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Interview with Liv Ullmann
Transcript of the interview by Shane Danielson on stage at the NFT
Tuesday January 23, 2001 - The Guardian

Ingmar Bergman's muse, collaborator and one-time lover, Liv Ullmann became the emblem of arthouse cinema throughout the 60s and 70s. In recent years she has moved behind the camera, directing the family saga Sofie and her current film, Faithless, from a script by Bergman. On stage at the NFT, the luminous star of Persona and Cries and Whispers revisited past triumphs and old disasters in conversation with Shane Danielson

Shane Danielson: Some of you might have heard that this event tonight is in some way a reprise of an interview in August at the Edinburgh Film Festival, and in the car on the way here both of us confessed that this is something like a second date for us.

But one of the things I found out that night was that she didn't particularly like the word icon, though it's been used many times to describe her. She didn't object to it violently, but she did point out that an icon is something that is a couple of centuries old and covered in dust and can usually be found hanging on the wall of an Orthodox church rather than in front of a camera making good films.

In place of icon I would like, therefore, to offer another word for Miss Ullmann, which is 'emblematic'. Because in the minds of cinema goers, particularly cinema goers of a certain generation, she is the personification of a certain kind of cinema, and identified too with a certain kind of director - in this case Ingmar Bergman. And it occurred to me that this was similar to the way another Scandinavian born actress, Anna Karina, was with another great director, Jean-Luc Godard.

But the differences couldn't be more profound. Karina exemplified capriciousness and everything that, for Godard, was about the unknowability about women. Whereas Ullmann was always known: she projected a woman who laid herself open on the screen for us to see and seemed comfortable projecting the most naked and raw emotional states, and that's, I think, what we recognise in her and what many of us love and admire in her as well.

Tonight, to start off, I've chosen two clips which I think highlight both sides of her career - both as a great screen actor and as a film-maker of international renown. The first clip is from the Bergman film The Shame - a single take framed almost entirely on her face - and the second clip is from her debut feature Sofie, in which she tried to retain the values in Bergman's films: the unflinching emotional honesty, the truth to characters and their motivations and the respect and compassion for everyone that is on the screen.
The other difference between her and Karina is that Godard and Karina burned brightly and briefly whereas Ingmar Bergman and Liv Ullmann have enjoyed a professional relationship which has varied between lover, muse, collaborator, actor for well over 30 years now, from Persona in 1966 to Faithless today. Here are the clips.

SD: When we turned up here in the car tonight there was a big crowd standing outside the doors and Liv looked out of the car and said in typical Liv terror, "Ah! They hated the film! Everybody's walked out of the film.It's going to be a disaster. Why have you brought me here?" And they turned out to be the hoards of autograph hunters. But the point is that one of these people just held out something for her to sign and said over and over again, "You are lovely, you are lovely." And she certainly is, and one of the great film-makers of our day, Liv Ullmann.

SD: So, not an icon?

Liv Ullmann: Not an icon. Actually, what Shane said about outside the theatre was nicer than what I heard in the airport not so long ago. A lady, she came very close to me and looked at me and said, "Didn't you use to be Liv Ullmann?" So that was nicer!

SD: You've tried to preserve many of the lessons you learnt with Bergman. Bergman casts such a long shadow over your career, for better or for worse...

LU: Well those are your words...

SD: I go on the basis of the book you wrote, Changing.

LU: Well I wrote it 25 years ago...

SD: So it was fresh from the heat of it in a way.

LU: Well, yes, but then I lived 25 more years. More than that. After we split up as a loving couple - that's 32 years because we have known each other for 36 years. I think it is. Yes, he is absolutely the best director I've worked with, as an actress on, I think, 10 films and as a director on two scripts. But I think what you are as a person is also part of what you reflect in your work, and so his shadow is not what I'm walking under. It's my life I'm working with and it is my life and my experience which I present.

In terms of learning, what you learn the most from is - if it comes to directing - it's really the bad directors you have, because it's through the bad directors that you learn what you shouldn't do with actors and the people you are working with. Those that trample on your fantasy and do not respect your experience. You learn more from that if you want to be a director yourself. I would say I work in the sunlight of so much that Ingmar's given me. Actually, I don't work under anyone's shadow.

