Stockholm is a blur. As a gloomy Thursday goes by in-between seasons and the capital seems to be struggling with the change, we match our schedules to converse over a cup of tea. The grey of the clouds withers away as the pink tiles of the cafe walls seem to come alive in the movement of the candles’ swaying sparks. We catch Gustav on one of his occasional days off from filming and travelling, which has been a constant state for the young actor since the success of the Danish film Queen of Hearts last year. What a year it has been. Finding your place in the world is not easy, yet it seems like this young man has found his.
The Swedish actor Gustav Lindh began stealing hearts when he entered the acting scene at 17. Ever since, reviews, critics and rewards opine upon the same thought: he’s a star on the rise. Even though Gustav is overwhelmed by the love he receives, every bone in his body seems humble about the thought that it all might be gone tomorrow. Photographer Sara Bille captures Gustav in the Old Town of Stockholm, a place some refer to as the significant heart of the city, where stories of the capital come to life.
As the day goes by, another story gets carved into the cobblestones of the street. With his music on queue, Gustav sings, moves and breathes through some of his favourites before Sara's lens: Buena Vista Social Club, Lady by D’Angelo, Somebody to Love with Queen and the vibrant classics of Bon Iver. Stylist Emine Sander dresses the young actor in Louis Vuitton, Our Legacy and Hello Sunflower as he lights a match, scribbles in his diary and makes his morning coffee before he runs down those cobblestones again. This one day, surely, will tell the story of one young actor who took the world by storm.
We’d love to get to know you. Who is Gustav Lindh?
That’s a difficult question to answer. But I think as of today, I define myself a lot by my profession. That’s a huge part of my identity. I hope that others describe me as positive and passionate. I’m very emotional, which is a significant personality trait for me. I’m deeply in touch with my feelings. Kind of fragile, I think.
Is fragile an adjective you’ve associated with your entire life?
Definitely. I’ve always been a sensitive guy. Over the last years, I’ve managed to thicken my skin simply because I had to, which is something I’ve worked hard on and now also can enjoy. I’ve always had a direct connection to my feelings, which I intend to acknowledge as well. I think it enriches life and makes you more of a sympathetic human being.
What makes you happy?
Happiness is such a diffuse emotion. It’s not one particular state. I feel happy and incredibly privileged every day of the thought that I get to pursue my dreams and that I’m able to make a living from acting. Spending time with friends and family always puts me in a great mood as well. When I’m having dinner with people I love, I try to, as I’m sitting there, think to myself that “right now, everything is kind of great”. Instead of imagining everything just getting worse, haha. It’s all about enjoying the now. If you’re on a journey, enjoy the ride, don't just walk straight through it.
You grew up in Västerås, a small town one hour outside of Stockholm. What was your childhood like?
It was great. My family is very close, caring and loving. I come from a sports background, having played lots of football. What I battled with growing up was my dream to become an actor, which wasn’t a profession held to high regard by my environment. I just wanted to fit in and be normal. I had some really tough years as a teenager which I managed to escape when I was 18 and got into Malmö Theatre Academy in the South of Sweden. I moved, and have never looked back since. But I have incredible childhood friends that I still keep in touch with, and my sister is my best friend. Even though I had some tough years, it’s only good vibes whenever I think about my childhood.
Tell me more about your acting dreams.
I realised that it was something I wanted to keep to myself, but it was not difficult for others to grasp where my dreams and visions were headed. When I had presentations in school I easily slipped into the theatrical and it was something teachers encouraged me to continue with. When I was struck by the world of film, it was like a balancing act, trying to work towards my dreams but in the same time do it quietly, so I could live a normative life alongside acting. It was hard. I remember calling in sick for football lessons so I could go to rehearsals for amateur theatre. It’s difficult being young, but some made it extra tough for me.
Did people seek to harm you?
