(The legendary Liv Ullmann, recipient of an honorary Oscar in 2022, answered two questions, in the UK Guardian, from Bob Shuman of Stage Voices Web site [BobStageVoices]. Read her responses below, as well as queries from other participants in Catherine Shoard’s Reader Interview. Thank you!!!)
LIV ULLMANN: ‘I RAN AFTER GRETA GARBO IN THE STREET. SHE OUTPACED ME’
(As told to Catherine Shoard in the Guardian, 3/24; Photo: Liv Ullmann … ‘Since turning 80, it’s not blue light any more – it’s something else, it’s not darkness’ Photograph: Charlie Clift/Camera Press.)
The actor and director answers your questions on how Ingmar Bergman changed her life, her feelings at receiving an honorary Oscar, and holidaying at a leper colony in Japan
When you were working with Ingmar Bergman, were you aware that you were creating some of the greatest films in history, or did that realisation only happen with time? PaulMarnier
When I met him, I had been an actor for seven years and knew he was looked on as a genius. That’s what I thought, too. So when he said he would really like to have me in a film, and wrote Persona for Bibi Andersson and me, I was aware I was to work with an incredible man. But I never knew it would mean I would be in 11 of his movies and direct some of his scripts. I had no idea it would mean a big change in my life.
How did you and Bibi Andersson prepare for your roles in Persona? TheBigBadWolf
If I really feel the role inside, even if it’s very different from me, I will allow it to become a part of me. I’m very happy to work with great directors because they give you the words and the circumstances and then allow you to find the person within yourself. That’s how I work.
What do you think brings people back to Persona after all these years? For all the ways society and expression have expanded, this is still one of the most compelling and truthful portraits of intimacy between women I have seen on-screen (speaking as a gay woman in her 30s) rnsinsf
‘The love we felt was very easy to find’ … Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullmann in Persona. Photograph: United Artists/Allstar
At that time – and maybe even today – it was a new kind of movie. Bibi and I were the best of friends and so free towards each other, and the love we felt was very easy to find. I believe I was speaking in the film for Bergman. I was 25, and he was 21 years older, but I believe so much had happened in his life that he used a young woman to present what he was thinking and feeling. Perhaps a woman is not so scared of showing the truth.
Then he fell in love with one of the actresses making the movie [Bergman and Ullmann were together for five years and had a daughter, Linn, who is now 55]. I think that love was part of it. He was in despair and suddenly he saw a new beginning. Not through me, but he experienced what happened between these two women – who looked as if they were quarrelling but who reached each other tremendously – as a solution. He ended his former life after that movie.
I think the film does reflect how society’s perception of gender and identity has changed if we look for it. If we allow that to happen. But I think in many ways today we are closing our ears to other people’s moods and despair. But also this terrible war [in Ukraine] has woken people up. And once awakened they want to be a part of it, they want to help. They feel empathy for all the people who are suffering so much. It’s a terrible war, but good things happen in people; they understand things better. We are not alone. We are part of everything. We are not witnesses.
As you are a co-founder of the Women’s Refugee Commission, will the organisation assist in the crisis in Ukraine? BobStageVoices
They are very much involved, as they were with women and children in Afghanistan not so long ago. They are trying to make people in the US open their homes and take an active part in helping them. When we founded the organisation more than 30 years ago with four people, I didn’t know we would grow so big. I’ve also been part of the International Rescue Committee for 45 years. It is an incredible organisation founded by Einstein after the second world war to help Jewish people escape Germany. They thought they would only be needed for a short time.
When you went to the US, how did you handle working in another language in a different culture? BobStageVoices
I’m very Norwegian. I’ve had a green card for many years but I think in Norwegian and have my morals and very often react inside as a Norwegian. There are things I admire tremendously in the US but there are also things that make me happy I am Norwegian. I have to be very careful because many Norwegians have been brought up differently and not everything I say and feel is the right thing.
Something I react to with horror now is that it’s so strict for Ukrainians who want to come to the US. There should be a law that people in such horror don’t have to have all their papers and agree to leave immediately. I get very shocked by that. To be honest, I know that the same thing will happen in Norway. But at least I can fight it more easily because I belong to that country. I don’t belong to the US. But I can say what I mean.