Ewa Froling, The Latest Swedish Actress, is all soft tones and a richness of textures: her colors are ivory and rose and the sort of beige that registers as mauve; her clothes and jewelry provide quiet and pleasing intricacies for the eye. Her jacket, a casual thing really, has a visible, reversible lining, so that the effect is of layers; there are three silver bracelets, of antique design, on her arm; even the belt is oddly multidimensional, small chunky bits of leather, strung together. She wears almost no makeup, the hair is a sand blond, the skin is very nearly pink.
The effect, one realizes, is not unlike the picture she stars in--"Fanny and Alexander," the new Ingmar Bergman film, with its Victorian laces and creams. A feast for the eyes, highly romantic, to be enjoyed slowly; blond, pale Swedish children in their sailor suits; a handsome matriarch all in white in a summer setting of billowing lace; a christening scene, pink and white as a child's birthday cake.
She looks just like the movie, she is told.
She understands immediately and agrees.
"Oh, that's me," she says, matter-of-factly. "And there is the explanation of this intuition he Bergman has . . . I think one of his talents is to choose the right people by intuition . . . the part, we never discussed. I never had an audition . . . His secretary gave me a script and told me to read it and it was like a great book; it wasn't just lines; it was characters, it was the atmospheres; the odors"--Swedish matter-of-factness here, as if anticipating an American objection--"people do smell--it was, well, like a novel. And then he called me and he asked if I wanted to do the role. I said, 'I've been longing for you,' and so, we start . . ."
The Film: A three-hour-plus saga of an upper-class theatrical family in turn-of-the-century Sweden; a movie that is being called "masterful," "magical," a "beribboned present"; a film which, even if there are a few too many shots of the stormy river (of Life) for quibblers, is gorgeous--and a good deal warmer than the grim Bergman past, full of cheerful sex and affection.
The Latest Swedish Actress: Age 31; a star in Sweden for stage, television and film work, but unless you caught "Chez Nous" or "Sally and Freedom" at a Swedish film festival, unknown here. A child of the Swedish state theater system, where you take a job for life, and glad to be out of it. An informal, very direct woman, guileless as a summer peach, who comes to the interview bra-less, in skin-tight white jeans and sandals, and replies, to the usual Swedish Actress queries, with the usual Swedish Actress fears and syntax:
She is nervous posing next to the window of the 28th floor in a borrowed apartment, because this is very high for Sweden. The name is pronounced "Ava." The life of the Swedish actress is not luxurious, "no swimming pools, no big houses"; an actor at The Royal Dramatic Theater makes about 8,000 crowns ($1,140) a month, "less than a man who is"--the momentary search for words--"driving the subway." She cannot comment, too much, on this country, however, because what has this visit been but "the opening, one hotel, one street, the limousine, the flight, now here." In general, however, in nearly perfect English, she sums it up rather well.
"It's very big and on one hand, very healthy, on the other hand, full of poisons," she says. "I mean you can have all those red vegetables and then the green ice cream. The people here is very friendly and open . . ."
Where'd she see the green ice cream?
The Swedish Actress, in the new Bergman picture, plays a Swedish actress; a young woman, Emilie Ekdahl, mother of two small children who, newly widowed, makes a disastrous and seemingly irrational marriage to a grim authoritarian bishop. Liv Ullmann was to play the part, but contractual obligations interfered. Bergman was familiar with Froling's work, having produced "Sally and Freedom," her last picture. "Sally and Freedom" was a very modern film, about abortion, feminism, people living together--characters somewhat akin to Froling, who has a young daughter and never married. ("Mostly young people in Sweden don't get married," she says.)
Working for Bergman, who was back in Sweden after a self-imposed exile, was "very smooth . . . I think this shooting was like a long tea party," she says. "I think he felt very good about coming back to Sweden . . ."
There were few instances, she says, when scenes had to be shot again and again. If the film seems occasionally confusing to the viewer, it is, she says, because it was originally written to play six hours, a form in which it will be seen on British television, and because, for the movie version, Bergman had to edit severely, or, as Froling puts it, "had to kill his darlings."
"There are some points that you have lost; the people ask me often about the marriage between Emilie and the bishop," she says. "There is a long, long speech, between Emilie and her mother-in-law, which is cut, which explains it. She says, 'You know, Oscar and I, we didn't touch each other,' so you understand her marriage with the bishop is an erotic thing, in the beginning, you understand."
Bergman did not discuss the characters with his actors, she says; the roles were so carefully drawn that there was no need to discuss them; and only once did he depart from the script. It was in a scene in which the newly widowed Emilie is mourning for her husband, walking back and forth in a room in their home before his coffin, and she screams a tearing scream, again and again.
"The script just tells you that she is going to her dead husband, and that she cries in a very small way," says Froling. "The night before we shot that scene he said, 'Well, I have something for you.' In the morning he tells me: 'I keep you in the room and we shut the door and we take the camera far away and you just have to walk around here and give all the frustrated sorrow you can with the screaming, and, uh, just, it isn't just a scream, it's a soul coming out.'
"All the people was taken away from the room so I was alone in it," she says. "And the camera was far away and it was very easy, once I started the scream, to keep it going. It went up, very easy, was very easy to do it, and afterwards, I felt very happy, very light," she says with a laugh. "I think it's very important to the character, it's the only time she gets through, she cracks down, really . . ."
She does the requisite comparison of character and self. Emilie Ekdahl, she says, "is very polite and brought up, she's got the face right, which I did too, but I'm much more lucky than she is." She is luckier than Emilie, she says, because Emilie remained in a little world, while she was able to see the larger. Perhaps this is because of progressive education. Her mother is the head of an insurance company; her father the head of a clothing company; she was an only child, growing up in a "crazy house with lovely gardens" outside Stockholm. She went to school at 3 years of age, when her mother returned to work. She feels this helped make her independent. She wanted to be a dancer, and went through three years' training in the state theater school at Malmo, wavering about her future.
Her first professional job nearly drove her away for good.
" 'Peer Gynt,' " she says. "It was awful. I had to go from one side of the stage to the other, and when I did, the director told me, 'The state pays 100,000 crowns a year, and they still can't walk across the stage.' He was a terrible man. He is a terrible man . . . and this wasn't unusual . . ."
An experience that might explain why The Swedish Actress, in answer to the last requisite question, enjoyed working with Bergman.
"He makes you feel very intelligent, irreplaceable," she says. "And I think this irreplacement thing is the one thing you feel with him. You always feel that this could be taken by another person, this role, but here it is just you, your world, and he has the interest to get into my world, my life . . . Also, you feel very, very beautiful . . ."
She is very, very beautiful.
This time she laughs.
"Well, it's beauty, the whole person," she says.