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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‘Supply and demand, motherfxxker!’: The real crime behind Sweden’s gangster rap

Gangster rap dominates the streaming charts in Sweden, with Yasin, one of the most popular artists, out with a new album this month. But does the genre glorify violence and contribute to the country's gang shootings?

'Supply and demand, motherfxxker!': The real crime behind Sweden's gangster rap

When riots broke out in 2017 in Rinkeby, just days after US President Donald Trump had been ridiculed for talking about “Last night in Sweden” in a speech, the spark was an encounter between the police and an up-and-coming rapper. 

Police had arrested the young man, Yasin Abdullahi Mahamoud, a few months earlier for carrying a pistol and so felt justified in stopping and searching him when they encountered him, together with his friend, Jafar Ahmed Sadik, outside the local underground station. 

What they hadn’t taken into account was how much of a local celebrity he was becoming.

The police officers checking him were soon surrounded by young, masked men who began throwing stones at them. They panicked and fired warning shots, after which the situation escalated into a full-blown riot, with shop windows and cars trashed. 

Mahamoud — going by the name Yasin, or Yasin Byn – would go on over the next few years to become one of Sweden’s biggest music stars, topping the Spotify streaming lists and winning top music prizes, with his friend Sadik, rapping then under the name Jaffar Byn and now JB, not far behind.

Whether Yasin has ever really been an active member of Shottaz, the gang whose conflict with the rival Dödspatrullen has been blamed for an explosion of violence in the suburb between 2018 and 2020, is disputed, although the police have argued that he was.

His music certainly refers frequently to the conflict.

“Me and Fayye in the backseat with a Glock-19”, starts his 2018 hit, “Chicago”. Fayye, one of the leaders of Shottaz, would a year later be shot dead in a gang execution in Copenhagen

“Rest in Peace, Indiana”, comes a line a little later in the song, a reference to the 2016 murder of two young men in Rinkeby’s Mynta café.

This killing has been seen as the point the violent dispute between young men in Rinkeby led to a split into the two rival gangs.  

Should gangster rap be banned for glorifying violence? 

When Yasin, Dree Low (real name Salah Abdi Abdulle, from Husby), and Einár (real name Nils Grönberg), were winning music prizes at the peak of their fame from 2018 to 2020, there was a fervent debate in Sweden’s culture pages as to whether it was appropriate to celebrate a genre that glorifies violence and crime. 

At the same time these rappers were earning big sums from streaming, they were in constant trouble with the police. 

When Yasin topped the Spotify streaming charts in January 2020 with his song XO, which lauded the intoxicating combination of Rémy Martin cognac and cannabis, he was sitting in pre-trial detention for suspected involvement in a murder. When he received a Swedish Grammy the next year, he was again in prison, so could not pick it up. 

Between 2019 and 2020, revenues from Dree Low’s music company, Top Class Music, went from 3.3 million kronor to 7.8 million kronor, bringing him a profit in 2020 of about 4.5 million kronor. The next year he was jailed for involvement in a robbery. 

The Social Democrat minister Mikael Damberg in 2021 complained on Swedish radio about a “subculture among young people that glorifies gangster life”. Sweden Democrat leader Jimmie Åkesson, went one further, calling for gangster rap to be banned.

Mats Lindström, a policeman involved in fighting gang violence in the area around Rinkeby, told Aftonbladet in March 2021 that he thought the Swedish media should stop giving publicity to the young rappers. 

“Aftonbladet would never interview a Nazi singer, or a person who praised Islamic State or religious violence,” he argued. 

Even if you accept that Yasin and Dree Low were never fully fledged gang members themselves, arguably, by turning a real-life conflict into a crime soap opera followed avidly by teenagers across Sweden, their music raised the stakes for the actual participants. 

“The rappers write lyrics about each other. We have impulsive boys who are easily offended,” argued Gunnar Appelgren, another Stockholm police gang expert. “Now there is a culture that focuses on violence for the sake of violence.” 

In an interview last month with the YouTuber Victor de Almeida, Yasin acknowledged that Swedish gangster rap did have a relationship to crime. 

“There’s no smoke without fire, they have their point. Stuff happens out there, we can’t deny that,” he said of the criticism. But he said the idea that banning gangster rap would bring an end to the violence was “bullshit”. 

“To lay the blame on people and shout things right and left, you can do that, but how much it will lead to any actual change is another thing,” he said. “I’m not a politician, so I don’t know. But I just notice that we aren’t getting any more youth centres [fritidsgårdar] as a result of music publishers stopping giving prizes to rappers and people with convictions.” 

In his new album, Pistoler, Poesi, och Sex (Pistols, Poetry and Sex), Yasin claims to be reporting a reality rather than glorifying it. 

“I write what I see, but they would rather criticise what I write than criticise what I see,” he raps in the track Rap är ingen konst (Rap is not an artform). 

