Norsk filminstitutt

Ullmann received her well deserved Honorary Oscar at Governors Award.  She has a film career that spans more than seven decades.

Liv Ullmann Photo GettyImages-1387757106.jpg
Liv Ullmann. Photo: GettyImages

Elaine May, Samuel L. Jackson, and Danny Glover were also celebrated with honorary Oscars at the Governors award.

Liv Ullmann received her award for her lifetime achievement in the film industry. Here is an overview of her long career, including theatre and literature.

Started with theatre

Liv Ullmann was born in Tokyo in 1938, and started her career on a theatre stage in London, at age 17, after dropping out of secondary school. Only one year later she was offered to play in The story of Anne Frank at the Regional Theatre in Stavanger on the West Coast of Norway.

Some years later she played Ofelia in Hamlet, Margrete in Ibsen’s The Kings to be, and Kristin in Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, a well-known Norwegian medieval drama.

Young Escape

Her debut as a film actress came in 1959 with Young Escape by Edith Carlmar, where she played a young and sexy rebel. But there is a scene in an earlier film by Edith Carlmar, Fools in the mountains, where she enters a mountain hotel lobby without a single word.

Ullmann's Norwegian biographer, the former leading film critic Per Haddal of Aftenposten, wrote that she is an actress being chosen for her aura. The roles are often created especially for her, as in many of the Ingmar Bergman films.

After seeing the 1962 Scandinavian co-production version of Knut Hamsun’s Pan, Ingmar Bergman discovered Ullmann. She was offered a role in Persona, where she match Bibbi Andersson in a mysterious and magnificent way.

Fårø trilogy

Bergman developed further this strange and pure aura of Liv Ullmann as a new coming star in his Fårø trilogy: The Hour of the Wolf (1967), The Shame (1968), and A Passion (1969). These three films are by many seen as the best of their joint work, many thanks to the DOP (Cinematographer) Sven Nykvist, who states in his biography Veneration for the light (1997):

“Liv Ullmann is a magnificent actress. When I see her acting, it has happened that I forget the camera. I am so deeply touched. During a long close-up of five minutes in The Hour of the Wolf, I was so touched I could not see. My eyes were full of tears. Liv has an aura which penetrates the steel cover of the camera….”

Liv and Ingmar had their daughter Linn in 1966 and Bergman directed Ullmann at the National Theatre in Oslo in the Pirandello play Six Actors Seek an Author. Later she acted in Norwegian veteran director Arne Skouen’s Film An Magritt, once again with Sven Nykvist as DOP.

Oscar nominations

Ullmann worked with Jan Troell and played strong roles in his epic films The Emigrants and The New Land (1971 – 72). She was nominated for an Oscar for The Emigrants. Later, Liv Ullmann made a similar film with Gene Hackman in the US; Zandy’s Bride.

Then Hollywood and Broadway opened their arms for her. She played in A Doll’s House and I Remember Mama.

Liv Ullmann continued working with Bergman in his masterpieces from the -70ties: Cries and whispers (1973), Scenes From a Marriage (1974), Face to face (1975 – resulting in a new Oscar nomination), and Autumn Sonata (1978). Through this collaboration, she became one of the leading actresses in the world. She continued on Broadway as well as at Norwegian theaters and Fjernsynsteatret, the National Television theater.


Then Liv Ullmann wrote two biographies – Changing (1977) and Choices (1984) where she tells about her life, in Norway, Sweden, and the USA, as an Actress, Movie Star, and Good Will Ambassador for Unicef.  Later she edited Letter to my Grandchild (1998), an anthology with contributions by Umberto Eco, Oriana Fallaci, Nadine Gordimer, Vaclav Havel, Dalai Lama and Doris Lessing.

Ullmann became Vice President for IRC - The International Rescue Committee and visited places with human crises and danger, often risking her own life. She fought against the war in Cambodia with Joan Baez and against fundamentalistic Christian Anti-Homosexual Attitudes during the first AIDS years in the eighties in the USA.

Directorial debut

In 1982 Ullmann made her debut as a film director in the Canadian Episode film Love. Her episode, Parting, told the beautiful story of an old man who every day dutifully visits his wife at the hospital. He prepares himself carefully but with strong pain for every single visit to her. And every time, he reads for her from the Bible.

10 years later, in 1992, Liv Ullmann was invited to make a script for Nordic Film Company in Copenhagen. When finishing the script of Sofie, she was asked to direct it, and the film Sofie was born.

Then came Kristin Lavransdatter (1995) which she directed for Norsk Film AS in Oslo. This film, based on one of the key romantic medieval dramas in Norwegian history, premiered at the Norwegian International Film festival in Haugesund on the West Coast of Norway and later at the World Film Festival in Montreal, Canada. A lot of newspaper articles had informed the audience about budget limits being broken several times. So the interest in the film was enormous, also because of the novel itself. Who dared to film this epic masterpiece? Who does Liv Ullmann think she is? were the typical headlines before the premiere. But after, it became evident that we had never before experienced such a significant victory by an uncompromising Norwegian cinematic artist. Kristin Lavransdatter became a huge success in Norway and was shown in many European countries, in both its national cinema length of 3 hours and in an international version of 2hrs 20 mins.


Then came what many consider her masterpiece Faithless in 2000, directed for Swedish Film Industri, also from a script by Ingmar Bergman. It is an existential drama with elements from Ibsen, Kierkegaard, and Strindberg, about the numerous choices we make when situations arise and we might turn them into acts of love

Faithless was selected for the main competition at the Cannes Film Festival.

These films were followed by an epilogue, Saraband, in 2003, directed by Bergman himself. Liv Ullmann, although declaring that she had stopped being an actress, played in Sarabande.

Miss Julie

Liv Ullmann turned to the stage again and among other projects directed Cate Blanchett in the play A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, at the Sydney Theatre Company  in Australia

Then in 2014, Ullmann made a comeback to the film industry by directing Miss Julie after August Strindberg’s play, with Jessica Chastain and Colin Farrel in the main roles. The film received support from The Norwegian Film Institute.

In later years, Liv Ullmann has been back on the theatre stage,  amongst other things working with the National Travelling Theater in Norway with a performance simply called Liv, where she presents her whole life.