Chloe Lang is the name of the ten-year-old American actress who plays Stephanie in the next season of the TV series about LazyTown, which is currently being filmed. Chloe is a great athlete who loves to sing and dance. She is excited to see herself on screen. What is your full name and how old are you?My name is Chloe Lang and I am 10 years old. Where are you from? I live in Connecticut,...
The National Theater is dark and gloomy with the characteristics of Icelandic mountains, so it is not surprising when Stefán Karl says as he grabs the handle on a door at the back of the house: “I always feel like I am disappearing into a boulder when I enter to the National Theater.” He opens the door and we walk into the rock. Let’s leave everyday life outside and go into the elf hall that Guðjón Samúelsson, the master of the house, created around the play. This strange phenomenon that has been created for man’s need to have fun, learn, be deceived and forget himself.
“Have you seen the National Theater?” He asks when we get inside. I admit it is only slightly. Unfortunately, there is no time for that now. We hurry to his dressing room. When we get in there, he starts by shoveling together a toy that is on a table in front of another “make-up” mirror and puts it on the next chair, otherwise it is very neat in the room he shares with Rúnar Frey Gíslason, his school friend from the Icelandic Drama School And golf clubs.
Stefán Karl offers a seat in one of the chairs in front of the mirror. He himself sits by a narrow window at the end of the room. “You started playing at a young age, didn’t you?” Says a journalist and looks questioningly at the actor who looks at him in disbelief because he does not know what to expect from this blue stranger who is going to get his guts out.
“Yes, that’s right, I first started acting in school plays in Hafnarfjörður’s primary school where I grew up. When I was 12 years old I started playing with Leikfélag Hafnarfjörður. The first play I played with the theater company was called ‘This is all nonsense, Snjólfur’ and it was about us kids at school. A special youth department had been established within the theater company and we composed this play together with Guðjón Sigvaldason, director and actor” he says and continues to review his first experience in a “real” theater.
“The theater’s youth department wrote another play called ‘You are in the prime of life, you fool’. The play has been shown extensively by amateur theater companies in recent years. When Davíð Þór and I met, when he played Fúsa frog swallow when he was in the youth league, happy memories, we have sometimes talked about rewriting the play and setting it up because the idea for it is hilarious. It is about a person’s life from birth until he or she enters the labor market and has to take responsibility for his or her own life, what does that mean?”
I’ve heard you’ve been in the theater almost around the clock these years?
“Yes that is correct. I left home in the morning with a packed lunch and perhaps spent the night working on sets and setting up lights. I also worked in the ticket office and selling sweets in the shop, receiving coats in the cloakroom and vacuuming before and after shows.”
When I went to the Iceland Academy of Drama in 1995, I had acted in many plays with the Hafnarfjörður Theater Company, such as ‘Hróa hetti’, ‘Mó Mó’ and ‘Hans og Gréta’. I was also the bandleader in ‘Bugsy Malone’ set up by the theater department’s youth department, but in that show I played the piano even though I never learned that instrument” he adds, and finds this activity a bit funny and absurd when he recalls it. “It so happened that I had been playing the piano that the theater company owned, when I had learned a little about the organ from Karl Möller. Guðjón Sigvaldason, director of ‘Bugsy Malone’, then came to me and asked if I wanted to be the bandleader of the show. I was so French that I gave in. I had to play over ten songs in the show. I learned them by listening to the songs on a tape as well as learning to read the notes. Then I made my own notes that I wrote down on a piece of paper, but no one understood that except me. So I used these notes to play along. I became so interested in playing the piano after that, that I bought a piano for my summer apartment, that’s how my career as a pianist began!”
You have by then learned a lot about the noble art of acting when you went to the Iceland Academy of Drama. How did you like the study?
“In the acting school, students are given peace to pursue acting, learn to know themselves and develop.” He explains this further. To be able to do that, we need to be able to open up emotionally, and the school helps us to do that. The school does not create actors as many people think, but it helps acting students to shape and teach acting techniques so that they can use what they have on stage.”