SD: I'm glad we cleared that one up.

LU: That was the long answer.

SD: You talked about bad directors, it seems to me that your biggest experience of those would have been when you went to work in America. There's a game I like to play on stage with somebody which is bringing up their worst film, and I have to say two words: Lost Horizon.

LU: Yeah, that was rather bad. There are a lot of critics who have that on their list of the 50 worst films that were ever made, and it almost tops them. But I had a fantastic time, and the cast - Charles Boyer, John Gielgud, Peter Finch - it was a great cast.

SD: That's what puzzles me. When you're on something like that and it turns out to be such a monumental turkey... I remember interviewing George Clooney about Out Of Sight and he'd just come off that Batman movie and he said that even when he was making it, he and the guy who played Robin were sitting there going, "This is going to suck." Did you know that at the time?

LU: No! Well I knew that I couldn't dance and I couldn't sing...

SD: Which for a musical is kind of an obstacle...

LU: Yes, I know! I did say that to them and they said, "Oh, it doesn't matter, you're so sweet and so charming, we'll work around it." So somebody sang my voice and then I danced, and that looked kind of stiff and strange, but what I said was true. It was my first time in Hollywood and I believed everything they said, and they said every woman in Hollywood wants to do your part in Lost Horizon, and I believed that too. I lived in this incredible house with this swimming pool and my friends came over, and the bathroom in the house was like, like this whole room! It was fantastic! Give that to any 31-year-old from Norway and they will think that it's the greatest time in their life.

I still feel that the film wasn't a success, but it was a fantastically good time. As a matter of fact, that first year I was in Hollywood - it was my last year too - I did four movies. As opposed to Greta Garbo, who just grew and grew, I managed to close down two studios. And this is true! And it's fun for me because the tragedy never reached me, because by the time I'd done my year - and none of the films were out yet, so I still thought, "Oh, what a success I am" - I went to Sweden and the film I did then was Scenes From a Marriage, so I wasn't really aware that I had closed the two studios.

SD: At the time did you say in interviews in Sweden, "They love me in America"?

LU: Yes I did that. And they said, "She's really got stuck up now." They didn't understand that it was a great time. I still think it was a great time. I took the best of it with me and I went on from there and that was, like, 30 years ago, so who cares?

SD: Absolutely. You're associated with Bergman in so many films. You're also blurring the lines between collaboration and life partnership...

LU: That was only for two films.

SD: But even then, after that, you're still in his orbit, in his films. When you got out of that, how was he about you being in The Emigrants (directed by Jan Troell), for example? Many directors get possessive and don't allow people to play in other fields...

LU: He's a little like that. I did it anyway. And by the time I did The Emigrants it was more or less over in terms of the love relationship. As a matter of fact it was not Ingmar who brought me to Hollywood but The Emigrants...

SD: Because of the Golden Globe - you were nominated, yes?

LU: I won. And I was nominated for an Oscar and that was when I went to Hollywood and got the four films. He kind of realised that I wanted to taste that world and when all that was over I went back and did a film for him, and he thought, "Well, she has learnt now and she'll do Scenes From a Marriage, and she'll be happy to be here."

SD: How big a priority was it for you to be a success in America, in that after the European success you would have to start almost from the bottom...

LU: You don't start from the bottom when you get a lead in a musical...

SD: But Lost Horizon...

LU: But it didn't seem like a tragedy. And what they couldn't do with me... because I was 31 years old, they couldn't do what they'd planned: create me into something different, because I was secure with the kind of person I was. And I had very good luggage because I had worked with Ingmar Bergman. I don't know if I had dreamt of being a success in Hollywood, I don't think I've ever been ambitious in that way. I just thought it was an incredible opportunity of life, and it came to me and I did it. And I don't regret it and for me, it gave me great pleasure. I think you should say "Yes", even if you do fall on your... behind.

SD: If you say "No" all the time then I suppose you never live.

