Ask your questions for Liv Ullmann | Movies
On March 25 – two nights before the Oscars – Liv Ullmann will receive an honorary Oscar for her “bravery and emotional transparency that delivered deeply moving on-screen performances to audiences”.
Forget the wins for Parasite and Nomadland – if there was ever any proof that the Academy improved its taste, Ullmann sharing the stage with Elaine May, Samuel L Jackson and Danny Glover at this year’s Governors Awards, it’s surely that.
The following month sees the start of a great season celebrating Ullmann’s work at the CIB Southbank in London – with an accompanying program on the BFI player, as well as a national 50th anniversary release for Cries and Whispers on 1 April and a Blu-ray release for Faithless 10 days later.
Now 83, Ullmann is a true cinematic legend; an actor of supreme audacity, intelligence and empathy – and a fearsome director too. She is best known for her work with Swedish playwright Ingmar Bergman. Together they made 10 films, including Persona (1966), Anna’s Passion (1969), Cries and Whispers (1972), Face to Face (1976) and Autumn Sonata (1978). They also had a daughter, Linn.
Ullmann was born in Tokyo and had a traumatic childhood: her grandfather died in Dachau after being sent there for helping Jews escape from his Norwegian town; his parents moved to Toronto and then New York for his father’s job as an aeronautical engineer, but he died after being struck by a propeller – a loss that greatly affected young Ullmann.
Her mother returned to Norway with her two daughters and worked as a bookseller; Ullmann began her career on stage, with a historic Nora in A Doll’s House in mid-1950s Norway. She repeated the role in 1975 on Broadway, where she later starred in seemingly extraordinary productions of Ghosts and Anna Christie.
She hasn’t made a film for eight years, since she made a very effective and intense adaptation of Miss Julie in 2014, with Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrell. It was his third film behind the camera, after Sofie (1992) and Faithless (2000), the latter a major Cannes success, with a screenplay by Bergman, loosely based on his own infidelities.
It is a career of extreme taste and also of parsimonious choice. The list of roles Ullmann has turned down is almost as long as those for which she has won awards: a character written especially for her by Soderbergh in Ocean’s 12, a character in Sex and the City, the role of Angie Dickinson in Dressed to Kill and Emelie Ekdahl in Fanny and Alexander, Bergman’s latest feature film.
Another ghost on the resume is his passion project to film A Doll’s House, with Kate Winslet and Cate Blanchett both linked to star in its adaptation. This never happened, although Ullmann did direct the latter on stage in A Streetcar Named Desire in Sydney.
I met Ullmann eight years ago and was overwhelmed by his approachability and insight. She was also present and emotional in a way few famous movie icons manage to manage. Somehow, Ullmann’s humanity remained completely intact.
We’d love to have your questions for her, please. Post them in the comments below; these will close at noon on March 11. His answers will be published on March 25.