as a hired killer backfires and results in his girlfriend’s death. In the aftermath Hamilton struggles to cope with his destructive and duplicitous lifestyles, yet he is sent back into the field where he belongs. The second film But Not If It Concerns Your Daughter sees Hamilton’s goddaughter Natalie – the Swedish Security Service director – kidnapped by apparent Islamic extremists. However, his rescue operation leads him on a hunt to the United Kingdom on the trail of SAS mercenaries. The first film is hailed by the Embassy of Sweden as “an excellent example of the close cultural cooperation between Sweden and Jordan” due to locals of Jordan participating in the making of the film.


Someone You Love (2014)


“Showbiz, ups and downs” is the succinct way that famous singer-songwriter Thomas Jacob (Persbrandt) explains his rollercoaster career and disappearing from the limelight. Recovering from a drug-fuelled rise to the giddying heights of a celebrity in Los Angeles, Jacob returns to Denmark to get back on track and create an album with the help of his producer Molly Moe (Trine Dyrholm). Jacob is tested even further when his daughter Julie (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, Borgen, 2010-2013) mirrors her father’s past addiction by announcing she is going to rehab. Before she leaves, Julie bestows upon Jacob his grandson Noa. The bittersweet and touching drama unfolds with Jacob and Noa gradually bonding through the medium of music as their only mutual interest. Through Noa Jacob is given hope to atone and try to “be born again for someone you love.”


Stockholm East (2011)


An unconventional version of a romantic brief encounter at a train station transpires between Johan (Persbrandt) and Anna (Iben Hjejle, Dag, 2011-2015 and Klown, 2010). A catastrophic accident results in the negligent death of Anna’s daughter Tove (Erin Nilsson Kers) after she is hit by a car with Johan behind the wheel. A year passes and Johan and Anna meet serendipitously at Stockholm East train station. While Anna is not aware of Johan’s part in her daughter’s death, they begin a lustful affair. To cope with her feelings, Anna entertains a delusion that Tove is still alive and incorporates this alternative reality with her ideal existence of passion and freedom. The emotional performances from Persbrandt and Hjejle are complimented by Per Källberg’s cinematography and art direction by Jan Olof Ågren, which present a vision of beauty within the shadow of tragedy.


Oskyldigt dömd (2008-2009)


Critically acclaimed writers – including Hans Rosenfeldt from The Bridge (2011- ), The Sandhamn Murders (2012-2015) and Jan Arnald of the Arne Dahl franchise – created the first season of Oskyldigt dömd (which means “innocently convicted”) starring Mikael Persbrandt as criminal law professor Markus Haglund. The show’s title is also the name of the class Haglund teaches to a group of students studying the honourable side of law: Fia (Sofia Ledarp, who Nordic Noir fans will recognise as Malin Erikson in the Millennium trilogy, 2009), Anna (Helena af Sandeberg), Belal Al- (Francisco Sobrado) and Roger (Leonard Terfelt). With their own contentious pasts to deal with, the class pursue the truth in their investigations even at the risk of personal danger.


Bang Bang Orangutang (2005)


In this bizarre comedy drama, Persbrandt stars as an off-beat character that audiences have never seen him play before! His well-honed tough persona is exchanged for a down-on-his-luck businessman that could rival and parody the stress of Michael Douglas in Falling Down (1993). In this case: a father called Åke (Persbrandt) decides to resort to peculiar methods to win back his daughter in light of his dissatisfied wife adamant she wants a divorce. Persbrandt is cast once again with The Hypnotist’s Lena Olin (in very different circumstances) as well as a host of Scandi stars: Tuva Novotny (ID:A, 2011 and Crimes of Passion, 2013-2014), Michael Nyqvist (the Millennium trilogy, 2009), Shanti Roney (Arne Dahl, 2011- ), Fares Fares (Easy Money, 2010 and The Keeper of Lost Causes, 2013) and none other than Jonas Karlsson; Martin Beck and Gunvald Larsson’s superior Klas Fredén in the new series of Beck. It is a small, surreal world Persbrandt’s characters live in.


Mikael Persbrandt will next appear in war-themed movies Jadotville, starring alongside Jamie Dornan and Mark Strong in the Congo in 1960s and opposite Daniel Brühl, Brendan Gleeson and Emma Thompson in Alone in Berlin. Persbrandt will also feature in Guy Ritchie’s Knights of the Roundtable: King Arthur, all due for release in 2016.

In the meantime, keep up-to-date with the latest episodes of Beck on BBC Four, Saturdays at 9pm.