LU: That's true, because I did another musical. That one was on Broadway. That was maybe more sad because that was Richard Rodgers, and that was the last musical he ever wrote, and again they said it doesn't matter because I was still sweet, and I said I couldn't sing and to look at Lost Horizon. They thought it would go anyway.

The musical was called I Remember Mamma, it was newly written, and I was taken to Richard Rodgers and I told him I really don't sing and he said, "I'm used to that. I've had a lot of singers that don't sing. I just want to know your range." And I said, "This is really embarrassing because I really don't" and he said, "Don't fear". He was already sick and old and close to 80 at that time, and just sitting at his piano and he was so sweet and thin, and he said, "Just sing Happy Birthday." So I sang Happy Birthday and he aged 10 years, just like that.

The incredible thing with him was, and this was his last musical, and he knew he was making it for me - seven songs that I mishandled, and he came each night to the theatre and he was loving and nice and just kind. It was eight months of a fantastic thing on Broadway. And because I was older I knew what I was doing. I thought that this was going to be fun to tell my grandchildren, you know: "I don't dance, I don't sing, and here I am a star in a musical."

SD: Which killed Richard Rodgers...

LU: No. It didn't kill him. Because he was already sick before he met me...

SD: Moving swiftly along. You said you weren't particularly ambitious for success. You just wanted to make the films you wanted to make, and yet at the same time from an early age...

LU: If life presents itself to you, you have to say 'Yes'. Or at least that was what I felt. Now I am more careful with my choices. Now I know it is more serious because I am older and everything. But you have to allow yourself, in my business, fiascos. Because that is what you really learn from. The other things you get so much praise from you can't learn anything from that. But when you do bad you have to think, why did I do badly, was it my choices, was it the way I did it, and you go on and have a better life because of that.

SD: Did you believe the publicity you got, or were you always doubting yourself?

LU: I would doubt myself after the reviews of the mistakes, but that doesn't live forever either. It's now many years since I read reviews in that way and it doesn't mean what it used to mean because life is so much grander and more exceptional than to read reviews of what you do at work. Life is what you fill your day with, why you wake up in the morning and what you want to do in terms of being a human being. I'm not portrayed by what was bad and what was good in terms of my work, I'm portrayed by what I try to give in to my work.

SD: Sure.

LU: Was that too serious?

SD: No, not at all. In the second clip, from Sofie, I thought it showed the difference between Bergman, say, and yourself, that you've just touched on. The fact that you draw this distinction between life and your work and that one doesn't necessarily consume the other. The portraitist in the clip will take any emotion he can get, it's all grist to the mill, and that's what Bergman does, clearly.

LU: Yes, that's a kind of cannibal, but not necessarily in the wrong way. Some artists use every moment, how can I do this, how can I note this down, how can I use it. There are some people that do that, but also just live. I would rather be of that kind. When you die and God says, 'What did you do in life?' you can't just say, "I did good work.' You have to say a lot of other things as well.

SD: You tried to live a good life.

LU: Yeah. I hated and I loved and I sang and well, whatever. I cam from the States this morning so if I say things like that it might be jet-lag too.

SD: You said in Edinburgh that you had remained friends with Bibi Andersson. There was a community of women around Bergman, but it didn't seem to be competitive, or if it was, not in a way that destroyed the group from within. I don't mean because you were women, but a group of creative people around a director doesn't necessarily encourage good behaviour.

LU: We were very close friends, the women who worked for and with Bergman. Bibi Andersson and I are the best of friends and we are like sisters. The first time that we worked together was in Norway many years before I worked with Ingmar in a film, it was a Danish film. There were no houses, it was on an island north of Norway and we all lived in a school house and Bibi and I shared a classroom, there were beds in there. We used to lie at night and dream of the future, both of us were newly married and we were twenty years old and we said if we ever get to be parents we'd be godparents to each other's children.

I think we bonded so strongly then that even though later I got to do more films with Ingmar than she did, she continued to be my sister and never faulted me. That says a lot about her strength and friendship is more important than work. I don't know if I would have reacted in the incredible way she did.

