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The Unmistakable Lightness of Lena Olin

Discussion in 'Cast-Related News' started by Marlene, May 10, 2003.

  1. Marlene

    Marlene Guest

    From The New York Times-

    The Unmistakable Lightness of Lena Olin


    Caption of the photo shot:
    Monica Almeida/The New York Times
    "I'm getting a lot of interest," says Lena Olin, who appears with Harrison Ford, in "Hollywood Homicide."

    "ACTING is a very strange job," says Lena Olin, who — as the child of actors, and as an actor who has herself been in more or less constant demand since graduating from drama school some two and a half decades ago — should know. "To be a good actor, you have to be very smart. But to be a great actor, you also have to have a streak of, `I'm an idiot, a complete lunatic.' Sometimes I think, `Wow, why didn't I grow up the way other people do? Why do I have this idiotic side to me?' Because even the wish to do what actors do is somewhat idiotic: `O.K., I'm really sad and I have to show you how sad I am.' I mean, who would want to do that

    "Idiot" is probably not the first word that springs to mind for those who have been watching her this past season on the TV spy show "Alias," playing what she calls the "very cool part" of Irina Derevko, crafty secret-agent mom to Jennifer Garner's highly conflicted secret-agent heroine, Sydney Bristow. On "Alias," Ms. Olin gets to display for a large television audience the qualities that impressed moviegoers in the late 80's, when she made her English-language screen debut as the sexy Czech artist Sabina — the one with the mirrors, the black underwear and the bowler hat — in Philip Kaufman's glorious film version of Milan Kundera's "Unbearable Lightness of Being" (1988) — and then followed up that hard-to-follow act with an Oscar-nominated performance as a volatile (and sexy) Holocaust survivor in Paul Mazursky's "Enemies, a Love Story" (1989). Although the characters aren't similar, in both those pictures Ms. Olin stirs up an uncanny mixture of gravity and sensuality, and that's what she's been doing on "Alias" this season, too. All you have to do is watch the reactions of Sydney's secret-agent dad, Jack (Victor Garber), to his wily ex-wife: he knows exactly how dangerous Irina is, yet she still has the power to cloud his mind.

    Ms. Olin, dressed down in jeans and a zippered sweater worn over a garment that looks suspiciously like a pajama top, arrives at a tiny, noisy, crowded restaurant near her home in northern Westchester County looking nothing like a femme fatale and carrying none of the do-you-know-who-I-am airs of a star. But she also appears, without seeming to mean to, unmistakably different from the other suburban mothers in the room. This is partly, of course, the consequence of the unfair advantage of physical endowment: she's tall and athletic-looking, and she has the sort of features that, well, command attention — especially the eyes, which are huge, deep brown and startlingly alert.

    As we wait for a table I notice that a few patrons are casting furtive glances in her direction, maybe because they recognize her ("I get a lot of `Why do you look so familiar?' " she says); maybe just because she's the kind of person other people feel compelled to stare at. Beauty, I suddenly realize, is a wonderful tool for an actor: you don't have to work as hard to capture the audience's interest, which means you can save your energy for the more important, and rewarding, job of exploring the nuances of character.

    And that's the job Ms. Olin signed up for when, encouraged by Ingmar Bergman, she enrolled in the national drama school of her native Sweden — a rigorous four-year course that led, in turn, to an eight-year stint in the repertory company of Stockholm's Royal National Theater. There, according to her, "you play and you rehearse, you play and you rehearse; there's nothing else."

    "I loved it," she says, "but if you're an actor a lot of directors want to use, which I was lucky to be, you have absolutely no life. There's a nurse at the theater, and a doctor — but no dentist. That's the only time you get out and see a little bit of the world."

    The world, however, eventually took notice of Lena Olin. Mr. Kaufman, who had seen her in the 1983 Bergman TV film "After the Rehearsal," cast her in "Unbearable Lightness." And then Mr. Mazursky had to have her for his dream project, "Enemies." In his autobiography, Mr. Mazursky provides a characteristically pithy, out-there description of her appeal: "Lena Olin was a great actress with an equally great body!" More than enough, you'd think, to make her a major international movie star. But, as she admits, "I don't think I've had a role since that matches either `Unbearable' or `Enemies.' " Her next film, Sydney Pollack's "Casablanca"-like "Havana" (1990), in which she played Ingrid Bergman to Robert Redford's neo-Bogey, and which represented her strongest bid for major-international-movie-stardom — was an expensive and extremely conspicuous flop.

