Isabella Rossellini tells the story about her mother, Ingrid Bergman
I met Stig Björkman at the Berlin Film Festival four years ago. I was on the jury, and he was there because there was an Ingmar Bergman exhibition. He came along when I was having dinner with Harriet Andersson. I had seen Stig’s documentary on Ingmar Bergman, and it dawned on me that he was the right man for an idea I had. So I just asked him, ‘shall we make a film about mamma?’
This is Isabella Rossellini
Lives: New York
Family: Daughter Elettra Filmography (selection): White Nights, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Wyatt Earp, Capote, Enemy
Most recent work: Co-produced and appeared in Stig Björkman’s documentary Ingrid Bergman – In Her Own Words about her mother, Ingrid Bergman.
Mamma is among the few Swedish words I know. We spent many summers at Dannholmen on the Swedish west coast when I was a kid. It was wonderful, but then I lost the language. We never spoke Swedish when we lived in Italy or wherever it was.
My dad was not particularly orderly, but mamma was. I have inherited that from her, as well as my looks. People wonder if it has been tough looking so much like her, but not at all. It gave me a career as a model when I was young.
I did not want to have any control over the film. I trust Stig completely. One of the reasons I let him do the film is because he knows so much about film in general and could put mamma’s career in a film-history context. I was never interested in it being a fan portrait of her.
Mamma was hurt by everything that was written about her when she met my father, became pregnant and left her husband. I think she never forgave Sweden for this. The big scandal was when my older brother was born; things had calmed down a bit when my sister and I arrived three years later.
Mamma used to film a lot with her little camera, and she saved everything. Every time we moved,she took it all with her. She was always down to earth, so I was so surprised by her answer when I once asked her why she saved everything. ‘Because I have always known that my life would be important,’ she said. I thought that sounded so arrogant.
She was a working mother, which was not so usual in those days. But what she went through then is what all working women live with today.
"I don’t particularly like to travel but my work requires it – I’m on the road six or seven months a year. When I fly, I ask for a window seat, and I pass the time by reading."
When we came to Hollywood, mamma was quick to make an impression. The legendary film producer David O Selznick wanted to redo her. He wanted her to change her name, which he thought sounded too German. He even wanted her to change her eyebrows. ‘This is how I look, take it or leave it,’ she said. Selznick turned around and said, ‘Splendid, then we will launch you as the first natural actress.’
I have not had mamma’s acting career. I think if acting had been my only job, this might have hurt a little. But I had already been successful as a model. I don’t work as an actress anymore. I am old, and there are no good roles for older people. If a friend calls me and asks me to do something, then I do it because I want to be with them, but it is never a career move. I thought acting was going to be difficult because mamma was so revered. She had an enormous passion. She felt it was a calling, but I never felt that. I still don’t.
I live a single life and sometimes miss companionship. Often I go to movies or museums by myself. That’s OK, but it would be nice to have someone to share the experience with. But I don’t know that you need a husband for that.
By Gunnar Rehlin
Published: July 3, 2015