When Stefán Karl graduated from the Iceland Academy of Drama three years ago, he immediately got a permanent job at the National Theater. Since then, he has tackled many challenging tasks. He has played the title role in ‘Glanni glæpur í Latabæ’ , played a drinker, the father of a woman and the Apostle Paul in ‘The Golden Gate’, played Philostratus and Bokka in ‘Dream on Midsummer Night’, in addition to which he played the role of Jepíkhodov in “The Cherry Orchard”. He played the dentist in the “Little Horror Shop” at the Borgarleikhúsið, where he was loaned for the occasion, played the solo ‘1,000 Island Sauce’ and directed ‘Leikjum’ at the Iðnó lunch theater. He now plays one of the lead roles in “Singing in the Rain” and in the play “With a Pocket Full of Rocks”. Just over a week ago, the play Water of Life premiered, in which he will play the lead role, in addition to which he will be in the lead role in the National Theater’s Christmas play ‘Cyrano’.
After this enumeration, it should be unnecessary to ask whether he is happy with the roles he has had since graduating, but let it go.
“Yes, I am very happy and grateful to have had the opportunity I have had” he says without hesitation. “I humbly think about how lucky I am to be able to do what I love most – to stand on stage and play.”
You are permanently employed at the National Theater and will strictly take on the roles that are right for you. What do you think about it?
“It is not the case here in the house that people are ordered into something they do not want to do at all. There is no tyranny here. The roles are decided in consultation with the relevant actors, directors and theater directors. Sometimes, of course, we have to play something we are not really excited about, but then we do it with integrity. If an actor presents himself with moral or religious reasons, he has scope to refuse a role. However, I think it has only happened once in the 50-year history of the National Theater.”
Is there a lot of struggle over the roles here indoors?
“No, there is a great deal of solidarity between the people who work here.”
Do actors go to the director of the National Theater and try to influence what role they get?
“If an actor is interested in a certain role, it is natural for him to go to the theater director and ask ‘can I?’ It would be unnatural to sit in a corner and wait but fuss and sway if the person in question does not get the role.”
Now you are playing the lead role in Benoný Ægisson’s serious play, ‘Water of Life’. The play takes place around the turn of the century 1900 and plays a young visionary who fights for progress in a conservative society. You have not played many serious roles since you started your career.
“No, that’s right. I played one of these in the Student Theater, ‘Krákufellin’, by Einar Örn Gunnarsson, director was Hilmir Snær. I’m now getting a chance to play, as to say, a normal character.”
How does it affect you?
“Very well but it is difficult. Because I am very energetic and sometimes I go beyond myself and I have to slow down a bit.”
How do you do that?
“I do this by approaching the work, which is very down-to-earth. The character I play does not offer any nonsense. There is a completely different concentration that starts with me when dealing with such a role than, for example, “With a pocket full of rocks”. I need to dive a little deeper into myself to get the concentration I need.”
You are singing and dancing almost all the time in ‘Singing in the Rain’. Does it suit you?
“Yes and I get a lot of physical and mental outreach. I also really enjoy being in a show where people have a good time. Having a hall full of people laughing and having fun is the most wonderful thing about the theater. And always after a show, when I come up to the dressing room, I look out the window.” He just turns around as he sits and looks outside. “I look straight into the parking lot behind here. It’s a golden moment for me to see happy theater guests get to their cars, laughing, some singing the songs from the play, others maybe dancing.”
Your relationship with the audience seems close …
“Without an audience, there is no play. It may be clichéd to say that, but I love the audience and care deeply about their interests. If I make a joke and the audience is quite, I take it to heart. I wonder if there is something wrong with my doing and during the break I rethink my advice.”
Have you learned to sing and dance?
“No, nothing. I was in the choir of Öldutúnsskóli when I was little. I have never learned to sing except in the acting school with Elín Sigurvinsdóttir. She taught me a lot about technique in singing.
