R.I.P. Erland Josephson, Ingmar Bergman's on-screen alter ego

R.I.P. Erland Josephson, Ingmar Bergman's on-screen alter ego

Erland Josephson, who has died at the age of 88 after a battle with Parkinson's disease, was a towering figure of Swedish film and theater, with a professional career that stretched back to the 1940s. Outside Sweden, Josephson's name was inextricably linked with that of one of the most celebrated figures of international cinema, Ingmar Bergman, whom he had known for most of his life, after first worked together in the theater when Josephson was still in his teens. 

Josephson’s film career began with tiny roles in such obscure early Bergman pictures as It Rains On Our Love (1946), Eva (1948), and To Joy (1950). As Bergman's career snowballed, Josephson took on bigger supporting roles in such art-house classics as The Magician, Hour Of The Wolf, and The Passion Of Anna—all of them starring Bergman's favorite leading man of the 1960s, Max von Sydow, (He also shared writing credits on a couple of lesser Bergman films, All These Women and the master's contribution to the multi-director anthology film Stimulantia.) But Josephson’s first love remained the theater, and in 1966 he was named Bergman's successor as director of the Royal Dramatic Theater in Stockholm, a post he would hold for nine years. 

In 1971, Bergman and the increasingly in-demand von Sydow worked together for the last time on The Touch, after which Bergman drafted Josephson as his male actor of choice. After appearing in 1972’s Cries And Whispers, he had his most high-profile film role to date, co-starring with Liv Ullman in the five-hour TV series Scenes From A Marriage, which was released to movie theaters in America in a condensed, 167-minute version and shown in full on public television. He subsequently appeared in Bergman's Face To Face, Autumn Sonata, Fanny And Alexander, After The Rehearsal, In The Presence Of a Clown, and the director's final film, Saraband, a 30-years-later sequel to Scenes From A Marriage. He also starred in Faithless, a film directed by his frequent co-star Liv Ullman from an autobiographical screenplay written by Bergman. By that point, he had moved past being the famous filmmaker's mere “favorite actor” to being recognized as Bergman’s official on-screen alter ego.

Josephson's ties to Bergman helped make him a much sought-after collaborator for directors hoping that some of that Swedish art-house gravity would rub off—directors such as Andrei Tarkovksy, who in 1986 handed him the starring role in the director's last and most Bergmanesque movie, The Sacrifice. In the '80s and '90s, he also appeared in Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, Dusan Makavejev's Montenegro, Istvan Szabó's Hanussen, Theo Angelopoulos' Ulysses' Gaze, Peter Greenaway's Prospero's Books, and Philip Kaufman's The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, which marked a rare turn in an English-speaking movie by an American director. Although Josephson proved receptive to the idea of doing more films for directors other than Bergman, once he started getting the offers, he seemed to regard Hollywood with the kind of attitude that most people reserve for anthrax spores.

Josephson also wrote books, plays, and film scripts (including one collaboration with Bergman for another director, Alf Kjellin's The Pleasure Garden), and directed a 1980 feature film, Marmalade Revolution. He also continued to work in the theater. Three years before their last film together, he appeared in Bergman's stage productions of Mary Stuart and The Ghost Sonata.