SD: Was it hard having gone from being intimate with Ingmar to stepping back to a purely professional relationship?

LU: Oh, that was a blessing, that really was. We did two films when we lived together, The Shame and The Passion of Anna, and the breakfasts were terrible. He would sit there thinking about what he was going to do, and if he had had nightmares he would tell me about that too, and I thought, "Oh, god. I'm going to do that nightmare on film." It wasn't really life affirming for me. Later, when those things were behind us, we each could go home to our own home, where the other one wasn't; it was incredible. We worked so much better when we were friends, and we are truly very close friends, than we did when we had other agendas in our relationship.

SD: Was he supportive when you wanted to be a director?

LU: Yes. He was very supportive. My first film, Sofie, I sent him the cut of the film when I was finished and asked him what he thought about it. And I thought a lot about what I had learned from Ingmar when I did that movie. For me to have been an actress was the best of schools to be a director because I know what it feels inside and I started to respect acting so much more. While I was still an actress I sometimes felt a little ashamed of being an actress...

SD: Why?

LU: I don't know. Because here I am, and there's so much going on in the world, and here I am an actress and people sit with you at dinner and they think they have to ask how it is to act, and how you learn your lines and things like that...

SD: Nothing very substantial...

LU: No, because they think you don't. And so I almost felt ashamed. But I knew deep down, when it didn't have to be me, that actors are so creative and actors are so fantastic, the really good ones, to build on their own life and to use that, without being themselves, but to use the best and the wisest thing that they know about life.

And the movie you have just seen (Faithless), to see Lena Endre give so much of her life so freely, I think it is the best performance in a movie. When you think of films and theatre you can take away the lights and the stage, everything, but you can never do without the word and the actors.

SD: I would imagine that actors want to work with you because you come from that background, because you understand. There is a level of trust established there immediately.

LU: There has to be a lot of trust. First of all you have to be very open with who you are so that they know you are not hiding something. Then they really have to trust you so that they know whatever they give you, you are not going to misuse them. They must feel that, while you are sitting there with the camera, you are like a lover. If you are with someone who really loves you, and they look at you and they show you that you are the most wonderful person in the world, you will suddenly bloom. If you are a kind of rose, which these people are, they will be the best of roses if you allow them to be roses, and don't try to make them into a blue copy of some idea you had in your own workroom.
SD: Did you ever feel close to cinema as a whole, were you a film fan? Did you feel passionately involved in the film world, or was it more isolated, because you were in Scandinavia?

LU: But, you know, we see films in Scandinavia too.

SD: I'm from Australia. We just got them last year.

LU: When I was in Australia, Doris Day was still the icon.

SD: She's a big pinup for all of us. There's that sense, in the 60s and 70s, of an enclave up there, making a very specific kind of cinema that doesn't appear to be influenced by French cinema or Hollywood cinema. It was a parallel cinema.

LU: That is true. Although I must say that we saw a lot of films undubbed. We saw Italian films, and French and Russian and from Czechoslovakia and from Poland, so we had a fantastic education in foreign films. Our films in the end did not look like these films, though these films really inspired us. When I was young and saw Vittorio De Sica's films, like The Bicycle Thieves, my whole view of life changed seeing these films.

That's why it's so important the type of films young people see today. They sneak into your fantasy, maybe even more so today than before, because today people seem more isolated, and there are very few places where they are face to face with others, and cinema is one of the few places now that they can still be influenced. That is why it is so sad today that they are getting all these cartoon movies and slice movies, when in my time we had much more grownup movies. It is cut-cut-cut-cut, you never get to see what life is about, what your heart is about, what your pulse is about. When you look at people you don't look back and forth; you look at people and movies should reflect that, and they don't do that anymore.

SD: With DVD and video, even the communal experience is declining. There is a breakdown of that community. Do you feel endangered by Hollywood in Norway? Is that as strong there as in the rest of Europe, and is the push to resist that as strong?

