(NYTimes) - Michael Nyqvist, a Swedish actor who starred in the original The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo movies and portrayed menacing villains in John Wick and other Hollywood thrillers, died on Tuesday in Stockholm. He was 56.
His family, who confirmed his death in a statement, said the cause was lung cancer.
Nyqvist, who spent the first year or so of his life in a Stockholm orphanage, discovered his love for acting as a high school senior in 1977 in Omaha, Nebraska, according to his website. An exchange student in an American high school at the time, he enrolled in his first acting class and landed a small role in the school's production of the play Death Of A Salesman.
He returned to Sweden no longer interested in becoming a teacher or a lawyer, he told the Swedish magazine Café in 2009. He had a passion for the arts and enrolled in ballet school, but quit after a brief period to pursue theatre school. Early on, he received supporting roles in several plays and movies in Sweden, but his stardom in Swedish film and television did not come fast.
As he charted his acting career, he also confronted what he later called the most traumatic part of his life: being an orphan and the mystery of his biological parents. At age six, his adoptive parents, who were Swedish, told him that they had picked him as an orphan and that his biological mother was Swedish and his father was Italian. His parents told him to keep his adoption a secret, he told the Swedish magazine Hemmets Journal in 2013.
"A secret that made me very lonely," he told the magazine.
Rolf Ake Mikael Nyqvist was born on Nov 8, 1960, in Stockholm. His adoptive father was a lawyer and his mother was a writer.
In his 30s, Nyqvist set out to locate his biological parents with the little information he knew about them, first tracking down and meeting his mother only once, in a Stockholm cafe for an hour. He found his father, a pharmacist named Marcello, in Florence, Italy, he wrote in a 2010 autobiography.
"It's life before and after I got my Italian family. The change was felt throughout my body," he told Hemmets Journal about discovering his father and his two half sisters, adding, "I have accepted my background - it is no longer distressed or diffused."
He landed his breakthrough role at age 39, playing Rolf, an abusive alcoholic husband in the 2000 film Together. The Swedish movie about members of a leftist commune in suburban Stockholm in the 1970s led to his first nomination for a Guldbagge, the annual cinema awards in Sweden.
From there, Nyqvist was cast in leading roles on television shows and in films, including as Mikael Blomkvist, the fervent investigative reporter, in the original 2009 Swedish adaptation of the book series The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
He also received bigger parts in blockbuster Hollywood movies, playing a deranged Swedish-born Russian nuclear strategist in the 2011 movie Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. In 2014, he played another leading villain, Viggo Tarasov, a Russian mobster who battles a former hit man played by Keanu Reeves in John Wick. In addition to acting, Nyqvist wrote several books, including Just After Dreaming, an autobiography published in 2010 in which he described his search for his biological parents.
He is survived by his wife, Catharina, and his children, Ellen and Arthur, who are both in their 20s.