The call is interrupted by a mobile phone call. “Oops..” he says, reaching for the phone in his pants pocket. Hello, yes that’s okay, just fine…
When the conversation ends, he continues to talk about the song.
“I really enjoy singing, but I have learned even less to dance apart from what I learned in acting school. My mother took me to Heiður Ástvaldsson’s Dance School at a young age, where I stayed for half a winter. I was told by teachers at the drama school that I was good at dancing. And I’ve decided to …” he hesitates. “…to go to ballet” I shoot. He laughs. “I saw the movie about Billy Elliott the other day, that movie is absolutely fantastic. I sometimes saw myself in this boy when I was little. No, I would like to learn ballroom dancing and I am determined to take my future wife to dance school to learn ballroom dancing and tap dancing, but I learned a little tap for the role in ‘Singing in the Rain'”.
You have sung Stuðman’s song ‘Sigurjón digra’ on an album with Landi and sons, have you sung with a band?
“No, my reputation at school was such that I’m not sure I would have been listened to a lot even if I had started singing in a band. It was a very fun experience to sing this Stuðman song which was a much rougher version of ‘Sigurjón digra’ than the previous one. Since then, I have performed with Landi and sons and Stuðman himself on Broadway. “
So we’re back to the theater. In the play ‘With a pocket full of rocks’ you play Hilmir Snær each in seven roles, doesn’t it require a lot of concentration to constantly change characters like this?
“Yes, the play is based on a certain acting technique that director Ian McElhenney taught us, when he staged the play on the West End and Broadway and made it easier for us to learn the roles. He has developed a certain method for the play we drew into our manuscripts. Hilmir Snær and I were just laughing the other day that we have never written so much in a script like this. Ian talked about “the map”, as it can be said that the performance was mapped. When we had finished studying the map from the outside, we started to shape the characters and connect the text to them. The repetition means that you no longer have to think in advance about every single movement or response and the play becomes almost automatic. In such a situation, the focus must be even greater. Therefore, there is a risk that once the actor has learned the role, the concentration will decrease.”
Isn’t there something you say to yourself before entering the stage that helps you tackle a difficult role?
“What you have to say to yourself is ‘Now I understand the world. I understand the tragedy in the United States…’ and even if the actor’s house burned down an hour before the show, he must leave his thoughts in the dressing room and go into the world on stage and there he must be. The rehearsal period is to create this world and make it so strong and big that the actor can not get out of it. If not, he has also been an actor.”
You took ‘With a Pocket Full of Rocks’ on a tour through the country.
“Yes, we went on a two-week trip which was absolutely great… hell it was fun!” he shouts to himself “It was boring to go home. We went to thirteen places. There you met some joy of life, positivity and gratitude from people who live abroad. In these places everyone knows each other and people are therefore more reluctant to let go of feelings during performances. When people come to the theater, it could be a bit of a formality reflected in the attitude of many people: ‘Now that I’m in the theater I really want to see a great cultural event’ instead of saying to the actor: ‘Have fun!’, because I stand on the stage and I want the theater guest to have a good evening. “
Did you know anything about the people themselves?
“Yes, a little. We had a day at every stop. We arrived at the place, set up the gadgets, maybe put on a show and then drove off for the night or the next morning.”
“It was very fun” he repeats, “especially in Seyðisfjörður where I have relatives and have sometimes stayed during the summer. I had a birthday the day we showed there and at the same time we were showing the eighth show of ‘With a full pocket of rocks’. There was a great atmosphere at the show and after that the audience stood up and sang the birthday song for me. After that we were invited to the home of my paternal sister who had cooked a delicious seafood soup, a la Sigga frænka, as the soup is called. What made this day even more fun was that one of my nieces and nephews in Seyðisfjörður got a little girl on my birthday.”
