Norwegian actress and director Liv Ullmann hasn’t performed in Norway for nearly 25 years but her long absence from the local stage is about to end. Meanwhile, she’s staying mum about a reported conflict over politics behind The International Ibsen Prize.
Norwegian papers have carried reports recently that Ullmann and other members of the jury for the Ibsen Prize have resigned in protest against alleged “political interference.” Neither Ullmann nor other jury members liked demands from the state ministry for cultural affairs — which funds the Ibsen Prize — that the winner deliver a speech in the city where Ibsen was born (Skien) in addition to ceremonies in Oslo.
The prize was recently awarded to Norwegian playwright Jon Fosse, and will be handed over to him in connection with the annual Ibsen Festival in September.
Ullmann, who lives in the US but was in Oslo last week, told Aftenposten that the jury’s resignation has been “blown up” and that “it’s not a protest against the prize.” She declined to elaborate on the reason for the resignations.
She will be back in Oslo later this summer, also for the premiere of the national roving theater company Riksteatret’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. Ullmann will play the wife and mother in a family of alcoholics, herself addicted to morphine. Since Ullmann said she doesn’t drink herself, “it’s quite interesting to see this from the other side.”
After the Oslo premiere, the production will travel all over Norway this autumn, playing in about 50 cities and small towns before returning to Oslo’s National Theater in late November and, finally, Dramaten in Stockholm. Ullmann, who recently had major international success directing A Streetcar Named Desire with actress Cate Blanchett, hasn’t worked with Riksteatret for more than 40 years but said she jumped at the chance when theater chief Ellen Horn, a former government culture minister, called.
“I know that this is what I want to do now,” Ullmann told reporters. “This is where I belong. For me, there’s no other place in the world that can measure up to Riksteatret right now.”
Ullmann, director Stein Winge and the rest of the cast are reading through the production this week on Fårö, the island off Gotland in the Baltic that was the late Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s home. Ullmann was married to Bergman and lived there with him when their daughter Linn (now a writer in Oslo) was young.
“It will be strange to be back,” Ullmann said. “We get to work in a home where a great artist lived. I think it will be fantastic.”