"See me, Love me."
from "Changing," by Liv Ullmann.
When Liv Ullmann returns to her native Norway, she always hears other women doing "parodies" of her on the radio. "I'm sure I'm easy to parody because I am naive and I say a lot of things that seem to be naive, even though I have thought a lot about them before I say them."
She tilts her head back and laughs. It's the hearty proletarian laugh one doesn't hear often from her in her films. In repose, she more often adopts that familiar, fragile look of helpless open fear that helped make her such a haunting haunted figure in the films of Ingmar Bergman, who is the father of her 10-year-old daughter, Linn.
Now comes again the season of Liv and lov Liv.
She is almost everywhere - starring, for one thing, as "Anna Christie" in the 1922 Eugene O'Neill play that opens in Washington Monday at the National Theater, then goes on to New York. She's been nominated again for the best-actress Academy Award, this time for "Face to Face," Bergman's tumultuous sequel to "Scenes From a Marriage."
"Scenes," meanwhile, will get its first complete U. S. showing in six one-hour weekly installments starting Wednesday night on Channel 26 and other public TV stations. This is not the abbreviated, subtitled version that played in movie theaters in 1974; it's complete, as Bergman shot it for Swedish television, but dubbed, so that the voice of Liv Ullmann is not the voice of Liv Ullmann.
"I have seen only one little scence where I was on the telephone, a very deeply emotional scene, with a great deal of anger from deep inside. But the voice they have given me is just sort of saying 'Oh-I'm-so-upset' and chattering on and using 10 times more words than me. Her anger is only in her head, you know?"
Meanwhile, Ullmann's nothing-if-not-ingenuous semi-autobiography "Changing has rather mysteriously bolted to the top of bestseller lists, even though the level of profundity isn't quite matched by the level of mystical introspective melodrama. Ullmann comes up with such staggering thunderbolts as, "A price is paid for fame," "Dreams seldom become reality" and "Love has many faces." Hmmmm. It's almost as if Fannie Hurst had tried blank verse.
She also writes, "I love close-ups." She can afford to love them. She has one of the purest, earthiest, nakedest faces since ever a camera first exploited a beauty. But when a photographer approaches her from the left side, she is panicked. "No, no sven Nykvist, Ingmar Bergman's photographer, he told me, 'Don't let people take you from that side.' You can't be on that side. Maybe it's not true at all but if you are there, while I am talking I will always be thinking, 'I am going to look awful!'"
One expects a tantrum as tossed by Garbo in "Dinner at Eight." But it's hardly at that intensity. It's a more genial sort of insistence.
Ullmann is 37 now and this season marks her second big American media blitz. The first was in 1973, when Time, oh infallible soothsayer, predicted in a cover story that the upcoming musical remake of "Lost Horizon" would make her big American Star. But this was a movie that didn't even get an audience when it was subsequently shown on television. The hoopla fizzled. Now it is starting again. Distributors of "Face to Face" are planning an ad campaign in industry trade papers to get her that overdue (for "The Emigrants") Oscar.
Liv wants to win.
"Yeah, I'm going to the ceremonies. I'm going to hand away the best-actor award," she says in her fetchingly imperfect English. "Do I expect to win? I say 'no' but of course I would love to win. If win it will mean a lot. My mother and my friends in Norway will recognize this as something special, something official. Of course everybody says to people in their faces, 'Oh you're going to win,' but I don't think, deep in my heart, that I am. No. But I'm not going to be crushed when I don't.
Hollywood failed her once, but Ullmann insists she has no bitterness about the place or what it represents. She even says she would make another Hollywood movie if asked, though if certain big-time producers showed up with $15 million in a briefcase she would say, "Oh, no way." She would have to "respect" the people involved.
"I'm fond of half of Hollywood," shw says. "There is generosity and warmth in Hollywood which is never talked about. There are people who will call you even when you are not on TV Guide." Ullmann is in the cover this week.
"Of course the filmmaking there is much different from what I was used to with Bergman. They have this crazy star thing. You sit in your trailer and be 'special' and that is a lonely and ridiculour thing. In Sweden, you're ashamed to drive around the streets in anything else than a Volkswagen, and that i healthier I think, a shame in having too much, than Hollywood, where the shame is in having too little privilege, too small a car."
A publicist says Ullmann has been getting standing ovations in "Anna Christie" at the Mechanic Theater in Baltimore, no easy trick with a 55-year-old O'Neill play, but Ullmann says there have been nights when she wanted to tell the audience at the end of the performance, "Oh, I'm sorry, come back tomorrow and I'll do it better."
For all this humility, the lady does have a temper.
"It's very healthy to get angry.I mean, why not? We let our happiness out, so why not our anger? What makes me angry onstage is when another actor is out of tune and they do bull - that has nothing to do with the play. I deal badly with that. I had once a lady, in a play I was doing, she had a big thing over what was in her bag, which had nothing to do with the play, ahd she kept sniffing her nose, and fussing with that bag.
"So finally I took the bag and just put it on the floor. The audience? Oh, listen, the audience! I've lost my underskirt on stage and taken it back up again, with another actress and I laughing so hard we could hardly stand it, and saying silly things not the in script, and people in the audience said later they hadn't seen a bit of it."
Ullmann's blue-eyed laugh erupts again. "So sometimes you wonder. We think that every little line in a play is so important and, you know, the audience has missed it entirely."
The thing most certain to make Ullmann smile now is mention of her daughter, Linn, to whom the book is dedicated. "Ten years is the best age, I think," Ullmann says. "They are your little friend, then, and they are still very much the little child who needs to cuddle and be very little. Very soon she will not like much to cuddle.
"Now she's looking for a man who's good for us. Not me, but us. I think that is wonderful. I am sure I spoil her. I say too much 'yes.' But sometimes I am tired and it's more of an effort to say 'no,' so I don't. But she is my little manager too. In Toronto, at a book store where they had my book, she said to me, 'I think if you sign your name in the book they would buy much more,' and she was right. I did sign them and they did buy more."
Much of what Ullmann says in person and in her book sounds awfully simple, perhaps simplistic, but in person it's much more beguiling. The book is pretty morose; it's got all the angst of "Cries and Whispers." The word "afraid" is used at least 25 times, "fear" 15 times, and "lonelinese" more than 10. Along the way we get dollops of "apprehension," "longing," "anxiety," "guilt," "uncertainty," "emptiness" and "insecurity."
There's about one big weep every four or five pages. It's a fun book.
"Well I am a Lutheran, you know," Ullmann says. "I grew up in a country where the church is so strong and influential, and guilt is one of the things they preach. It is a small country, a very traditional country,and very authoritarian in its teachings. I was always told by my mother that 'Nice girls do this' and 'Nice girls don't do that.' She even told me that nice girls don't put milk in their tea. So when I first went to England, and everyone wea putting milk in their tea. I thought, these are not nice people."
Ullmann does not want to be the mother he mother was. "She didn't mean any harm, but now I know that what I feel is right is what is right for me. So to Linn I am not authoritarian. I may have been a terrible mother in many respects but I have given her freedom."
When she finished the run of "Anna Christie," Ullmann will go back to Sweden to make "Autumn Sonata," which will be directed by Ingmar Bergman and will costar, for the first time with Ullmann, Ingrid Bergman, who will play Ullmann's mother. They will have "confrontations."
Ullmann projects such vulnerably exposed sensitivity that she is asked if she has ever considered doing a flip flop and playing a really evil woman. "Oh, I did once," she says. "It was a film called 'Night Visitor.' I don't think it was a greatest fil*m. It didn't get much noticed. But I played this 'nice lady' who made all the other characters murder each other. "I loved it."