Take five with Bibi Andersson
Bibi Andersson made 11 films with Ingmar Bergman and is wonderful in all of them. But in 1966’s Persona, the actor—playing a nurse caring for a performer (Liv Ullmann) who has stopped speaking—gives one of cinema’s most revelatory performances. On the occasion of “BAM Remembers Ingmar Bergman,” in which Andersson is participating, and her introduction of the 6pm screening of Persona at BAM on Tuesday 20, TONY spoke with the 72-year-old Swedish legend from her home in Nice, France, about her memories of working on Bergman’s masterpiece.
What was Bergman like on the set of Persona?
He was recovering from an illness, so he was tired. But he got very stimulated because he fell in love with Liv Ullmann. I helped him as much as I could, because I thought that was a good idea.
Is it true that Bergman was quite a disciplinarian?
He was always, as a director, very tender and very nice. But as a person, he could lose his temper.
Why weren’t you flattered by the character of Alma initially?
I thought that she was very childish and naive, and I wanted to play this dramatic, complicated role. But no human being is without complication once you get into them. Even if I am a naive person, I could at least work on that, discover that. I am not so naive anymore. And I wasn’t at the time either, but you know how actors are.
Could you talk about the scene in which Alma tells Elisabeth about
having sex with boys on the beach? I’ve read that you changed the
dialogue a little bit from what Bergman had presented to you.
There were certain lines I had to say where I felt very embarrassed. I told him, “It’s not that I am embarrassed of telling the story, but I hope you could change it a little so it’s a woman talking and not a man.” And he was a little bit embarrassed. He said, “We can take it away, the whole scene.” I said, “Never. You’ll take away a very important role for me. So I’ll do it.” After the scene was done, he said, “Go and see it, because your voice is an octave too high.” I was talking like this because I was shy. We lowered the voice a little bit in the dubbing.
Part of the beauty of Persona is that it defies any clear-cut interpretation. Do you have your own take on the film?
It has this meaning of how people can integrate into one another and how difficult it is to stay stable when you get very influenced. This young woman I play didn’t know that people could be evil and vicious or difficult. She was living a much simpler life. But she got in contact with something unknown to her. It gave her a wound.
Of which role are you the proudest?
I have this very tragic characteristic: I am never very proud of what I do. In certain roles I am happy. And Persona is one of them, because it has been appreciated. But otherwise I always criticize myself very hard, so it’s hard for me to answer that question.
Author: Melissa Anderson
Issue 633: November 15–21, 2007
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