One day after her film adaptation of the 1888 Strindberg play “Miss Julie” opened the 50th Chicago Film Festival, actress Liv Ullmann was kind enough to speak with me one-on-one about the film, her future projects, and life, in general. We met at the Park Hyatt Hotel in Chicago and the beautiful Norwegian actress, muse to Ingmar Bergmann in so many of his films, was warm and welcoming.
Ullmann had much praise for her “Miss Julie” dream cast (Jessica Chastain, Colin Farrell and Samantha Morton) saying, of Jessica Chastain, “She is both cool and cold. She’s a young woman grappling with non-existence. I just think she’s a genius. It’s very much the way I act.” She added, “I think the actors’ movie is the actors’ movie” and praised the trio universally. Liv remarked on Miss Julie’s feeling of not belonging, indicating that she thought Ms. Chastain was remarkable as the female lead.
The director was no less effusive in her praise of male lead Colin Farrell, saying, “No one else could do the movie as he did it.” Although selected partially because of his handsome good looks, Ullmann remarked that, during filming, Farrell awoke one night and wrote a poem as though he were John the valet, writing to Miss Julie. “I tried to find a way to use it in the film,” said Ullmann, “but ultimately we could not fit it in.”
Ullmann said, of Farrell’s selection as the male lead, “I saw a lot of Colin’s movies and I could see that he is also a theater actor. For me, I like to work with theater actors because I like to make films that are film theater.”
I mentioned Farrell’s appearances in both “Tigerland” and “In Bruges,” both early films of his, and also repeated the quote that Al Pacino once called Farrell “the greatest actor of his generation.” Liv Ullmann said, “He was fantastic in “In Bruges.’ What first sold me on him for ‘Miss Julie” was what he said during a phone conversation. It floored me. I thought, ‘This is a soul mate.’ He’s an incredible actor and he’s going to bring what I think no one really will expect from him to television’s ‘True Detective,’ (with Vince Vaughan) because he has dimensions which you seldom see in a film actor. He shows you the good and, at the same time, he shows you the bad.”
I had brought along a Chicago Tribune clipping about an Atlantic Monthly article quoting Mayor Emanuel’s older brother, a noted oncologist and bio-ethicist, saying that 75 was the optimal life span. After that, suggested the Mayor’s older brother, you were not viewed the same way and might even be seen as pathetic.
Upon entering the room, I gave the article to Ms. Ullmann and said, “The Mayor of Chicago’s older brother says we all should die at 75.” This was a bit of a simplification, but the thought was definitely there in Ezekial Emanuel’s words. [Ezekial Emanuel is an oncologist and bio-ethicist at the University of Pennsylvania and has been singled out by his brother, the Mayor, as “the smartest one” of the three brothers].
Unfortunately, Liv Ullmann thought I had used the word “diet.” When she realized that the word was actually “die” she seemed as upset by Ezekial Emanuel’s remarks as I was. She is also deeply concerned about the class system and the unequal distribution of wealth that is occurring, world-wide, saying, “I believe more in its (the class system’s) existence now than ever!” She was praised for her humanitarian works from the stage on Premiere night by Colin Farrell.
New projects? “I will be doing an adaptation of ‘Private Confessions.’ Ingmar (Bergman) gave it to me years ago saying, “I don’t believe in God, but you do.” The National Theater in Norway will adapt it for the stage.” Ullmann said, “It is about connecting. How damaging is it to lie to one another? How damaging is it to be truthful?”