Icelandic actor makes seasonal work of the Grinch

Stefan Karl, an actor from Iceland, plays the Grinch in ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas.’
Stefan Karl, an actor from Iceland, plays the Grinch in ‘How the Grinch Stole Christmas.’

Actor Stefan Karl — also known as Stefán Karl Stefánsson — is very good at playing comic bad guys. He was Robbie Rotten on the TV series Lazy Town. And for the past eight years, the Iceland-born actor has spent the holiday season on tour, playing the title role in Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical.

Based on the 1957 book by Theodor Geisel (pen name Dr. Seuss) and the 1966 animated movie, the 90-minute musical tells the familiar story of a mean green Grinch who steals the holiday decorations, Christmas trees and presents from the cheerful residents of nearby Whoville. But his plan backfires — and his shrunken heart grows three sizes — when his “victims” teach him something about the spirit of the season.

Reached at a tour stop in Orlando, Karl was with his two youngest children (ages 7 and 8; the others are 14 and 20). Though he lives in Los Angeles with wife Steinunn Olina, an actress-writer, and the kids, the family is contemplating a move back to Iceland, where Karl has performed onstage in everything from Shakespeare to Little Shop of Horrors.

You’re in Orlando with your kids — will you go to Disney World?

No! My children didn’t grow up with Walt Disney being in charge of their childhoods.

Growing up in Iceland, did you know the Dr. Seuss book?

My father used to read it to me in Icelandic. It’s a little different. He’s not a grinch — we didn’t have that — so we had to call him the troll. He never became that icon that he is here. We did have 13 Santa Clauses, all like the grinch. They’d all come to a village to steal Christmas, one-by-one, for 13 days. Maybe Ted Geisel was inspired by that.

Were you able to bring your own ideas to playing the Grinch?

[Original director] Jack O’Brien told me what he thought the Grinch would be like, from the inside. Then he said, “You take it, Stefan, and do whatever you want to.” It was great to feel that trust. He’s an iconic character, and everybody has an opinion about how he should talk and walk. Everybody can relate to him.

You have played the Grinch for eight years now. Do you still enjoy doing the show?

I really like musical theater. It’s fun to see how much the Grinch loves his show-stopping number, One of a Kind. I sometimes wonder why is it that I’m not tired of the show? Why is it so much fun? It’s a first theater experience for so many children, and in my mind, that’s an honor [for me].

What lessons do you think the show has for audiences?

The story is from the ‘50s, but it’s still one we watch year after year. It brings a message of what Christmas is truly about. No one should be alone at Christmas. We should tend to each other ... The story is about friendship, family and love.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas is at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts, 201 SW Fifth Ave., Fort Lauderdale, through Dec. 27. Performances are 8 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 11 a.m., 2 p.m., 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday (additional matinees 2 p.m. Dec. 23-24, no evening show Dec. 24 or Dec. 27, no morning show Dec. 26, no Christmas performances). Tickets are $25-$90. Call 954-462-0222 or visit