Actress known for her work with Ingmar Bergman

Born: November 11, 1935;

Died: April 14, 2019

BIBI Andersson, who has died aged 83, was a Swedish actor whose career spanned more than five decades, from the early 1950s to the late 2000s, working in her home country, in wider European cinema, and for a number of years in the American industry. Her defining roles, however, were those she undertook for her countryman, the Swedish directorial auteur Ingmar Bergman. Among the cinema classics of his she appeared in were The Seventh Seal (1957), Wild Strawberries (1957), Brink of Life (1958) and Persona (1966).

A notable curiosity of Andersson and Bergman’s working relationship is that it began in the most unBergmanlike world of television commercials, with a 15-year-old Andersson starring in the director’s ads for the Swedish soap brand Bris (Breeze) in 1951. In 1956 she joined Malmo Municipal Theatre under Bergman, and the following year she played two breakthrough roles in his films.

In The Seventh Seal Andersson cameoed as one of the travellers encountered by Max Von Sydow’s disillusioned Crusader knight amid this medieval, allegorical struggle between life and death, and in the dreamlike Wild Strawberries she was central to the plot as both the lost childhood love of Victor Sjostrom’s elderly lead and as a worldly hitch-hiker he encounters. In 1958 she appeared in two more Bergman films, a supporting role in The Magician and a commanding role as one of three women on a maternity ward in Brink of Life, for which all four female leads shared the Best Actress prize at the 1958 Cannes Film Festival.

Andersson was a performer with natural skill and magnetism. For Vilgot Stroman’s The Mistress (1962), she won the best actress award at the Berlin International Film Festival, and in 1966 perhaps her crowning role came in Bergman’s stunning psychodrama Persona, in which she was a nurse caring for Liv Ullman’s mute patient.

In total, she worked on 11 projects directed by Bergman and two written by him, including the uncharacteristic comedies Smiles of a Summer Night (1955) and All These Women (1964), his unsuccessful English language debut The Touch (1971) and a cameo in the miniseries Scenes From a Marriage (1973). Around the time of Persona she also broke through into international cinema, and although her career in America never became A-list, it contained some notable highs.

She worked with directors John Huston on The Kremlin Letter (1970) and Robert Altman on Quintet (1979), appeared in the drama I Never Promised You a Rose Garden (1977), and starred opposite Steve McQueen on the Ibsen adaptation An Enemy of the People (1978).

Educated at Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre School, she joined the full Royal Dramatic Theatre in 1959, beginning a noted parallel theatrical career which took in a role in Bergman’s Swedish version of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Broadway work in the 1970s and a move into stage direction in the 1980s and ‘90s. She became involved in feminist and humanitarian issues, particularly in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, published her autobiography One Moment in 1996, and staged a late-career renaissance in Elina: As If I Wasn’t There (2002) and Arn: The Knights Templar (2007).

Born in Stockholm in 1935 to Karin and Josef, Berit Elisabeth ‘Bibi’ Andersson was married three times and had one daughter with her first husband. She moved to the French Riviera, although a stroke in 2009 caused her serious health problems and forced her to stop work.

DAVID POLLOCK