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Interview with Liv Ullmann and Dheeraj Akolkar - Star and Director of Liv & Ingmar

Interviews
by Melissa Silverstein
October 9, 2012 11:09 AM
2 Comments
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WaH: They’re intense.

LU: They are intense and I didn’t know it because when I read them then I was a kid. In the movie there was one scene I absolutely didn’t know about and that was about a letter that I left ten years earlier thanking him that I could use his workroom for making a film. And I just wrote a note and the housekeeper who takes care of his house said, “Have you looked in his teddy bear?” and inside the teddy bear was this letter I wrote long after we had passed our love relationship. And he kept my stupid letter.

WaH: Alright let’s get into that, because when you look at some of the things about your relationship like how he monitored you and isolated you, and almost kept you in prison. That’s creepy. From the perspective of a 21st century woman you get the willies. I

LU: But I’m so much older than you. And the women of that time— we were so controlled isn’t that creepy? Today we would never let this happen to anyone.

WaH: Your relationship was a product of its time?

LU:  I grew up in this time where we were pleasing and we said yes.  At the same time women's liberation came.  I was so controlled but I didn’t acknowledge.   It’s very strange but that somebody would stand with a watch and wait for me to come, even today it stays with you. You are a product of your time, and to be a doormat it is there and to be like Nora in A Doll’s House, even today I will dance a little because I think that I have to.

WaH: I’m obsessed with A Doll’s House too. I consider it to be one of the most feminist plays also. You know, people talk about Nora in such negative ways sometimes, but I don’t see that at all.

LU: No. Can I tell you a story?

WaH: Yes please. I love that play.

LU: I love it and I’ve done it three times.

DA: And you wanted to make a movie of it

LU: And I wanted to make a movie of it. I did it three times and the last time was here on Broadway with Sam Waterston.  And this was in 1970 something and women’s liberation was so big and I had caught onto it too. And what happened at the previews lthe moment people were clapping.  It wasn’t for the actor it was for Nora. Sam whistles and it was terrible and it was all wrong. Sam was devastated. He was really devastated. And then the next day we did some yoga before the show and he tweaked his foot and had to use a cane at the net preview.

I got the same chairs but he didn’t get the whistles. I swear to you, and this is a true story, Sam denies it, but it is the truth. The next day, which was the day before the premiere, he cames in on two crutches and for long time he played Helmer on two crutches. He never got whistled at but I also didn't get my claps because you don’t really hate a man on crutches.

WaH: So he took the power out of Helmer in some way?

LU: He took power away from her by being the victim, and that is also something I recognized only men do that.  But women today are much more than in my time the victim. Women seem to get so much power out of being victims.

WaH: I saw your production of Streetcar. Fantastic.

LU: That was one of the best times in my life.

DA: I was so waiting for it to come to the West End every day. Has someone filmed that production?

LU: No, we talked about doing it, but it never happened. But there you talk about women interacting with women.

WaH: So when you broke up with Bergman you had to flee in order to survive?

LU: I didn’t feel it like that but it really wasn’t working.  We said let’s take 3 months now apart and make a decision what to do. I thought and that was all I was thinking that after three months we will be together, I’ll write him letters to tell him how I loved him.  He used the 3 months to be free and I got my Dear John letter the last day of the three months. And I got the shock of my life because I thought it was never be over.  But it wasn’t over it just went into a much much better phase for me.

WaH: You could totally tell. So in the early part of your career you were an actor and now you've segued into directing.  How did Bergman affected you in terms of becoming a director if at all?

LU: I had written a script based on the book Sophia and I put so much of myself in and the studio heads said you know you should really direct it.  It came absolutely out of the blue.  I couldn’t believe it I probably said let me think about it, and I remember being the airport in Denmark and I called Ingmar and I said I’ve been asked to direct a movie, do you think I could do that?  He said yes you can do that.  He took such pleasure in that. 

