Though now lined, Ullmann’s face retains the beauty it had when Bergman scrutinized it with his camera to record the vulnerability and sensual intelligence she so naturally projects. Aging, however, has affected her career choices. She confides that when approached to play Mikhail Baryshnikov’s ex-wife on Sex and the City and George Clooney’s ex in one of the Ocean’s films, she turned down the roles because she feared seeming too old for them. “I didn’t want to get off the plane and see the shock on the directors’ faces, thinking, My God!” she says, laughing but not kidding.
It’s the kind of confession you’re unlikely to hear from a film star, but then little about Ullmann is conventional, beginning with her relationship with Bergman, with whom she had a daughter, Linn, in 1966, while married to someone else. Ullmann was 27, Bergman 48 and already the father of eight children by five women. The pair lived together for three years on the remote Baltic island of Fårö, in a house Bergman built, and each day, on the door to his study, they inscribed hearts, tears and other symbols of their feelings for each other. There they also made two more classics, though the director’s need for control proved suffocating. “Violent and without bounds,” Ullmann later wrote of his jealousy in her memoir, Changing. “Nothing existed outside ourselves.” Looking back now, she says, “We had a little child there, and he didn’t want people to visit, and he didn’t like me leaving either. It was very tough.”
Her passport to Hollywood came via another Swedish director, Jan Troell, whose The Emigrants (1971)—about a Swedish couple newly arrived in 19th-century America—won her a Golden Globe and the first of two best actress Oscar nominations. (The second was for Bergman’s 1976 Face to Face.) Ullmann landed on the cover of Time and shot four movies in quick succession, most of them duds. “I made poor choices,” she concedes, like the bizarre musical Lost Horizon (later nicknamed “Lost Investment”) and the silly 40 Carats, in which the 34-year-old Ullmann was cast as a frustrated older woman dating a much younger man. “The guy meant to be 20 years younger than me [Eddie Albert Jr.] was only about one year younger,” she says. “Everything was wrong.”
Soon after, she returned to Europe and followed up with the searing Scenes From a Marriage (1973), the semiautobiographical Bergman work she deems closest to her heart, playing a woman who learns her husband is having an affair. The film was shot on Fårö, where Bergman was then living with Ingrid. When asked if it was difficult to make, given the subject matter, she replies, “It was a great time,” noting that despite Bergman’s reputation for bleakness, “he had a wonderful sense of humor. Of course many people can’t believe that, seeing his films, but he had a big, strange laugh and he wanted to laugh. We who worked with him were all playmates. For Ingmar, this was so important. On his sets there was so much joking around. We told each other everything about ourselves. I have a picture from that time and Ingmar has written on it, ‘Here we are playing again.’”