Young Swedish actor Anton Glanzelius might be the hottest thing to hit foreign films since Isabelle Adjani, but for his first visit to Hollywood, he was a tourist like any other awe-struck out-of-towner.

In the midst of a promotional tour for the film "My Life as a Dog," Glanzelius, 13, recently spent a few days in Los Angeles, and upon arriving, requested visits to the beach, the Hollywood sign and Disneyland. His brief trip through movieland also included a visit to the Hollywood shrine of Mann's Chinese Theater and a command appearance before none other than Michael Jackson.

The name Glanzelius may not mean much to anyone who's missed the surprise hit film, but almost everyone who does see "My Life as a Dog" comes away decidedly smitten with its young star. Directed by Lasse Hallstrom and set in rural Sweden of the 1950s, the modestly budgeted Swedish import has been playing since May to packed houses at the Music Hall in Beverly Hills and the strong box office shows no signs of waning.

The ace card in this bittersweet story of a young boy struggling to deal with the imminent death of his mother is it's disarmingly accident-prone hero Ingemar, an innocent boy who seems at once wise beyond his years, a tad sly, and most definitely naughty.

In his first starring role, Glanzelius--who was 11 at the time the film was shot--walks away with the picture. Though "My Life as a Dog" features an entire village of lovable eccentrics, Glanzelius turns in a performance of such subtlety, imagination and depth that he succeeds in stealing every scene.

So compelling is his work that he was awarded the 1985 Swedish Film Critics' Award--his country's equivalent of the Oscar--making him the youngest actor ever to be so honored. Hall Hinson in the Washington Post described Glanzelius as "a pint-size Jack Nicholson, with devilish eyebrows that he knows how to use," while the New York Times' Vincent Canby applauded him for his "firm and wise performance." These are fairly weighty accolades for a kid barely out of short pants.

On meeting Glanzelius, it becomes immediately apparent that his convincing screen presence is largely attributable to the fact that he is not by any stretch a stereotypical "child star." Rather, he is a profoundly normal kid who somehow wound up starring in a hit movie.

A rather reserved, thoughtful boy, he has no apparent interest in pontificating about himself or the craft of acting. Like his character Ingemar, he tends to observe things quietly, occasionally tossing off the kind of mischievous, wise-guy remark that self-possessed 13 year old boys are wont to make.

Accompanied by his parents on his American junket, Glanzelius spent his days rushing from one interview to the next. Nonetheless, he remained admirably good-natured about answering the same questions repeatedly.

The reporters "all ask me about the sex in the film and whether my friends treat me differently now," he said with a sigh of resignation.

Glanzelius is capable of behaving with such world-weary sophistication that he sometimes seems like an unusually short adult. However, reminders of his age pop up repeatedly.

He chomped his way through numerous packs of gum in less than an hour, dripped his chocolate ice cream cone down the front of his shirt and broke into an expert moonwalk as he waited--visibly bored and restless--as yet another photographer cut into his day at Disneyland. He loves Eddie Murphy, Rod Stewart, Bill Cosby and Bruce Springsteen. Run-of-the-mill kid stuff.

Glanzelius' emotional health can probably be credited to the fact that he is blessed with parents who seem to be doing all the right things to protect him from the pitfalls that lurk along the heady course he currently travels. The son of free-lance music critic Ingemar Glanzelius and actress-director Margita Ahlain, Anton lives with his mother, father, 20-year-old brother Jacob and a 10-year-old cat, in Gothenburg, a Swedish seaport with a thriving theater community.

"Anton is not obsessed with the idea of having a career in movies, thank God," his father said as his son waited in the dauntingly long line for Space Mountain. "He loved working on the film and he's proud of his performance, but we've tried not to make too much of the success he's had. If we did, then everything he did for the rest of his life would measure against it as a failure. His first love is sports, and we encourage him in that because it provides something of a buffer between him and all this glamour."

Glanzelius' acting career began at age 8 when he appeared as a messenger in a theatrical production of "Antigone" that starred his mother. (She reminded him of this fact as he was being interviewed; Anton's virgin journey on the stage left no impression on him whatsoever.)

"I never had acting lessons," said Anton, "but I learned things by watching my mother perform in the theater. I'm very different from the character I play in the movie but at the same time, I'm playing myself. In other words, I'm acting but I'm true to myself."

Asked if he and director Lasse Hallstrom developed the character of Ingemar together or if they stuck to the script, he explained: "Lasse and I got along very well, and we improvised on the script all the time. For instance, the scene on the beach with my mother when I do the backflip was my idea. Lasse said to me, 'Now you must do something with lots of gestures.' And that's what I thought of to do. The part in the film I liked best was when I fried the potholder, and the hardest thing for me was crying. How did I manage to do it? Lasse said to me, 'Cry' and I just did it."

Glanzelius' public relations duties whittled the day at Disneyland down to two hours, so with just three measly rides under his belt, it was time to re-board the limousine and return to Los Angeles for a quick tour of Mann's Chinese, a Cajun dinner at the Ritz and an appearance at the Music Hall. From there it was out to Encino for a visit with new best friend Michael Jackson. It seems that Jackson is a huge fan of the film and, when he heard that Glanzelius was scheduled to visit Los Angeles, he invited him out to the compound. Although Anton certainly enjoys Jackson's music--"everyone in Sweden likes Michael Jackson," he solemnly explained--he didn't appear intimidated in the least at the prospect of meeting the legendary Gloved One.

Glanzelius seemed prepared to take the summons from pop royalty in the same stride that he has taken all the other glamorous things that have happened to him in the last two years.

"I don't know why the movie's been so successful," he said, modestly. "I can't say 'Oh, I'm so good, terrific!' Really, I don't know why people love it. I feel happy that people love something I've done," he said, then after a long pause confessed, "and I think I like all this attention. But I don't like it when people stare at me on the street. When the movie first came out in Sweden, I couldn't go out because everywhere I went people recognized me and stared at me."

The question is how much Glanzelius likes the attention? Is his interest in movies growing in leaps and bounds? Does the prospect of coming to America and making a movie appeal to him? Apparently, not particularly.

"Sure, I like movies OK," he concludes, "but soccer training takes up most of my time."

This wide-eyed wunderkind seems so blessedly uninterested in the lure of stardom that he may acheive the incredible feat of surviving his success.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World