Stefán Karl is currently rehearsing for the lead role in the National Theater’s Christmas play, ‘Cyrano’ by the French playwright Edmond Rostand. The play is about the nose-sized adventurer Cyrano de Bergerac and was very well received when it premiered in Paris in 1898. The play, which is a heroic play, has been staged in many parts of the world with great popularity. Films have been made accordingly. One of them, Cyrano de Bergerac, starred the French actor Gerard Depardieu, while in a more modern version, Roxanne, Steve Martin played Cyrano.
Stefán Karl has therefore been studying for the fourth role he will play this season. So it is only to be hoped that a journalist will ask whether it is not problematic for actors to keep roles separate?
“No, I do not think so. It could be, however, if the roles were chemically similar” he says thoughtfully. “But nothing can go from ‘Singing in the Rain’ to ‘With a Pocket Full of Rocks’ because I have made completely different worlds regarding these shows that are impossible to confuse.”
But isn’t there a danger when people are in so much that they burn up?
“No, I’m not worried about that as I’m just starting to play. I hear this from people. ‘You have to be careful not to burn up’.” he mimics, making a worried face. “And I just say, ‘Do you find me so boring? Do you want to get rid of me?'” He laughs like a horse. “Of course this is something you have to think about” he says, and has become serious. “I thought about it this winter if I was playing too much. There are actors here by the house and elsewhere who have been in several leading roles over the winter. These actors have been working for 8-10 years and you can’t see them burning up. It’s also a question of how things are done and whether the audience likes what the actor is doing. If so, they want to see more. It is rather the opportunities outside the theater that can tire the actors, as if they are appearing in a number of commercials, at parties, at New Year’s shopping or working in films.”
Speaking of movies, you landed a role in the movie Regina last summer.
“Yes, I was there in a small, sweet role, but there I got to play a cop with Uncle Maggi (Magnús Ólafsson). It’s the first time I’d acted in a real movie.”
You also starred in the Student Theater’s graduation project, the TV movie ‘God exists…and love’ which was made after Illugi Jökulsson’s screenplay?
“Yes, it was very instructive and Hilmar Oddsson, who directed the film, is a great teacher. The photo was taken in Flatey, where we stayed for ten days. However, I missed the third play that the Student Theater usually puts on.”
Are you perhaps more for the theater?
“No, no, not at all. Judging by the little experience I have, I like myself in the movies. It is a world that is unexplored by me and I hope I get to see it more.”
In order to be able to do his job and withstand the stress of playing five nights a week as well as rehearsing for new roles, Stefán Karl must take good care of his physical health. Most mornings he goes to the gym but he has a personal trainer who has designed a special exercise program for him and he also gets advice on diet. But how does he prepare himself spiritually for his work?
“I do what I enjoy doing in my spare time. I spend a lot of time with my family. I’ve been learning to fly and I like flying for an hour or two, but I’m aiming for a private pilot exam. I go golfing and hiking. I also like being alone with myself.”
You were relatively new to acting school when you had the opportunity to direct a new play, ‘Games’, by Bjarni Bjarnason in Iðnó. How was your debut as a director?
“It was a really fun experience.”
Were you interested in this job?
“I mentioned it to Magnús Geir, theater director of the Icelandic Theater Association, in passing and jokingly that I was interested in directing. He just decided to let me try because he had good faith in me.”
You seemed to do well as a director.
“I went the traditional route to the play and got the actors Jakob Þór Einarsson and Nanna Kristín Magnúsdóttir to act in the play. Jakob was my teacher at the acting school and Nanna Kristín is my school sister.”
You have not been hesitant to direct your former mentor?
“Yes, a little first but we have always been good friends and Nanna Kristín and I are good friends so it went well.”
Are you interested in developing yourself more as a director?
“Yes, I’m very interested in that. It can be said that I am interested in everything to do with theater.”
How do you think the relationship between director and actor should be?
“The co-operation must be good. Director and actor need to adjust their wavelengths, ie. decide what direction they are going. The director comes up with an idea for a specific method that the actor and everyone who works on the show should, in my opinion, have an opinion on and need to approve. Sometimes the author gets involved in this collaboration as well.”