LU: It's like, I'm sure, it is in England. I think something like 80% of the films that we see are Hollywood movies, and the more people see these kinds of movies the harder it is to get them in to other movies, because they don't want to see it, because it's long, and slow. People have this haste: "It can't be too long because then I have to go out and... " What do they have to do? Life is long! Can't they give two hours, or more, and see if something changes in their life? Or maybe they'll have something to talk about with someone? Or maybe they are shocked and they decide something is going to be different in their life. It is good to be influenced.

It's great to be in a movie house and be a participant. In so many movies you are not a participant. But to be a participant, even if you don't like the movie, something is somehow shaken within you. That is good. We need to be part of life, we can't just be watching a screen, and watching what is happening, and watching the politicians, and watching everything. We have to be part of it. Not passive. So much in our time is making us passive because we don't know what's going on anymore. Wars happen and we don't know what the war is about. Politicians are elected and people don't even know how to elect them!

SD: The core of Bergman's films is a watchfulness and almost a 19th century view that character decides destiny. Yet that is so unpopular and radically unfashionable. Do you get depressed in terms of whether you can keep making films, or if the films will find an audience? Do you just make something and hope it will connect with an audience somewhere?

LU: Yes, I hope. But then I'm 62 years old. If I was 30 I would be more worried because I would wonder whether I could continue to make films this way. But I am not worried for me or for what my future will be, but I am worried for the audience and the film-makers. It is tough for film-makers if they want to make a more serious, or even a comedy, done seriously. But most of all I am worried for young people because they cannot go to the cinema and experience the wonder when the bell rings and the curtain goes and something is happening there. On the plane nowadays, the Farrel brothers?

SD: Farrelly brothers.

LU: They were raping a chicken! It's not even fun!

SD: I know. In Australia you have to take what you can get.

LU: I was in Australia and they have a very different way of seeing things. Many years ago I did this Cocteau play called The Human Voice. It's about a woman, and she's on the phone, and that's all you see. She is on the phone with her lover who is apparently breaking up with her and she just cannot let him go. It's a really sad monologue. And she says, "Please don't hang up, don't hang up." And she's struggling for her life. It had been a success everywhere we'd been, and then we came to Sydney. On the second night, people had come because I was a star in Australia at that time, I was saying, "Don't hang up, oh, please, don't hang up." And I hear from the gallery, "Oh, please hang up!". And that's what I felt.

SD: Tell me the story of the meeting between Woody Allen and Ingmar Bergman that you managed to engineer...

LU: Oh, yes. I was performing in New York doing The Doll's House, and this was in the middle of the women's liberation in the 70s in the United States. Can I just tell you this story first?

SD: Er... yes.

LU: I was doing it with Sam Waterston. I was Nora and he was Helmer. Sam always played the nice guy. And this was women's liberation. We did the rehearsals and Sam was very happy and I was happy and then we had the audience there for the first time two days before the premiere. They started booing when Helmer, my husband, came in. Each time I said something it was, "Oh, wonderful! Wonderful!" Anything I said! When he said something it was, "Boo!" It was terrible. And in the end, when I left the stage, they applauded, and he had one line, "I don't understand", and they really booed him.

Sam was so shaken afterwards he almost didn't want to do it anymore. So to pep him up I said we should do yoga before. So the day before the premiere we did some yoga and Sam stretched his toe a little, so he had to go onstage with a stick. And, you know, they really didn't boo because he had this stick. They still said, "Bravo! Bravo!" when Nora said something, but they were much more quiet. And when I left the stage they kind of felt sorry because he was sitting there with a stick.

Now this is the honest-to-God truth I am telling you. The next day was the premiere. Sam Waterston came in on crutches. He did the whole run on crutches and nobody applauded when I left anymore. It was a success and it was a new way of doing the play.
So Ingmar wanted to come to the United States to see this. But he is very isolated. Woody Allen kept inviting me out for dinner because he admired Ingmar so much. References to Ingmar all the time.

So I told him that Ingmar was coming to town. Woody said, "Aaah! Can I meet him? I can't believe it." So I called Ingmar and said that Woody Allen wanted to meet him, and he said, "That would be a pleasure."

