Feature

Erland Josephson, 1923–2012

The actor who stood in for Ingmar Bergman

When Erland Josephson first met Ingmar Bergman, in 1940, he was “tormented” by the director’s self-confidence. The 21-year-old Bergman had already taken a mistress, coolly presenting her to his friends as Sweden’s greatest amateur actress. “He was already an experienced man,” Josephson later said of the director to whom his career would forever be linked. “My mouth was wide open.”

Josephson was born in Stockholm to a “family with a strong cultural tradition,” including a great-granduncle who had directed premieres of plays by August Strindberg, said The New York Times. At 16, Josephson acted in his first play, a production of The Merchant of Venice directed by Bergman, a “theater-besotted” young man five years his senior. The pair would go on to collaborate on more than 40 plays and films over the course of more than 60 years.

Josephson became something of a “Bergman surrogate,” said the London Guardian, often appearing in his movies as a thinly veiled stand-in for the director himself. The pair’s masterpiece was Scenes From a Marriage (1973), an “acting tour de force” in which Josephson plays the unfaithful husband of Liv Ullmann—Bergman’s former lover in real life.

Josephson was known in Sweden as a prolific writer of plays, novels, and poetry, said the Los Angeles Times, and as an accomplished director in his own right. But it was his acting work with the country’s most prestigious director for which he will be chiefly remembered. “To make movies with Ingmar,” he said in 1985, “has been one of life’s great pleasures.”

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