Yeah. Big time. Others have had way worse experiences with bullying, but some incidents made my life quite difficult. Exactly what happened can remain unsaid. From a perspective of today it was totally worth pushing through, but… Kids can be ruthless.
When did you decide acting was what you wanted to pursue?
I think that I’ve always been sure. Acting has been a part of my future for as long as I can remember. I can particularly trace it back to one evening when my family and I were on vacation in Spain and started talking about the future, and I asked what my parents thought I’d work with as an adult. Both responded that I could become an actor if that was what I longed for and that they would always encourage me and have my back. That was such an intense experience - I remember everything about that moment. The warmth, the scents, the sounds.
That was a definite checkpoint and since then, acting has been my aim. It’s been a bumpy ride ever since but I’m blessed to have been able to make a living out of this for the last five years. And by the looks of it right now, I have a couple of years left to go. It’s insane.
Do you remember when your passion for film in general began? Any specific movie that set your heart on fire?
I imagine it happened through different stages. I loved to dress up as a child - my grandmother and I used to buy fabric together which she then made into costumes. Zorro, Jack Sparrow, The Phantom. I remember that I lost myself in adventure movies and Harry Potter was released when I was seven years old. That was huge. I think that’s where my passion began. We’ve always had a lot of movies at home and during one Christmas break, my parents brought out the Godfather trilogy.
They warned me that the movie was from the 70s and that I might find it slow, but we binged watched the entire trilogy and I think I fell in love with the craftsmanship. After that, I began to understand actors and thought about why some moved me more than others. I figured that acting could become my building block in this incredible machinery that is film. Today, film is both my refuge and fortress.
How did your acting journey begin?
I created an account on a website for extras and shortly afterwards, two casting directors called and they helped me get my first roles: a part in the TV-series Jordskott and a role in the feature film Cirkeln. All on the same day, actually. That was when I started acting for real, only relying on my own emotions as I didn't have any training at this point. I was 17. When I got into Malmö Theatre Academy it was like a ripple effect, and so I had one foot in school and one in the acting industry. I was so happy that I could work whilst getting my education. I discovered my body, my voice and my tools.
Your first day acting on set - how did you feel?
I was literally scared to death. TO DEATH. Receiving my first call sheet and finding my name on it was pure joy, but I was unbelievably nervous. My mind kept telling me. “if you don’t get this right, they will ignore you forever”. Today, I enjoy every second I spend on set.
You’re getting some great feedback from critics on your performances.
It’s incredible to get indications that I’m doing something right, but I wouldn’t cope if I was constantly looking for praise. Bad reviews or comments would hit me harder then, which is something I’m not able to repel. I’m not at all scared of getting cocky. I’ve met great actors who maintain their feet on the ground and stay humble, and that’s how I want to be as well. I’m just acutely aware that everything might be gone tomorrow and that it all slips through my fingers too fast. I’m so grateful that I get to play on this level. I have to pinch myself.
You’ve received multiple awards and nominations the last year for your part in the Danish film success Queen of Hearts. The movie won the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival for World Cinema Dramatic, just to mention one. How has this year been?
I almost divide my life into a before and after. It’s been a stupendous year. The entire process around shooting this film has been insane and like a dream come true. We won the Sundance Audience award just before receiving awards at the Gothenburg Film Festival. Now the movie is travelling the world and keeps making noise abroad. I lived in Copenhagen for one month before we started shooting and as we shot the movie on film, a certain level of concentration was needed, since you only have a specific amount to consume each day. You can’t let the camera just roll, so during each take, everyone needs to know exactly what’s going to happen but also be prepared for impulses and improvisation. It was a minutiae preparation and I loved it.
Tell me more about your character in Queen of Hearts, who’s also named Gustav. What attracted you to the part?
What was there not to be attracted by? It was Denmark, it was Trine [Dyrholm], it was a director whose previous movie I’d seen and loved. As an actor, I just wanted to sink my teeth into the story. It sounded challenging and scary. I was obsessed with the thought of playing Gustav.
