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Actor's Fate Matches Him With Bergman, L.a.

September 22, 1987|SYLVIE DRAKE | Times Theater Writer

STOCKHOLM, Sweden — For 33-year-old Swedish actor Peter Stormare, who plays Jean in the Ingmar Bergman-directed "Miss Julie" that opens in Swedish tonight at the Doolittle Theatre, Hollywood, as they say, is the place:

"I want to do a lot of film. I want to become a director as well. I want to work behind and in front of the camera. I like to write. I like to travel," something Stormare has done around Europe, often impulsively. (He once spent six weeks in an Irish fishing village prompted by a post card he admired.)

Tall, lanky, with fingernails painted bright red (an attention-getter that didn't draw the least attention from the other guests at the little bistro where we lunched), Stormare spoke in a halting English that did not in the least impede the rush of his thoughts.

"For six, seven years," he said, "I've (wanted) to go to California. Sometimes I think you can steer your fate, because I've been longing very hard. I always felt that Los Angeles, I don't know why, would be the place for me to live."

Ironically, except for a "minor, minor, minor part" in "Fanny and Alexander," he's made no films with Bergman. They originally met outside the Lilla Scenen, the Royal Dramatic Theatre's smaller stage, where Stormare worked on props before becoming an actor. Hearing that Bergman was in the audience one night, Stormare accosted him--if you can call it that.

"I grabbed him," he said. "I told him, 'Mr. Bergman, I wrote you a letter a couple of weeks ago. I'd love to work with you. So here I am--ready for duty.' He was stunned," Stormare said, still chuckling at his own gall.

Six months later, Bergman saw Stormare in his first performance at the Royal Dramatic Academy (in Nigel Williamson's "Class Enemy") and asked him to play the Duke of Cornwall in his 1983 "King Lear." It was during those rehearsals that he told Stormare he was planning to stage Strindberg's "Miss Julie" and asked if he'd like to play Jean. This time Stormare was stunned.

"I said immediately, ' Yes! ' "

It took a year and a half for the project to get off the ground, giving Stormare plenty of time to prepare.

"I could read it, study the script," he said. "I have learned a lot from Sam Shepard. I love his writing. Yah. And I've been directing his plays--'Cowboys' and 'Icarus' Mother,' which I translated as well--and I've been performing in 'Action' and 'Curse of the Starving Class.' 'Miss Julie' is the same kind of approach.

"The characters speak and when they speak it's the absolute truth, which they can deny a second later. In Shepard's plays or in Pinter's, the characters say 'I love beer' and in the next second they can say 'I hate beer' and it's true both times.

"You don't give a signal to the public when you lie and when you tell the truth. So the audience begins to fantasize. You show 60%, the other 40% they (invent).

"In Sweden, Jean is always (played as) a crook wanting to get up the ladder, but I think that is ridiculous. He sees Miss Julie as a wonderful person and he is sexually attracted to her. If you concentrate on playing the passion, you get the class and everything in perspective. But if you concentrate on class--she's up, he's low--you lock everything up in one room.

"I see Jean as a young man trying to (work) his way up, so I had a very clear idea how I wanted to do my part. And when we started to rehearse, and (Bergman) talked about what he wanted, it was like the puzzle--how do you say? The jigsaw, it fitted. His idea and my idea were exactly the same."

The most refreshing things about this friendly Swede are his enthusiasm and his unpretentiousness.

"I come from mid-Sweden," he said, "a village (called) Arbro with about six hundred people. Waste country, highly religious. I was chasing girls, playing music, football, driving around in cars. . . .

"I didn't do anythings. My brother, who is older than me, told me to do something of my life. I moved to Stockholm and started to read films at the university--film sciences.

"I liked films, but the only films you see in Arbro is B movies. I didn't know who was Orson Welles. I saw my first play when I was 21. And then by--how do you say?--Chance? I met someone who was going to audition for the drama school. And I thought I'll try that as well. But I failed. . . . "

The headmaster, who was resigning his post to go back to the theater, saw something in the embattled youth and took him on as a private pupil. Two years later, Stormare was ready for the Royal Dramat and graduated from there into the Royal Theatre company.

"I was reborn in a way," he said. "It was like coming home."

Earlier this year, he played the title role in Bergman's polemical rock 'n' roll "Hamlet," insisting that in all cases he plays the truth of the moment more than the truth of the play because "plays are made up of moments that add up to its truth.

"It's always more interesting if you show half the face. It's the bad things with American films today," said Stormare, a self-avowed big fan of American movies. "They show you too much."

The attention paid to "Miss Julie" and "Hamlet" and the personal accolades have left Stormare unimpressed: "I've always worked very seriously. I know what I want. And I know my way. I don't see this as a 'break.' I see it as a step.

"I'm 75% not satisfied with the way (the "Hamlet") went. I think I can improve it. I'm never satisfied. I'm very critical to myself. I think I'm a lousy actor, a lousy director. That's my nature. I started to accept that. Maybe it's something planted in me, to take care of me."

In January, Bergman and Stormare will be reunited for a production of O'Neill's "Long Day's Journey Into Night." He not only likes working with Bergman but many people think they even look alike. Stormare grins at this.

"Everyone says so. Well, he is a handsome boy too. . . . "

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