Norway: Acting icon Liv Ullmann turns 85

This face, always this face.

Norway: Acting icon Liv Ullmann turns 85

This face, always this face. Liv Ullmann's great counterpart, Swedish director Ingmar Bergman, filmed it again and again.

No wonder that director Georg Maas called his documentary about her ten years ago "Liv Ullmann - A Close-Up". Ullmann's laugh lines have now become a little deeper. This Saturday (December 16th) she will be 85 years old.

Ullmann was not born with the idea that she would one day become an icon of the women's movement. When she was born in 1938 in Tokyo, where her father worked as an aeronautical engineer, the nurse told her parents: "I'm afraid it's a girl," says Ullmann. Despite the war, the family moved around the world a lot until their father died in 1945. Then we go back to Norway.

Ullmann goes to school near Trondheim, is shy but convinced that he will become an actress. Pious relatives don't like that at all. When she auditioned for the Norwegian State Theater after theater school in London, she was rejected and went to the provinces. There, in Stavanger, Ullmann received the role of Anne Frank and made it her first major success. She was then promptly hired in Oslo, played Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov - and came to film.

First encounter with Bergman

She has often reported on her first encounter with Bergman, including in the documentary “Liv

Bergman wrote the script for “Persona” in the hospital. It will be the first of ten films together, many of which are considered masterpieces, including "Scream and Whisper" and, above all, "Scenes from a Marriage".

The actress and the director became a couple and their daughter Linn was born in 1966. Bergman once called Ullmann his Stradivarius. While filming the film "Passion" in 1969, he announced that he would take the longest close-up of her that he had ever taken. Ullmann later said that she played this scene of a woman losing her temper so intensely that she no longer recognized her face on the screen.

But Bergman is also possessive. Many of the characters she played were actually him, reports Ullmann: "I was a part of someone else's dream." After five years she leaves Bergman.

Thanks to the success of the joint films, Hollywood is vying for Ullmann. In the 1970s she sometimes made three films a year. She was nominated for an Oscar twice, but came away empty-handed.

Move behind the camera

After Bergman advised her, Ullmann took over the direction of the Danish film "Sophie" in the early 1990s, for which she had already written the script. Ullmann reported this spring when the documentary series "A Road Less Traveled" about her was presented in Cannes that she believed she knew everything about the main character she created and that she could play him best. But then she took close-ups of leading actress Karen-Lise Mynster. "When I saw her - when I saw her face - I was blown away. I would never have thought of doing exactly what she did," Ullmann admits.

Since then, Ullmann has worked both in front of and behind the camera. She stays in touch with Bergman until the end. "It wasn't until everything was over that we became real friends," she says. Ullmann continues to work with him, most recently in the television film "Sarabande" from 2003 - Bergman's last work before his death in 2007.

To this day, especially in Europe, Ullmann is often seen as the woman who played under Bergman or as the master's muse. “I traveled the world and did a lot without Ingmar,” she states, including things that Bergman himself liked to do but never implemented. "But in the end we always talk about Ingmar." She finds that a bit sad sometimes.

When Ullmann receives the Oscar for her life's work in 2022, her colleague John Lightgow said: "To those who claim that without Ingmar Bergman she would not have become one of the greatest actors in the world, I would like to answer that without Liv Ullmann, Ingmar Bergman probably would not be one one of the greatest filmmakers."