Erland Josephson dies at 88; Swedish actor, Bergman collaborator

Swedish actor Erland Josephson, one of fabled director Ingmar Bergman’s closest friends and collaborators, known for his portrayals of aloof intellectuals and often Bergman’s alter ego in such celebrated films as “Scenes From a Marriage” and “Cries and Whispers,” died at a Stockholm hospital Saturday. He was 88.

His death from Parkinson’s disease was announced by a spokeswoman for Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theater, which the actor headed from 1966 to 1975.

Josephson was one of Bergman’s favorite actors and longest-running collaborator, appearing in more than a dozen Bergman movies, including the director’s first film in 1946 (“It Rains on Our Love”) and his last, in 2003 (“Saraband”).

Erland Josephson obituary: The obituary of Swedish actor Erland Josephson in the Feb. 27 LATExtra section said that Liv Ullmann played a dying woman in Ingmar Bergman’s film “Cries and Whispers.” She played a sister of the woman. The obituary also said that Bergman’s first film was “It Rains on Our Love,” in 1946. His movie “Crisis” was released earlier that year. —

In “Faithless,” a 2000 movie written by Bergman and directed by his former lover and leading lady Liv Ullmann, Josephson’s character — an aging director visited by the spirit of an actress he once loved — is even named Bergman.


“To make movies with Ingmar has been one of life’s great pleasures,” the actor, who won several Swedish film prizes, told The Times in 1985.

Josephson was born in Stockholm on June 15, 1923, into a family of artists and intellectuals who were descended from Sweden’s first Jewish settlers. His father owned a famous bookstore that was one of Stockholm’s intellectual hubs.

Interested in acting as a youth, Josephson was just 16 when he participated in the play “The Merchant of Venice,” directed by Bergman. He had no formal acting education but continued to appear in several Bergman stage plays in the 1940s and 50s, and received a minor part in “It Rains on Our Love.”

For the first two decades of his career, he considered himself a stage actor even though he had appeared in a half a dozen Bergman films during that time. Among the films he made with the director during that time were “The Magician” (1958), “Hour of the Wolf” (1968) and “The Passion of Anna” (1969).


His passion for film acting began with “Cries and Whispers,” the 1972 film that proved a commercial breakthrough for both Bergman and Josephson.

Made as a six-part television movie in Sweden, it starred Ullmann as a dying woman; Josephson was a doctor.

“I was not interested in film acting until ‘Cries and Whispers,’ when I suddenly got something from it I had not gotten before,” Josephson told the New York Times in 1988. “And when Bergman saw Liv Ullmann and I work together in that, he saw that we gave something to each other, and he started to write ‘Scenes from a Marriage’ because of it.”

In “Scenes,” Bergman’s 1973 masterpiece chronicling the dissolution of a marriage, Josephson plays the unfaithful scientist-husband of Ullmann, a lawyer. It turned Josephson into an international star. His portrayal of Johan won high praise from critics, including The Times’ Charles Champlin, who said Josephson offered “a rending study of a man in painful change.”

After that, he received offers to appear in many international film productions. He played Friedrich Nietzsche in Italian director Liliana Cavani’s 1977 “Beyond Good and Evil.” He appeared in Philip Kaufman’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” (1988) and made memorable performances in Andrey Tarkovskiy’s “Nostalghia” (1983) and “The Sacrifice” (1986).

Among his later films for Bergman was “Fanny and Alexander” (1982), a family saga in which Josephson, in a departure from his previous roles as philanderers and other unpleasant types, rescues two children from an abusive bishop. In “Saraband,” a sequel to “Scenes from a Marriage,” he and Ullmann reprise their roles as the feuding couple years after divorcing.

He made his American stage debut in 1988 in director Peter Brooks’ New York production of “The Cherry Orchard,” for which he received the Off-Broadway Theater Award for best performance for his role as Gaev.

Also known in Sweden as a prolific writer, Josephson wrote novels, poetry and more than 30 scripts for stage, radio and television. He succeeded Bergman as artistic director the Royal Dramatic Theatre in 1966 and was director of the Swedish Film Institute in the 1990s.


Married and divorced several times, Josephson is survived by his wife, Ulla Aberg, and five children.

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