So Ingmar came for two days only and on one day he would see the play and the next day he would have dinner in his hotel suite because, you know, he is a genius and so he doesn't go on the streets and thing... So we would have dinner with Woody in his suite. So Woody collected me from the theatre the second day in a limo with a chauffeur who wore white gloves who you couldn't address - he's also a kind of genius! So we sat in this limo and Woody was so nervous. We got to the suite and the door opens. The two look at each other. You should have seen their eyes: they just looked at each other. "Hello." "Hello." And that was the only thing the two of them said, hello hello. That is true.
So we sat down at the dinner table and they didn't talk to each other! And Ingrid, who is Ingmar's wife, who is not normally allowed to talk when there are artists there, she was talking!

SD: But you have a bit of a problem with Ingrid...

LU: We didn't have that contact, we didn't share that much... but... you know, she's a great cook! So we talked about the meatballs! This is really true. And when we said something really silly, the two geniuses would look at each other and, you know, think, "Hmm. Little women." You know.

And for dessert, to put hurt upon hurt, she had an envelope with my child support - I got $1,500 a year in child support - and she gave that envelope to me over the table. So it was a strange dinner. And then it was over, and I'm not even sure they said goodbye. They kind of looked at each other with this knowing smile. Then I went back with Woody in his limo and he said, "Thank you Liv. That was an experience."

Ingmar then called me when I got back to my room and said, "Thank you Liv. He is really special." They didn't say a word to each other the whole dinner.

SD: Let's open it up to some questions from the audience.

Q: What recent films have you seen that you liked?

LU: I get all these movies that are nominated for Oscars and I see them on tapes which really is not how you should see them. I saw Hitching Dragon... Flying What... That one by Ang Lee. I thought that was fantastic. I don't know about the story, but the images and these people fighting but flowing through the air... I thought that was fantastic. And I saw another movie, the script was not so good, but I saw an actress I have admired for some years, Cate Blanchett. She is doing such an extraordinary performance in a movie that perhaps isn't the best. She is really, apart from Lena Endre, she is really... well she is younger than Lena, so I would say she is the best actor of her generation and Lena Endre of hers. It is very difficult if you are an actress to be good in a bad film, but she manages that.

SD: Would you consider working with international stars like that, or is it important for you to work within Scandinavia?

LU: No. It is important for me to work with something that is close to my heart, and it doesn't matter to me what language they speak. Cate Blanchett, she is a soul mate, I can see. Languages are no problem, but it would be a problem if it was a Hollywood film because you don't get the last edit, and you can't have people editing your film. They haven't asked me either.

Q: Why isn't there a Bergman retrospective at the NFT so young people can see Bergman, and what was it like acting with Ingrid Bergman.

SD: I'll answer the first part. Bergman prints are very hard to get hold of. Even to get the extracts we showed tonight.

LU: I did hear that there may be a retrospective here. Maybe people could demand it. Working with Ingrid was an incredible joy. I admire her so much. What was good with her was that she was so honest, she came out with everything she felt, and that is sometimes difficult if you work with somebody like Ingmar. You respect him so much, and I'm using this word genius, and I mean it from my heart, but sometimes I am also using it in a special way... to explain... Ingrid was important because she did not qualify him as anything other than a director. I used to sit there and admire her, that she said everything that she did. We played a mother and a daughter, and we said to Ingmar, "Why are you making the mother so unsympathetic, just because she also wants to have a career. Can we change the words?" And Ingmar said, "No, you cannot change the words." We said, "Can we play against the character?" And he said, "Yes, you are actresses, you can do that."

Then there was this incredible episode happening when we did Autumn Sonata. I am the daughter and I am blaming my mother for everything I am in life. I am more than 40 years old, and there comes a time when you cannot blame your mother anymore. Somehow you are living your own life. But she goes on blaming her mother. So it is this scene where the mother is blaming her daughter and I had three pages of a monologue telling the mother how terrible she'd been, look at the misery of my life and it's all your fault. I go on and on and on through a whole night. And in the morning, Ingrid Bergman, as the mother, has two lines. "Please, hold me. Please, love me." And I thought that was beautiful. If I had to do that, I would really make people cry, I would do it tenderly.

