Norway’s international star of screen and stage, Liv Ullmann, came home to Norway to celebrate her 80th birthday last weekend, and was hailed both privately and officially. Prime Minister Erna Solberg was among those paying tribute at a special celebration at Norway’s National Theater on Sunday evening.
The parties began with friends and family on Saturday and continued in a more official capacity on Sunday. The National Theater and Riksteatret, which brings theatrical productions to towns and cities outside Oslo, joined forces to honour Ullmann with everything from Norway’s traditional birthday song Hurra for deg to artistic performances.
She’s also been celebrated in the US, where she’s lived for years with her American husband Donald Saunders, but chose to spend her actual birthday on December 16 back in Oslo, where she maintains a home as well. Even though she’s often received far more recognition abroad than in Norway, and lived abroad for decades, she told news bureau NTB that she still feels Norwegian. “I have in periods lived a nomadic existence, but Norway will always be my home,” she told NTB, repeating the word “always.”
Prime Minister Solberg agreed that Ullmann’s 80th birthday was indeed a “national event” when she took the microphone during tributes on Sunday. “I want to thank you on behalf of the Norwegian people,” Solberg said. “We wouldn’t have been the same without your artistic contributions. We are eternally grateful.”
Solberg gave a rundown of all of Ullmann’s international and national prizes, which include two Oscar nominations and awards for her work as a director as well as an actress. As late as 2010 she traveled all over the country in a highly acclaimed production of Long day’s journey into night, that was a huge national success and played to sell-out audiences. It had been 20 years since Ullmann performed on a Norwegian stage, and people traveled long distances to see her and her co-stars Bjørn Sundquist and Anders Baasmo Christiansen. Critics were also enthusiastic.
It was a personal success for Ullmann as well, who acknowledged to newspaper Aftenposten how she hadn’t always enjoyed recognition in Norway, “not when I worked in Hollywood and on Broadway and was quite good.” Instead she’d come home to parodies of her work as “sobbing Liv” or “crying Liv,” she said. Ullmann attributed much of that to Janteloven, the old Danish and Norwegian trait that humility can be valued over success and that no one should ever make too much of themselves.
“Today I don’t think there’s much left of janteloven,” she told Aftenposten. “The celebrations during the weekend make me very proud!”
Ullmann has defied the very thought retirement, arguing that age brings experience. “We know much more than others,” she said, lamenting how elders were earlier accorded more respect, while today their experience isn’t taken seriously. “Every now and then elders are laughed at,” she told Aftenposten. At the same time, she believes elders can more easily find inner peace.
Ullmannn has appeared in 59 films and also directed, written scripts, taught drama, been a UN ambassador and played a major role in this year’s 100th anniversary celebrations of the birth of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman. She was one of Bergman’s so-called “muses” and the couple had a daughter Linn, who’s become a successful author.
She attributes her successful career and high activity level to simply “being curious,” and says she still “feels young.” She said she still has “expectations, something to give,” and intends to keep on giving.