Do you recognise yourself in him?
There’s a feeling of rootlessness and being a lone ranger, which I can connect to on a deeper level. It’s something I’ve always struggled with. Even though I love football, I never felt secure in that context, due to the machismo. Even at the theatre academy, I felt a little bit off. That’s the central part of Gustav that I connect to.
The movie is both complex and powerful in many ways. The sex scenes between your character Gustav, who is 17, and his stepmother, have been vividly discussed. What are your own thoughts on those scenes? I remember feeling completely speechless after leaving the cinema.
It’s funny you’re saying that. That was a vision we all worked towards. As a viewer, you’re basically cheering for the affair that blossoms between Gustav and his stepmother. Once the big sex scene comes, the liaison is put straight into the viewer's face and the ambition was that the audience would feel: “oh, this isn’t right at all” - and then the movie takes a turn. Our director made a bold move and I had her back through every decision. Having sex on film is like fighting on film. It's choreographed. For me, there were other scenes that were more nerve-wracking, emotionally challenging or technically difficult. There are some crazy acting challenges in that movie.
Why do you think the audience love the film?
It’s a good movie. I tell everyone to watch it - not because I’m in it - because it’s such a good movie. And good movies travel. Film is a universal language that affects people around the world.
Has the movie changed you in any way?
Indescribably. Working so close to actors at such a high level made it impossible not to be moved and gain knowledge. A knowledge that is difficult to describe - it connects to your body and changes the way you move. I was given a lot of responsibility and was taken very seriously on set. It wasn't like “ugh, now we have this young guy as well”, instead I was asked to share my thoughts and opinions. That made me evolve and helped me blossom. But I’m still learning, of course. I learn every day.
This Autumn, Swedes have been able to follow you in the series Älska Mig (Love Me), which is getting an American plot as we speak). In the series, you play Aron, a young guy who isn’t ashamed to express his feelings.
Just like Aron, I can experience an entire stream of feelings, but I’m better at hiding it. Sometimes I’ve even been too good at keeping my emotions contained. I’m constantly working on becoming better for myself, but also for others. But I’m still young, I‘m about to turn 25, so I’m still learning. Aron wears his heart on his sleeve and everything bubbles straight up, which is a type of guy I’ve never seen on-screen in Sweden before.
Boys By Girls is actively engaged in a discussion around masculinity and how it’s changing in the younger generation. What are your thoughts on the evolving masculinity amongst young men in Sweden?
We talk a lot about toxic masculinity in our industry and for me, it’s clear what I want to stand for. Machismo is far away from who I am. It feels like something is happening right this second, partly in Sweden but also in general, that there’s a new type of male actors who want to stand for something else. A masculinity that is evolving, that is under construction and where the dynamics have changed. That’s nice to see. No one should be having anxiety because they feel like they don’t follow the norm. I’ve been there myself. I felt like I didn’t fit in. From my perspective as a young man and a young actor, things are changing. We’re a new wave on the rise, and we stand for something different.
Have you experienced lots of machismo?
Sadly, yes. I was raised in a football locker room. You could see it amongst coaches, between coaches and players, amidst players. A rivalry. There was also a beautiful warmth and team spirit, but it was constantly infected by the locker room culture which should’ve been brought out into the light. When I began studying theatre my teacher made me read a book on the subject which hit me like lightning. Before that, I had never seen my experiences from a bystander’s point of view, yet analysed what it had done to me personally, and what it does to a group.
You and your friends, do you often talk about your emotions?
Oh God, yes! My best friend and I have since middle school really dwelled on our emotions and we can be totally romantic or anxiety-driven.
Do you speak about love together?
Yeah. Love is fun. But also difficult.
How do you approach the thought of love?
It’s incredible to be wrapped up in and consumed by love. That feeling when your body is aching because you’re so in love - nothing beats that.
What makes you fall in love?