So I did all my lines, and Ingrid just sat there, and I did the hate and the anger and everything. The camera was turned on to Ingrid and she was to say, "Please, hold me. Please, love me." But she says, "No! I'm not going to say that. I want to slap her in the face and leave the room." And it was incredible - no one has talked to him in that way. He was red and he said, "That is your line." "I'm not doing it." So they started to yell and went out of the studio. We all looked at each other and thought, "The movie is going to end here." We heard the voices out there, really high voices - the genius and the actress.

Then suddenly the door opens and they come in and, of course, he has won; and he should win, they are his words. But she, she was saying the lines... but if you look at that, she says, "Please, hold me. Please, love me", but her face was mirroring every woman who has gone through their lives saying, "I'm sorry." and ''What can I do for you?" And she has the face of somebody who is so fed up of saying, "Excuse me for being alive." I think it was masterful. So Ingmar got what he wanted, he got the lines, but he also got a really incredible performance. Maybe the whole thing was staged by him. That I don't know. But the result is fantastic.

SD: Would he do that kind of thing? Destabilising you on set?

LU: No, he wouldn't... Well, what do I know?

SD: Well I was wondering how you get the pain in those performances? It's hard to switch that on and off.

LU: He creates that kind of atmosphere where what you do is suddenly part of life the moment you are doing it. I was doing a suicide scene in Face to Face. I was told by him, "You're sitting on your bed and you take these pills and then you lie down on the bed and then you die. And we'll do it in one take." And I thought, "Is this all I'm getting?" He didn't say more. But then just before he said for the camera to go he said, "Oh, we did change the real pills for sugar pills?" And that was so fantastic, I knew he was doing it with me, but my fantasy allowed him to do it with me.

So the camera went and I knew that maybe these are the real pills, and I started to shiver a little on my hands. And I took the pills, more and more, and it became some kind of reality for me. I lied down and I was starting to experience it, and he never said cut. So I had to lie there and what do I do now? Yes. This is my childhood room and look at the tapestry, those beautiful flowers, and don't you think that if she was dying she would put her fingers on those tapestry flowers as she must have done when she was a little girl and I did that. I was moved by that. That was also set by Ingmar, the flowers, but he never said it. And he still didn't say cut. What is happening? And I had a watch, and I have to look at the watch because I have to know what time I am dying and I was so moved by that fantasy that I almost died. And I closed my eyes! And it was over. And Ingmar said, "Thank you. Now I don't have to commit suicide."

It's really hard to tell you, but a masterful audience will put you in that kind of mood, where everything suddenly becomes reality. The audience is quiet and listening to you, and you want to give more. That's where he was so good. He gave you great blocking and great atmosphere and the space to try things.

Q: How do you bring out the performances in your actors?

LU: It really has to do with trust. I must be trustworthy so that they can create. I am not going to ask them to do less of more unless it's really true. The fantastic scene you saw (Faithless) when Lena Endre is sitting in the window and she is talking about leaving her child. It is an 8-10 minute take on her face. The first time she did it, it was magnificent - it was an actress; you could see the technique and if anyone saw it they would say what a fantastic actress. But I knew she could do more. So I said, that was fantastic, everyone will praise you, but I want more. Just think of that little child walking out and think of her back and her head that doesn't turn towards you, and that is going to be an image that you will carry with you for the rest of your life. Be Lena.

Then she did it one more time. And magic happened. And it wasn't like this big applause they say you get from people in the studio when something is good. There was a fantastic silence and she left the studio and some of the workers were patting her on the shoulder. She allowed herself to be the person, she wasn't doing the person. It is hard to explain.

SD: Would you say a lot of screen acting is about forgetting that technique?

LU: Yes. If you see the technique, it is good but it is not there. When you see a naked face then it's really there. When you are moved to the inner core of yourself, it is really there. If you cut away from that face four times you will lose that.

Q: Was it a coincidence that both your films have featured Jewish families?

