‘I Am No Legend’: Liv Ullmann Reveals the Person Behind ‘Persona’ in ‘A Road Less Travelled’

In Cannes, nobody talks to Liv Ullmann at parties.

“We went to this event and nobody noticed us. When I am around many people, they don’t always include me in the group. With Dheeraj, we both felt a little humiliated. But then we decided we will just tell great stories about it: ‘Catherine Deneuve was there too and she danced!,’” she laughs.

The legendary actor – “I am no legend,” she insists – has presented documentary “Liv Ullmann – A Road Less Travelled” at the French fest, directed by Dheeraj Akolkar, further cementing her status as an artist who never conformed. Even in the U.S., where she was expected to look a certain way. In the film, she states: “I didn’t wear makeup. I am Norwegian.”

“Yes, and look at me now,” howls Ullmann.

“I have my own makeup artist here! It will make me look better in photos, but that’s not real life.”

Despite her shyness, she always had her sense of humor to fall back on, she notes.  

“People are surprised to hear that: they all think I’m like Bergman. But the truth is, he was a child. When I was directing ‘Faithless,’ he was allowed on set only on our last day. He hid under a blanket and just lay there, until an actress noticed it was shaking. He was laughing so hard.”

Ullmann says she was “painfully connected” to Ingmar Bergman. They collaborated on “Persona,” “Cries and Whispers” and “Scenes From a Marriage” and shared a child, writer Linn Ullmann. She doesn’t mind talking about him, though.

“I know that Max [von Sydow] struggled with it for a while. He turned down ‘Fanny and Alexander,’ which [Bergman] wrote for us both. I also told him I had already accepted another offer. He never forgave me,” she says.

“He kept writing me letters, addressed to ‘Dear Liv Ullmann,’ he was very dramatic. We didn’t talk for a year. Now, I regret not doing that film. Maybe it was a wrong choice, but I thought I was showing him I was independent.”

Ullmann, who was nominated for two Academy Awards for “The Emigrants” and “Face to Face” – she received an Honorary Academy Award in 2022 – also eventually turned to directing. But it took her some time to feel comfortable on the other side of the camera.

“I was directing ‘Miss Julie’ and one day, they just started shooting without me. Now that made me angry. Do I think it was because I was a woman? Probably. It was just like when I was offered less money than my colleague in the theater, only to hear: ‘But he has to provide for his family.’ I had a daughter too!”

“I was so used to trying to please everyone and it was actually a man, Erland Josephson, who told me: ‘Stop this. You are a director now, so behave like one.’ He was right. We, women, have to stop doing these things. It’s not men’s fault – it’s on us.”

In the film, fellow actors like Cate Blanchett or Jessica Chastain can’t stop gushing about Ullmann. Her director wanted to “dig deeper” than that, however.

“When you just say ‘oh, you are so great,’ that’s not a film. I have known Liv for 15 years, and yes, she is iconic, but it was never about putting her on a pedestal. There is a person behind ‘Persona’.”

It’s Ullmann authenticity that makes her feel modern, insists Akolkar, who already worked with the actor on “Liv & Ingmar” and might continue to do so in the future.

“In our previous film, she said a beautiful thing: ‘Let go.’ That’s a great lesson to learn in life. She has known so much grief, she has known rejection. But she has found a way not to be burdened by it,” he says.

“I don’t know another artist who has done more than Liv: [she’s a] writer, director, actor, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, and that’s just scratching the surface. She has been in different rooms and met different people, but how does that shape you? What is the price of integrity? What does it mean to be a single mother because your child’s father is gone, then made to feel guilty because you are working?” 

“Despite all this, she has never lost her sense of humor. And she has never lost her friendships.”

The Viaplay documentary, “Liv Ullmann – A Road Less Travelled” was produced by Teddy TV and Vardo Films. It will premiere in the U.K. on May 23 and North America on June 22. Global sales are handled by Viaplay Content Distribution.

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