Gene Shalit interview with Ingrid
Ladies Home Journal Dec. 1978
Ingrid Bergman is one of the world's most famous movie actresses. Ingmar Bergman is one of the world's most celebrated movie directors. The names sound alike, their last names are identical, they both are Swedish, and now they have finally made a film together. It is Autumn Sonata, starring Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann, a searing story of a concert pianist/career woman, who has put the fulfillment of her own life ahead of staying home with her family. This woman is played by Ingrid Bergman, a woman whose concertizing has caused her to abandon her children.

One daughter - Liv Ullmann - is now grown-up and married and has a child of her own. She lives away in a small town and as the story begins she is writing a letter beseeching her mother to visit her after seven years apart. Mama arrives for a long house-guest vigil. There is embracing and happiness, sliced with the unease of long absence. One night, mother cannot sleep. She comes downstairs and is joined by her daughter, whom she thinks loves her. But in one wicked moment she realizes she is hated. Resentment enflames the screen as Liv Ullmann tells her mother what she thinks of her; while Mama, cornered, flails about, desperate to defend herself.

Ingrid Bergman and Liv Ullmann give bravura performances in one of Ingmar Bergman's most accessible films. Autumn Sonata is passionate, powerful and blindingly clear. The theme, it seemed to me, touched Ingrid Bergman in a very special way, and so I made haste to visit with her in her Park Avenue hotel suite in Manhattan during her recent visit from Paris, where she now lives permanently. Ingrid Bergman enters the living room looking as elegant and radiant as she did on the screen 30 years ago. A smile invities my first question, which has to do with the seeming similarity between this film and the realities of her own life.

Ingrid Bergman : I recognize the situation as a very personal one for me, because that has been my life. When you are in the theater you have to go away on tour and leave your family. I'm sure that many mothers and daughters will be touched by the movie. I'm sure that those women who have worked have faced that kind of situation, although perhaps not so dramatically. We all recognize each other in this.

GS: Have you felt guilt about your absence when your children were growing up?

IB: I always felt guilty. My whole life.

GS: What's the alternative? If you abandoned your career to be with your family wouldn't you be guilty about having denied yourself your art?

IB: You have your choice. Many women have given up their careers to become their husbands' wives and to stay with their children. You make up your mind. You say, "What is most important to me?" For me, the most important thing was to work. That is maybe selfish, but my talent is to entertain other people, and I think if you have been given a certain talent that other people can enjoy, then I say, "Why not?" My children and I are together now that they are grown up, but I'm sure that through the years they have many times resented that I wasn't at home where they could come to me with their problems. But remember, I have never been so far away from my children that they couldn't visit me, and there was always the telephone.

GS: Your daughter Pia Lindstrom is a news commentator for NBC-TV in New York. Did she ever express hostility or resentment toward you for having "abandoned" her as a child?

IB: Yes. I want to be very honest with you. Yes. She has. And it has taken a long time, with love and understanding, and I think we have overcome all of that now. But from the beginning - after having left her as I did - I think she had difficulty to understand why, and the resentment grew. I hope that is gone.

GS: What was your childhood like?

IB: I was very lonely, you see. My mother died when I was three. I adored my father who was then alone with me. Then when I was just twelve and a half, he died, and I was moved in with relatives. So I have grown up alone. I've taken care of myself. I worked, earned money and was independent at 18.

GS: Did the fact that you were so lonely influence your becoming an actress? Is acting an escape?

IB: An escape and a refuge. You have to invent your own playmates if you are so shy, which I still am. I had an enourmous imagination. So I invented them and played with them. Those invented playmates are much nicer because they do exactly what you want them to. Being an only child and so shy, I was even afraid of the youngsters in school. I couldn't express myself, I blushed all the time and I was very scared. But at home I had all of the playmates I had invented, and I read plays outloud and felt very comfortable. That's why I said I must go on the stage: the stage was my only protection.

GS: Being shy and performing before large audiences seems contradictory.

IB: It is a strange combination, but I am not alone. I have talked to so many other actors and most agree that we have difficulty to play ourselves. It's easier to play others and say the words written by somebody else. Even today, I am too shy to go out on a dance floor. I am even embarrassed to go into a restaurant.

GS: Are there bad memories? Are there days you'd give anything to live over?

IB: Yes, if I had known then what I know now. Do you know what I mean? If you put me back into the situation that I handled badly with no knowledge of what was going to happen, of course I would do the same thing. But given the possibility of knowing what I know now and then ask me how I would do it, then yes, I would do it differently. The entire situation with Roberto Rossellini could have been handled with more discretion. It was such a shock to me at the time to find that people would be so upset by my behavior. (She pauses and says with a tinge of sarcasm) I didn't know I belonged to the American people and that everybody had a right to tell me what to do in my private life. (She smiles) I could have handled it differently. I was just stunned.

GS: The world has changed. If it happened today, no one would have noticed.

IB: At east it wouldn't be on the first page of every newspaper. Situations between individuals are just as painful today, just as diiifcult, but at least the press would've let us live in peace without everybody getting into the act.

GS: The world has changed, and movies reflect this. What is your view of violence and explicit sex on the screen?

IB: I hate it! I am very careful to inform myself about the kind of scenes I'm going to see because I'm old-fashioned. It's very difficult to change when you've grown up with a certain kind of upbringing. I can't listen to foul language. I have to leave.

GS: Can you point to a single person who has had the greatest influence on your career?

IB: Roberto Rossellini. He changed my whole life. If I hadn't seen Open City I don't think I would have left America. Today I would either be on Broadway or playing some grandmother on TV. Meeting him changed how I thought about my work, my life, everything.

GS: You live in Paris, and your three children with Rossellini live in Europe.

IB: Yes, Roberto and twin girls, Isabella and Isotta, whom we call Ingrid. There is a law in Italy that you must give your child an Italian first name, so she is officially Isotta, but we have always called her Ingrid.

GS: In your first big film success, Intermezzo with Leslie Howard, you played a concert pianist. Now in Autumn Sonata you are again a pianist. Does that close the circle; is it a resolved chord? Will this be your final film.

IB: I think it would be wonderful if I could be that courageous. I would like to stop while it's still going good, while people still want to see me. But there is also the contradictory desire to work until my last breath, hang on until I die. I can say this: in Autumn Sonata I have such a big and important part that I feel it will be quite some time before I come back in another film because I do not want to come back in anything less good.

GS: Do you worry about aging?

IB: (She laughs) I don't worry about it because we are all growing old. If I were the only one I would worry. But we're all in the same boat, and all of my friends are coming with me. We all go toward old age. How many years left we don't know. We just have to accept it.

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