LU: In a way it was coincidence. In Sofie, that was about a Jewish family, so everyone except the painter was Jewish. I do not really know why the husband in Faithless was Jewish. It probably belongs to the way Ingmar sees family and he believes that no one represents the family as well as a Jewish man and woman, but I'm just guessing now, coming from a long family history. But it was a coincidence. But I elected to do the first film because it was a Jewish story and I wanted to do that because, maybe for the same reasons. I wanted to show a family with traditions. Erland Josephson, who played the lead in that, was the only Jewish person in Sofie, and he had forgotten so much about his childhood. Since he was a child had not eaten kosher food and had forgotten the songs. But while we did the movie he remembered everything: the songs, the Hebrew language. It is also where my personal story has come from, although I am not Jewish.

Q: You talked about Ingrid's struggle with Ingmar's text. How was it dealing with Ingmar's text as a director?

LU: I didn't change a word. Of course a lot of things were taken away, otherwise it would have been six hours long. I had the freedom to do that, but I never changed words that were being said. I also had a freedom because not having written it myself I didn't have to defend the words because they were already there. Ingmar may have had pain when Ingrid was talking that way, but I had the freedom to do the shooting script because he had written it as a monologue. He wanted me to do the shooting script because, just like in the film, he wanted a woman to come in and give her [point of view on] what had happened to him once. I allowed myself to take that freedom and not to ask him whether I had done what he wanted.

SD: Did he come on set?

LU: No. Never. He came on the last day and took some photographs. That was fantastic - that is full of trust. The pre-production was one year and he never asked anything. He never came on the set and he never came to the editing table and I admire him a lot for that. I don't think I could have done that. But he did it. He dares to show trust. I was faithful, I didn't do things that I thought would be wrong against who he is.

Q: Why did you change from acting to directing? Why aren't you acting in any more films?

LU: Well, that has to do with age. Partly because they were not queuing up for me and partly because I had decided that I didn't really want to act anymore. There aren't that many good directors like Ingmar and sometimes, with a certain age, you get impatient while they are doing their homework on you. I really didn't want to do that. And life was good to me. It gave me a new opportunity that I'm so grateful for. People say that your life is over at 40, and my life was fantastic at 40. People say life is over at 50, and I went into a new career. Now I'm more than 60 and that is why I want to take a pause, in case there is something else to do.

It doesn't have to be a career. Life is there whatever. If you are there in the garden or whatever. Life is very generous if you allow it to be generous, for us who are privileged to have choices.

SD: What did you mean by 'taking a pause'? From making films or from acting in films?

LU: Acting, that's over with.

SD: Completely? Nothing would coax you back?

LU: Well, I never know about tomorrow, but I don't think so. I don't want to worry about the way I look, I want to worry about the way I live. To know that whatever happens, if I am to spend two-and-a-half years on a film, it must be life affirming. Or I can say I want to see my grandchild on a trip. To be free to say, "Yes, why not?" I never did that.

SD: There's no project at the moment?

LU: I have scripts lying there, but I'm so far... I want to take a pause and see what I want to do.

Q: What was the experience like, of acting with and directing Erland Josephson?

LU: Well, he is one of my best friends and we've known each other for thirty-five years. He was the only one I was nervous of directing because we are used to talking in breaks and talking bad about the director, sharing all these wonderful secrets. Suddenly I was isolated. I don't know if they were talking bad about me, but I wasn't part of that group anymore. But he was fantastic, he switched from being my playmate to listening to me as a director and honoured me with that. And he gave in a new way that was very different to what he gave me when I was an actor. He has been in all four films I have done, and I cannot really see a filmset without him. He is a very good man. It worked very much because of him, because he allowed me to change my part.

SD: When you and Bibi Andersson were lying in bed in that classroom talking about what you wanted to achieve, have you surpassed your expectations?

LU: Oh, yes. I could never have imagined. I think life is wonderful and I am tremendously grateful in that I still have Bibi and we can still lie down on the sofa and talk about what we want to do next. That friendship has lasted. If I have nothing else to do, I can be an icon!