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Why The Three-Eyed Raven From Game Of Thrones Looks So Familiar

It would be hard to recognize even your closest relatives if they were stuck up in a tree like the Three-Eyed Raven from Game of Thrones. But underneath the beard and branches is one of the greatest actors of all time. With an incredibly varied career than spans more than six decades, you'll find that Max von Sydow had quite a life beyond the Three-Eyed Raven.

The Seventh Seal (1957)

Though Max von Sydow had appeared in small roles in four other films, The Seventh Seal was his first major role. And it's quite a debut. The Ingmar Bergman-directed piece is still considered one of the greatest films of all time. Von Sydow plays a knight returning home from the Crusades who finds a shadowy figure residing in a church in a town ridden with the black plague. The shadowy figure turns out to be Death himself, who's been stalking the knight. Instead of succumbing to his demise, the knight challenges death to a game of chess to save his soul. If this sounds familiar but you're not a real Criterion collection type of person, you might recognize the plot from Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey. Except in Bill and Ted they wind up playing Battleship and Twister.

Bill and Ted aside, The Seventh Seal was Bergman's best known work and it influenced directors for generations. Von Sydow and Bergman made a good pair–they went on to make 12 more films together, giving von Sydow European arthouse cred that made him stand out among the many actors of Hollywood.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965)

Von Sydow continued to work with Bergman and on other European projects, but did little in America. But once again, when he made his debut it was a big one. The Greatest Story Ever Told is a biblical film about the life of Jesus. Who did von Sydow get to play? Jesus. This wasn't some little throwaway Hollywood film. This was huge. They weren't calling it The Greatest Story Ever Told for nothing! The cast was packed with big names like Angela Lansbury, Roddy McDowall, Sidney Poitier, Pat Boone, Martin Landau, John Wayne, and Charlton Heston. Heston looks like he accidentally wore some wardrobe from Planet of the Apes and has a truly horrible wig, but the big stars didn't overshadow von Sydow. The New York Times review stated, "There are glimpses of Mr. von Sydow ... that light the huge screen with revelation of the raptures and torments of a soul."

The Exorcist (1973)

After playing Jesus, von Sydow went on to battle the devil in The Exorcist. Playing Father Merrin, the man called in to free the child from the demon, von Sydow found perhaps his most iconic role. His time on screen is much less than you'd think, but his dynamic scenes of maintaining strength in the face of pure evil make the character incredibly memorable. Von Sydow was only in his 40s when he filmed the horror classic, but got aged up a decade or two to play the elderly father. The old age makeup is still pretty impressive today.

This memorable role wasn't easy for von Sydow. The director William Friedkin recalled a scene that gave the actor great difficulty. Von Sydow needed to say, "I cast you out, unclean spirit, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." They tried it six times; he couldn't do it. They tried six more times, the lines still came out terribly. Friedkin asked him if he had a problem with the script or if he wanted Ingmar Bergman to come in and direct him. Von Sydow replied, "No it's not a matter of Bergman. I just don't believe in God." Friedkin was pretty surprised that a guy who previously played Jesus didn't believe in God so fiercely that he couldn't say one line to invoke his spirit. Von Sydow claimed he played Jesus as a man, not a god, hence his ability to pull off the religious role without trouble. "Well, why don't you play this guy as a man?" said Friedkin. "Just play him as a sickly priest trying to do his job." According to the director, von Sydow took 30 minutes then came back and nailed the scene.

Footloose (1979)

Before you go searching YouTube for clips of von Sydow dancing to Kenny Loggins, this movie isn't that Footloose. In fact, it has nothing to do with the legalities of dancing in a small town, and Kevin Bacon is nowhere to be found. Instead, this Footloose is an Italian film where von Sydow plays Marcello Herrighe who takes in an orphaned teenager with his wife. Unfortunately, the teenager is a con artist who goes from family to family, taking money and shelter, then faking his own death when he wants to move on. But he pulls his trick once too often and all his former "parents" find about his ruse and come looking for him.

The film has many titles include Bugie Bianche (White Lies) and Professione Figlio (Professional Son). Why the U.S. and U.K. decided to release this title under the name Footloose is a bit of a mystery, though it's fun to imagine a Footloose mashup with a dancing Bacon and parents hunting down a deceptive teen. It could work. One thing both Footloose films have in common is a great soundtrack.

Taking a turn in sci-fi and fantasy

Though von Sydow worked with great European directors on many prestigious films, he wasn't afraid to journey into the world of sci-fi. You might think that Flash Gordon (1980) was a cash grab for the actor because the film didn't do well and starred a guy whose biggest credit at the time was appearing on The Dating Game. But von Sydow was genuinely glad to be a part of the film. He said, "I had read the comic strip when I was a boy and I liked it very much. ... I read it and I was fascinated by this guy who traveled through the universe. And then it just came up that I should be in it and I was very pleased."

Von Sydow continued in the world of fantasy with his role of King Osric in Conan the Barbarian in 1982. Another film that could have turned out pretty silly with Arnold Schwarzenegger at the helm, but people liked it and von Sydow got to sit on a throne and yell at Schwarzenegger, so that had to be fun.