    Ms. Olin claims not to be bothered by the relatively low visibility that descended on her in the post-"Havana" years. "It strikes me every time I do an interview," she says, "that I don't really sit around thinking about my goals and my life and my career. I do what I love doing and I get a lot of feedback. I'm free as a bird, you know? If I do something good, it's, `Wow, that was brilliant,' and if I do something bad it just goes away. If Tom Cruise does a movie that doesn't work, the whole world shakes, at least in the Hollywood Hills. That's a lot of pressure, and I think it's really hard to stay a good actor and remain true to why you wanted to do this, which was an urge to tell the truth, no matter what."

    Thanks to the success of "Alias," however, stardom may be creeping up on Lena Olin once again. "I'm getting a lot of interest, a lot of projects now that I didn't a year ago," she says, with a soft laugh. "It's almost comical. It's great, but I think it's a little ironic that it should work this way." This summer she'll be appearing on the big screen in Ron Shelton's police drama "Hollywood Homicide," opposite Harrison Ford — with whose character she has "a very grown-up romance." (She had, she tells me, wanted to work with Mr. Shelton years before, when he was preparing "Tin Cup"; she sent him a tape of herself playing golf. The part went to Rene Russo, but Mr. Shelton kept the tape.)

    This recent flurry of interest is good news for Ms. Olin, and even better news for moviegoers who have, in the last decade, missed seeing her in meaty, complex roles. She's had some tasty supporting parts, most notably as a Devil-worshiping temptress in Roman Polanski's "Ninth Gate" (2000) and, surprisingly, as a meek, battered wife in "Chocolat" (2000), which was directed by her husband, Lasse Hallstrom. (That role, she says, was a conscious attempt by Mr. Hallstrom to show a side of her that movie audiences had never seen.) But it's hard to imagine that pictures like "Mystery Men" (1999) and "Queen of the Damned" (2002) were what Ms. Olin had in mind when she decided to become an actor, or when she was spending long days and nights at the Royal Dramatic Theater, playing Strindberg's Miss Julie — the mother of all femmes fatales — for Ingmar Bergman and dreaming of a visit to the dentist.

    Although Ms. Olin has more choices these days, it seems unlikely that at this point in her life she will ever have to face the Hollywood Hills-shaking pressure of Cruise-level stardom. And that's not just because she's Swedish, she lives on the wrong coast and she's 47 years old. (She looks a good 10 years younger, and, unlike most of her American counterparts, appears blissfully unconcerned about age: she played her first grandmother — inevitably, a sexy one — five years ago, in "Polish Wedding.") In fact, Lena Olin is, by the peculiar standards of early-21st-century Hollywood, hard to cast. To put it bluntly, she's too powerful: too intense, and not nearly predictable enough, to fit comfortably into the risk-averse entertainment that passes for major-studio filmmaking these days. She could be sensational in a screwball comedy — her idiot side would serve her well — if only somebody in Hollywood could remember how to make one.

    It's no accident, I think, that she has been most attractive to, and has done her best work for, directors who aren't afraid of women. Actually, Ingmar Bergman, Philip Kaufman, Paul Mazursky, Roman Polanski and Ron Shelton have almost nothing in common except their proven appreciation for mature, intelligent actresses — women who, like Lena Olin, demand to be taken seriously (and have great bodies). Mr. Kaufman, she says, is "protective"; Mr. Shelton is "a real gentleman" and Mr. Mazursky is "so loose you feel a little like a kid at a party where there's no supervision anymore, no grown-ups." But Mr. Bergman is "possessive" — he once stopped talking to her for three years after she turned down a theater project of his — and Mr. Polanski is "so quick and so tough, you've got to be very strong to hold your own with him. I'd work with him again in a heartbeat; I had a fantastic time. But it's not nursery school."

