UPDATED: Norwegian actress and director Liv Ullmann launched another major theater project in Oslo last weekend, and it may be her last. When her new Norwegian stage version of Ingmar Bergman’s Fortrolige samtaler (Private Confessions) completes its run later this year, Ullmann claims she wants to retire to an anonymous existence.
In a tearful radio interview with state broadcaster NRK this week, and in dozens of news articles, Ullmann expressed a desire to “just be Liv, not Liv Ullmann.” As the play she’s directing was promoted at Oslo’s National Theater by seven actors, two theater bosses, six artistic colleagues and several publicists, Ullmann complained to newspaper Aftenposten that “there’s much too much attention on me.”
She pointed instead to “a fantastic team of actors who bring the performance incredibly to life, I think. The contribution of all the others back- and around the stage make me feel enormous gratitude. And then I become the flagship. I don’t want to be the flagship anymore.”
Stepping out of the spotlight
Instead, the 77-year-old diva who has spent 60 years in both theater and film intends to bow out after mounting her new version of the Bergman film script called Enskilda samtal in his native Swedish. The play’s initial run at Norway’s National Theater, from January 9 to February 4, was already nearly sold out before its premiere. Then it will go on tour in Norway under the auspices of Riksteatret, with another premiere in the northern city of Bodø on February 17.
Audiences in 46 theaters around Norway will then also be able to listen in on the supposedly private conversations involving Bergman’s parents. Bergman himself initially wrote a film script based on his mother’s secret diary, and Ullmann directed a film version in 1996, starring Pernilla August, Max von Sydow and Samuel Fröler. Its five conversations portrayed Bergman’s parents’ troubled marriage, in which his mother Anna reveals an affair with a pastor.
Transferring the drama from film to stage was a challenge, with news bureau NTB reporting that Ullmann has hoped the late Swedish film director Bergman wouldn’t have been angry over her addition of “voices we haven’t heard before.” They’re based on letters and diaries she received from Bergman before he died and now his father’s voice is included, in addition to his mother’s. She told Aftenposten, though, that she has delivered a new script that she’s quite sure “Ingmar would have approved. I haven’t made anything up. In addition to the diaries, I got his letters from the time his mother was unfaithful. The performance isn’t just about closeness, but upon confidentiality. And it also has something to do with God. The theme is a higher power.”
Many critics approved as well, and Fortrolige samtaler has won good reviews in Norwegian media.
Questions around secrecy
Ullmann and Bergman had a famous romance of their own and lived together on the Swedish island of Fårö for five years. After starring in several Bergman films, and enduring an unsuccessful stint in Hollywood, Ullmann went on to a wildly successful directing career and returned to the stage, not least in a Norwegian production of Long Day’s Journey into Night that won rave reviews.
Her new version of Private Confessions is meant to raise the questions of what secrets do to individuals and couples. NTB reported it was the Norwegian theater that took the initiative in asking Ullmann to renew the film she directed 20 years ago and bring it to the stage. After its nationwide tour, it will return to the National Theater and run from late March until June.
And then Ullmann claims she’ll bow out after a long career as director and actress. “After this, I’ll be the ship that sails its own, perhaps anonymous, course,” she told Aftenposten. “There’s a lot I can do, and a lot I can’t. Ahead of me there’s a lot I can explore. For myself. Without more attention.”