The last of this little sci-fi/fantasy block of films was 1984's Dune. Directed by David Lynch and based on a highly acclaimed science fiction novel, von Sydow was excited to work on a potential epic. Sadly, the film didn't turn out the way the director or von Sydow wanted. In an interview with Ear of Newt, Sydow stated "I was very sorry that [Lynch] was not allowed to make a longer film. ... It's a terrific book, I must say. But the film, as far as I can see, failed because it was too short. All the wonderful structure, all the backgrounds, all the worlds, which I think were very intelligently portrayed, you didn't really understand it." With lots of mandatory studio cuts, the story did not come across, and critics agreed that it was a bit of mess.

Strange Brew (1983)/ Ghostbusters II (1989)

Von Sydow became known for his work in incredibly dramatic films. So when SCTV was making a movie of some favorite characters, it's hard to believe that von Sydow would jump on board. But he did! Strange Brew is based on the popular SCTV characters Bob and Doug McKenzie in their big movie debut. In a loose, comedic adaptation of Hamlet, the film certainly is a little strange. It's still surprising to see the man who played Jesus and took on Death in a game of chess reveling in his chance to star in a cult comedy favorite. But von Sydow relishes his role of the evil Brewmaster, and Dave Thomas and Rick Moranis are as funny as ever, making it a critically successful but offbeat film.

Though you don't see his face in Ghostbusters II, von Sydow still played an important role. As the voice of the evil Vigo, von Sydow brought his frightening power to the comedy sequel. Originally, the man playing Vigo did the voice, but after they found his mic work to be lackluster, von Sydow stepped in. So if you're looking for the actor to appear in your comedy, he very well might be up for it ... as long as he's playing a character that's pure evil.

Never Say Never Again (1983)

Ah, the Bond film that technically isn't a Bond film even though it stars the most notable of all the James Bonds. Make sense? Of course not. Never Say Never Again came to be when a production company called Eon got the rights to make a movie from the novel of Thunderball. They were not associated with Cubby Broccoli who produced the official Bond films, so this movie isn't considered canon. Plus, since the title of Thunderball was already taken, they went with the cheeky, Never Say Never Again. It starred Sean Connery, who said he'd never return to 007. Get it? Because he said "never" but he should never had said "never" ... again.

Von Sydow got to play the villainous Blofeld. Yahoo Movies lists him as the fourth best Blofeld of the character's seven incarnations. Von Sydow plays the role straight, so if you were looking for a big campy performance, you'll have to go back and watch Flash Gordon. Von Sydow's Blofeld doesn't get too many big scenes and according to some, he's slightly overshadowed by his cute cat.

Needful Things (1993)

Since he'd already played Jesus, a man challenging death, and a priest fighting the devil, it was certainly time for von Sydow to play the devil himself. In Needful Things, von Sydow plays a shop owner who seems to have exactly what every customer wants ... for a price because he's literally the devil. The Stephen King adaptation didn't get great reviews, but von Sydow's performance as pawn shop Satan makes the film well worth watching. Von Sydow told reporter Steve Newton about why he enjoyed about this version of the devil. "What I like with it is that he is portrayed as a very nice man, as a very urbane and courteous and charming man who—through this attitude and through this concept—appears not to be dangerous. I mean that is a truly dangerous person."

Judge Dredd (1995)

Proving he's an actor who isn't afraid of a weird comic book film, von Sydow appeared as Judge Fargo in Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd. Today, Judge Dredd is known for being a comic adaptation that no one liked. But it could have been a gritty, dark exploration of crime and punishment like the comic it's based on. Instead, we get a few moments of prime von Sydow gravitas mixed in with scenes of Rob Schneider hiding in a garbage can.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Judge Dredd is Von Sydow's turn in The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. The heartbreaking true story of Jean-Dominique Bauby, a French magazine editor who, after a stroke in his 40s, suffered from locked-in syndrome. He could see and hear but was completely paralyzed except for his left eye. In real life, Bauby wrote his story one blink at a time. Von Sydow plays his father, grief-stricken over his son's condition and battling with his own age and weakness. The film received critical acclaim and von Sydow was often mentioned for his amazing performance.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

During his time as the Three-Eyed Raven, von Sydow managed to film another role in a beloved sci-fi classic. It might have slipped past you, but it was called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. As Lor San Tekka, von Sydow made geeks around the globe all the happier for appearing in one of the biggest science fiction franchises of all time. If we could somehow go back and edit him into The Lord of the Rings, it would be perfect. The actor gets the honor of speaking the very first line of dialogue in the film, though much of his character remains a mystery to fans. Why was he hiding Luke? How did he know Leia? Who is he exactly, and why was he there? Just little questions, really. Hopefully, he'll appear in future installments or we'll at least learn a little more about the mysterious figure. Knowing von Sydow's prior roles, he's probably either the physical incarnation of God or he's going full circle and playing Death this time.