The SVT journalist Diamant Salihu, in his book on the Rinkeby conflict Tills alla dör, agrees that gangster rap reflects an underlying reality rather than causes it. 

He traces the Rinkeby conflict back to the decision in 2007 to fuse Rinkeby with the much richer nearby Kista district. Over the next few years, the offices of the Swedish Public Employment Service, the post office, the high street banks and the police all closed down. 

“However much opinion-makers criticise their texts glorifying violence, however much the artists themselves promote their lifestyle, it doesn’t change the underlying reasons,” Salihu writes. “The more people I speak with, the more investigations I read, the clearer the connection between changes in society, closures [of government agencies], and poor school results which lead to exclusion, in the wave of violence we are seeing today.” 

Rap, ghetto fashion, and the way young men pose in photos with weapons and luxury cars is “just a desperate attempt to make meaning out of the chaos”, he argues. “It’s a way of trying to take control of a hopeless situation”. 

The main driver of gun violence in Sweden’s suburbs, Salihu told The Local in the Sweden in Focus podcast is the huge amount of money that can be earned from distributing and selling drugs.

“Everybody that buys a gram of cocaine or cannabis should know that their money is being used to buy the bullets and guns that are killing people in Stockholm,” he said. 

As Yasin himself writes in his 2020 song “Pistol Whip”, a collaboration with his friend Jaffar Byn, the whole of Swedish society bears some of the responsibility. 

“You asked us for this gangster shit. Supply and demand, motherfucker.” 

Death toll

  • Mehdi Sachit (Dumle, Alawee) This 27-year-old rapper, known as Dumle, was shot dead in Rinkeby, one of the most troubled suburbs of Stockholm, on Christmas Day 2022. Sachit was reportedly with the 19-year-old rapper Nils Grönberg, known as ”Einár”, when he was murdered in October 2021. He was a convicted rapist and he was thought to have a central role in the Dödspatrullen gang. Find his track Våldsbenägen, meaning “prone to violence” here
  • Nils Grönberg (Einár). Grönberg, was shot dead at a distance of 1.5m in a gang execution in October 2021.  The son of the prize-winning Swedish actress Lena Nilsson, Grönberg ended up collaborating with rappers with tough backgrounds in Stockholm’s crime-ridden suburbs, breaking through in 2019 with the song Katten i Trakten, which won the Guld-priset, or “Gold prize” from Swedish Radio’s P3 channel for best song. In 2020, he was kidnapped and forced to perform for humiliating videos. 
  • Ziad Elhassan (Debenz). This rapper from Borås, was shot dead in 2020, four years after surviving another shooting.
  • Rozh Shamal (Rozh). This rapper was shot and killed, aged 23, in an attack near his apartment in Blackeberg, Stockholm. Find his track Dras till problem, “Drawn to problems”, here
  • Robin Cortas (Roro/RC). Cortas was shot dead in Varbergsgatan, Helsingborg, southern Sweden, aged 25 in June 2019.
  • Aiman Qabli, Aiman. Qabi was stabbed to death in an underpass at midnight in Alby, south of Stockholm, back in 2015.

Serving time 

At least six of the big names in Swedish gangster rap — Dree Low, Yasin, Jaffar Byn, 1.Cuz, Haval, and Z.E — have been in and out of prison. They have often, indeed, been behind bars at the same time as their songs have topped the streaming lists on Spotify. 

  • Salah Abdi Abdulle (Dree Low).  Abdulle was arrested in 2021 on suspicion of robbing a shop of 5,000 kronor worth of snus, cigarettes and sweets, and in November 2021 sentenced to a year in prison. He claimed he had an agreement with the owner of the shop to take goods on credit, and he certainly didn’t need the money. In April 2022, he was charged again, this time for weapons offences, and sentenced to another year in prison that November. 
  • Jafar Ahmed Sadik (Jaffar Byn). Sadik was sentenced to four years in prison in 2017 for serious weapons crimes, and released in October 2020.
  • Yasin Abdullahi Mahamoud (Yasin). Mahamoud was jailed for weapons offences in May 2018 and released in November 2019, after which he was arrested again in July 2021 for his alleged involvement in the kidnapping of Einár, sentenced and finally released in December 2021. 
  • Haval Khalil (Haval). Khalil was jailed in November 2021 at the same time as Mahamoud for involvement in the Einár kidnapping, and, like Mahamoud, released that December. 
  • Abas Abdikarim Bakar (1.Cuz). 1.Cuz served two years in prison, launching his career after his release in 2018. 
  • Jozef Wojciechowicz (Z.E.). Wojciechowicz was jailed for robbery in 2017, like 1.Cuz only launching his career on his release. Wojciechowicz broke through with a collaboration with the singer Cherrie.