Tough question. I don’t know. It’s always unexpected, but time will tell. Humour is important. There has to be an attraction... I fall in love all the time. I get astonished by people who are great at what they do, have a nice vibe or good energy. Things like that can blow my mind. Then I might be in love with that person for one evening or two days. But, love is difficult, I’m a young man and I haven’t met the love of my life yet. I think.
What are you up to when you’re not acting, when you need to wind down?
Activating myself physically. I love to feel that my body is alive so I run, walk, box, cycle or play football. I celebrate life with late-night dinners with family and friends, which also disconnects me wholeheartedly. After shooting scenes, getting back into my personal clothes is like a ritual; back to being myself. Fashion and clothing is a huge interest and I’ve always tried to communicate parts of myself through the act of getting dressed. It’s a passion of mine.
Within acting, who inspires you?
I honestly could go on and on, but… Philip Seymour Hoffman, Heath Ledger, Christian Bale, Meryl Streep, Joaquin Phoenix and a bunch of Swedish actors. But also actors of my own age: Saoirse Ronan, Timothée Chalamet, Florence Pugh. Instead of looking up for inspiration, I take a look around me. I have a lot of friends who are actors and I gain both knowledge and creativity just from being around them.
Previously, you’ve spoken about female geniuses within film that you’ve learned a lot from, like Josephine Bornebusch, Trine Dyrholm and May el-Toukhy. Is it important for you to highlight women within your profession?
Haven’t we spoken enough already about male geniuses? It’s a tiring image. I’ve worked more with women than men and I definitely think that it’s important to highlight female geniuses, because they deserve the praise. I think it’s easier for people to connect the connotations of a genius to a man, which is problematic. It’s substantial for me to not only have male role models. Trine is a genius, Josephine is a genius, May is a genius.
What have they taught you?
Quiet knowledge that helps me become a better actor, human and young man. Step by step.
When you’re described as a rising star, what goes through your mind?
I’m just a young actor doing the best I can. Whatever happens, happens. I’m thankful and humbled by the awards I receive, like a feather in the cap, but that’s not my main motivation or the reason why I do this. I act because I love it, but 'rising star' surely doesn’t sound that bad.
What are you working on right now?
I just started working on a Danish film called Retfærdighedens Ryttere (Riders of Justice), in which I get to act opposite loads of actors I look up to. Our writer/director, Anders Thomas Jensen, is a real legend, so this feels very special. AT really creates his own worlds and I’ve been an admirer of his work for many years. For the role, I‘ve had to do quite a lot of prep since I’ll be speaking Danish... It’s a difficult language to learn, but I enjoy the challenge. We’re having so much fun shooting this one.
Besides the film, I’m part of the Louis Vuitton spring/summer campaign Coming of Age with a couple of other young artists as well as street-cast models. Virgil’s casting director saw Queen of Hearts at Sundance last year and asked if I wanted to join them in Morocco for the shoot. An offer you can’t refuse.
A dream of mine was to create this piece with you for Boys By Girls, and here we are. Would you consider yourself a dreamer?
Absolutely. I dream nonstop, constantly. Both specific and abstract. I’ve been raised that way, so that I can walk around and dream about exciting things happening since it at least makes me enjoy the what if, instead of thinking “it’s never going to happen”. I’m unlike loads of my colleagues in that way. I don’t mean that I’m better than anyone, but it’s nice to imagine dreams coming true.
What keeps pushing Gustav Lindh forward, the rising star on the actor scene?
To tell stories. I adore it. It’s challenging, interesting and exciting. I read an interview with Kristen Stewart and Shia LaBeouf where he says: “the most intimate moments of my life happened on set”, and she replies “It sounds really f*cked up, but it’s true. It’s beautiful”. He continues by saying, “there’s nothing more intimate than creating something with someone”. And there’s something crucially honest and real about that. The minutes between action and cut, those are the moments I live for. No joke.