    All she requires, she says, is that her directors respect her. "Knowing that, you can go through anything. And it's fun to go through anything, because it's still just play, and I'm doing what I used to do as a kid."

    At this point, with the restaurant nearly empty and the time fast approaching when Ms. Olin will have to excuse herself and pick up her 7-year-old daughter from school, I realize that my lunch companion has, in just under two hours, given me a crash course in Swedish theater, regaled me with anecdotes about virtually every director she has ever worked with, reflected on her past, speculated about her future, philosophized about her profession and consumed a rather substantial chicken wrap (but not the French fries). And, much to my relief, she has spoken distinctly enough for my cheap microcassette tape recorder to register her every word through the lunchtime din. It's been a remarkable performance: effortless, natural, but forceful. I feel as if I've seen, up close, the benefits of the technique Ms. Olin learned in drama school, which was, she says emphatically, "not about your feelings — you know, sitting around and thinking about what happened at Christmas in 1976 — but about voice training and physical training and how important it is to have a voice and a body and a mind that are prepared." She's used all those things to tell me who she is, and she's come through loud and clear. Lena Olin, I now understand, doesn't really need to be a star: she just wants to keep on being an idiot.

    Terrence Rafferty is the author of "The Thing Happens: Ten Years of Writing About the Movies."
  2. vaughnmyangel

    vaughnmyangel Rocket Ranger

    Jan 4, 2003
    arg i am soooo mad i really want the whole article form the newspaper but we dont subscirbe to ny times anymore....arg!!!!!!
  3. mountaineer5

    mountaineer5 Rocket Ranger

    Jan 18, 2003
    that was a really great article. you really got a feel for lena.
  4. Elektra

    Elektra Cadet

    Feb 26, 2003
    Great article...I have begun to enjoy Lena's acting skills. I can't never wait to see what she does for the next ep... i also can't believe she lives in Westchester County. I live in the same county.
  5. alias8000

    alias8000 Rocket Ranger

    May 26, 2003
    That was a fantastic article on Lena! I find the ''idiot'' a little funny. lol
  6. The Kate Vartan

    The Kate Vartan Rocket Ranger

    Dec 16, 2002
    I'm really excited that she is going to do a movie with Harrison Ford (my favorite actor!!!) this summer! That's definitely something I'm going to go see. Also, I never realized that she has worked with such critically acclaimed directors!
  7. Azalea

    Azalea Azy in Wonderland

    Dec 28, 2002
    the Ozarks
    This is exactly why she's so amazing! Her power literally comes through the screen; the problem is that there aren't enough good roles written for Hollywood movies these days. She's actually too talented to play most of the roles out there, she has so much presence, so much subtlety and nuance, that the character would have to measure up to it, and most unfortunately don't.
  8. lenafan

    lenafan Rocket Ranger

    Jan 22, 2003
    So. California
    Well it certainly speaks well for the men who direct :cool: on Alias, because she's has been terrific. So good, in fact, that most of all Alias shippers believed Irina Derevko was an almost heroine, was not all bad, that she loved her daughter and her husband...and she did do it with some excellent acting. We've heard reports that everyone on the Alias set loves her too! :D

    I personally think Unbearable Lightness of Being was her best role, but that's my opinion. Chocolat was the next best. I liked both of them over Enemies...And I own them all.

    :groupwave: She's the best. Hopefully there's an Emmy in her future.
  9. vaughnmyangel

    vaughnmyangel Rocket Ranger

    Jan 4, 2003
    oooo i love chocolat it is such a great movie!!!!!!
  10. IrinaDerevko

    IrinaDerevko Rocket Ranger

    Mar 23, 2003
    Wow...you're lucky.:)
  11. lenafan

    lenafan Rocket Ranger

    Jan 22, 2003
    So. California
    So now all you have to do is drive around to various schools OR malls OR shopping areas and start looking for a tall (5 foot ten inch), slim woman with a 7 year old little girl and "good grief, Charlie Brown" you've found her!!! GOOD LUCK!!
    And all of us are green with envy.... :wave:

    If you're lucky, then we will all

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