The only advice I had and I wish I’d done it so much earlier because I was fed up with myself a little as an actress. But suddenly, to sit on the other side of the camera and to really experience how creative actors are, and to see that and just be there to work with them, it’s the best choice job I’ve ever had.  The first week I almost ruined it for myself because little Nora was there and I know I ran and I asked, “Shall I get you coffee?”

WaH: So you were taking care of people instead of being in charge?

LU: I thought they’d like me more and respect me, but of course they don’t.

WaH: You spent some time in Hollywood but most of your career was outside of Hollywood.  Is there any kind of lesson?

LU:  I was lucky because I was more than 30 when I got to Hollywood, so I was grown up and they couldn’t really change me. I didn’t even understand it and I’m happy because maybe if it’d stayed or I would have done all of those things. I think it’s very important if you come to Hollywood which can be such an unreal place is that you keep your own reality, and that you feel great pride in your own reality. And I was happy because I made good friends immediately and they protected me somehow.

WaH: It can be overwhelming. It can be destructive.

LU: And they’re like, “Do this movie, do this movie.”  And that happened with my agent, he said oh say yes and I made really bad choices.  I was also going home and I had Ingmar and other actors that I worked with in theater so I was--

WaH: So just another question about directors. So it’s still a huge struggle for women directors in the US.  As a person who’s directed all over the world do you have any opinion on why this is still such a hard place for women to get even small inroads into it?

LU: Because so many of the people who make decisions are men and for some reason men are threatened by what seems like a strong woman. Not all men. 

WaH: Tell me what you want people to think about when they leave your movie.

DA: I really feel that if they see themselves in it they understand. They feel, “Oh this is my story, too.” They find something in it. We’ve had those reactions when we have showed the film.  Men and women of all ages and all professions came to us with such warm reactions in Montreal after the screening of the film.  There was a question/answer session but people did not ask questions, they told their stories because they feel it’s okay.

WaH: What would you have said if she wouldn’t have liked the movie?

DA: I can’t imagine.

LU: I would have felt bad, because I tell you I would have let them know what I felt.

DA: But on the other hand, let me say my producers are very wise in that way. That they did not tell me that there was a contract that if you didn’t like you would say it.  But from the beginning I knew what kind of film I wanted to make. What matters is your attitude it’s the intention you go in with. So eventually my intention comes out always to do a film to celebrate this togetherness. I wasn’t worried

WaH: What do you think the legacy is of your relationship with Ingmar Bergman?

LU: Well, I’m not sure.  For me the movie has been very good because it has shown that it’s a movie about collaborating together and that we really had that. And it’s not just luck and it’s not just me saying, “Oh you know, we used to work together.” I think you have given me some reality for a story that was only mine before,  you have given some credit to our union and I’m proud of it.

WaH: What advice do you have for other women who want to direct film?

LU: Forget about your vanity, because it isn’t about you. I think it’s much better if you are working from your own script or your own adaptation.

And don’t do what I did: don’t dance for them, you know, so they will like you better.  Be firm.  Do what you want to do, and first and foremost don’t think from men that you cannot do this. And stand together because we are not always so solidarity conscious to each other. I mean really care for each other.

WaH: And do you have any advice?

DA: Yes, I do feel that more women should direct.

WaH: Thank you for saying that.

LU: OH, that I do feel.   One of my favorite films The Piano is about a woman, directed by a woman.

Catch Liv and Ingmat tonight in NYC.

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2 Comments

  • Kathy | October 10, 2012 12:18 AMReply

    Why does Liv Ullman like The Piano so much? I didn't think the film was very progressive. bell hooks wrote a brilliant critique of the movie. hooks saw right through the sexism and racism in that film.

  • Marian | October 9, 2012 12:46 PMReply

    Tx for this! I love Liv Ullmann's work, & can't wait to see this movie. I hope it'll be in next year's New Zealand International Film Festival, submissions open now (hint, hint!)

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