Swedish actor Michael Nyqvist, best known for starring in the original film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, and as a flamboyant bad guy in Hollywood films like Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and John Wick, has died. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Nyqvist was suffering from lung cancer, and died at the age of 56.
Adopted out of an orphanage as a baby, Nyqvist quickly gravitated to the stage, first as a prospective ballet dancer, and later as an actor. He gained his first taste of international prominence in 2000, when he co-starred in Lukas Moodysson’s serio-comic film Together, playing an abusive husband whose wife leaves him to join a commune. His career gained a similar global boost in 2004, when he starred in As It Is In Heaven, which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.
Already one of Sweden’s most beloved actors, Nyqvist was an early choice to take on the role of heroic investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, the first of three Swedish film adaptations of Larsson’s best-selling novels. Starring opposite Noomi Rapace, Nyqvist injected the part with the world-weary compassion necessary to keep Larsson’s story of missing women and sexual assault from descending into absolute misery and nihilism.
And though he didn’t reprise the role for David Fincher’s U.S. version of the story (the part of Blomkvist went instead to Daniel Craig), Nyqvist was able to parlay the film’s popularity into a new niche as a delightfully over-the-top Hollywood baddie. After taking a brief break to write a memoir—a recounting of his search for his biological parents, titled Just After Dreaming—he signed on to play the villain in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, most notably facing off against Tom Cruise in an elaborate game of keep-away in a giant mechanized car park.
Nyqvist went even further into the world of delightfully cartoonish evil with John Wick, playing a Russian mob boss who really didn’t want to be in a blood feud with the world’s most dangerous killer. The role allowed Nyqvist to show off his skills as a first-class scenery chewer, injecting humor (and even a little bit of outright terror) into the famous rant in which he explains to his idiot son (and the audience) just how dangerous Keanu Reeve’s former assassin really is.
Despite his newfound Hollywood success, Nyqvist also continued to work in Sweden and the theater; meanwhile, his last major U.S. role was in BET’s Nelson Mandela miniseries Madiba, playing Hendrik Verwoerd, one of the architects of South African apartheid.