What happens if the actor and director do not agree?
“Of course it can happen, but then these parties need to talk more together than usual. Sometimes the actor has hot ideas because he has already shaped the character, given it flesh and blood. He may want to justify it and say to the director or the author: ‘No, mine would never say that.’ But sometimes we actors are not in a position to see if the character’s answers are logical and therefore we must above all trust the director. The goal of both is to create a solid and good show.”
You played a solo in Iðnó in Hallgrímur Helgason’s play ‘1000 eyja sósu’ which he wrote especially for you. How did it come about?
“I know Hallgrímur through Gunnar, his brother, and asked him to write for me a solo work that I showed in the third year of acting school. This was a play that later won another prize in the one-act competition of the Icelandic Theater Association. We were invited to take the work to the theater festival in Leipzig, Germany. It so happened that the festival’s executive director, Elizabeth Woolf, came here. She found the work to be one of the more interesting performances she saw here, in addition to which the performance is easy to set up and cheap. What Woolf found so remarkable was that she understood almost every word I said in the show, which was in Icelandic. The same was stated in a critique publications in German newspapers about the show. The reason was said to be the structure of the work and the gesture. It was intended to use a typewriter to deliver the content of the play, but it was dropped. However, a manuscript in German was on the table for those who wanted a look into it.”
How were you as a kid?
“You should ask Mom about this. I was sometimes called the guerrilla or as someone said to me: ‘My Stefán Karl, you are not overactive, you are just well-active’.”
Were you taken to a doctor or psychologist as is now the case with overactive children?
“No, fortunately not. But I was, as I have said before, publicly bullied at school and it was very difficult. I did not realize until later that it was bullying and that I was bullying other kids because I did. “
How was the bullying you experienced described?
“I was being teased because I had big ears. I was a very energetic kid and often played and fooled around. Maybe I was standing in school and singing loudly and it went a lot for me. As a result, I was not invited to a birthday party or class. Older students locked me in a trash bin or stripped me naked in the library. I just laughed and made fun of it all. But of course I felt really bad. I used to go to the cemetery not far from where I lived and sit with my grandparents and chat about myself, home and surroundings. Most kids know they have an unreal friend they talk to or they talk to their dolls or teddy bears. I did this and I think it kept me alive. Despite all this, I did not have much self-confidence, but I went a long way in family stubbornness.”
“In order to try to fit into the group, I personally took part in harassing others. It wasn’t until I got to acting school and started to look at myself from the inside out that I realized that I had missed out on a certain emotional development. I think we humans do far too little to try to figure out who we really are. What we know and can do. We also need to learn to respect ourselves. It saved me to be in Leikfélag Hafnarfjörður Theater. If I had not been there, I would definitely have started smoking, drinking and taking drugs. “
In recent years, Stefán Karl has visits school and told about his experience to help others who have been bullied and talk about the consequences. For the selfless work he has done on a voluntary basis, the radio station Radíó-X recently gave him recognition. What has been his message to the kids?
“They are killing people because of bullying and that is our fault. I could tell you many tragic stories of kids, up to the age of 13, who have committed suicide because they were not allowed to be who they were.”
Were you thinking of committing suicide during this period?
“It simply came to my notice then. Most of us have a laid back attitude when it comes to painting a picture about ourselves.”
Now there has been a change in your life. You used to be hounded by the mob, but now you’re an avid actor, how do you feel?
“As I have said so many times, I’m just a little Hafnfjörður who went to acting school and like everyone who goes there hoped for the best” he says and looks away like a shy schoolboy. “Sometimes I feel like my life is a dream and I think to myself, now it must be over.”
What would you do if that were the case?
“I’m not arrogant… but I know that playing is not the only thing I can do. I have done various other jobs. I have worked as a laborer down by the harbor, I was on a trawler for a while, I have worked in a shop and on a farm, at the power plant, in salted fish and herring, just name it. I found it instructive to try these jobs. In my opinion, one job is no more remarkable than another.”