It’s difficult to pinpoint Lena Olin’s background just from the sound of her voice. The Stockholm-born actress, who won an Oscar for portraying a Holocaust survivor in 1989’s Enemies, A Love Story, has brilliantly portrayed women of many nationalities and walks of life during her illustrious four-decade career.
“My English changes with whatever character I’m playing,” Lena, who currently stars in the Amazon Prime series Hunters, exclusively tells Closer. On that show, “I have a British, slightly German accent. It’s like I don’t ever have my own accent in English!” she says.
The actress, 65, who lives in New York with her husband and frequent collaborator, director Lasse Hallström, will next star in the drama The Artist’s Wife, which is scheduled for release on September 25.
Keep scrolling below for Closer‘s exclusive Q&A interview with Lena Olin.
Growing up in Sweden, you were raised in a theatrical family. Would your parents have been crushed if you grew up to be an accountant?
[Laughs] My dad was a writer/director/ actor and my mom was an actress. That’s what I was surrounded with when I grew up. Actors, directors, writers. I knew no normal people.
So it felt natural for you to enter the family business?
My parents only had one wish for me and that was just to be happy. It’s a really tough wish to fulfill! I was the youngest and a girl. I was very hardworking in school. I thought maybe I could become a doctor, but that wasn’t really truthful [to my calling]. I was very shy growing up but found a huge freedom onstage through acting and being able to express myself that way.
You were crowned Miss Scandinavia in 1974. Did you enjoy your pageant days?
It was not fun. Eileen Ford was a big modeling agent in New York. She came to Sweden and offered to take me back to New York as a model. She said I should get into modeling in Sweden and have beauty titles first. She was very confident in me [but] I didn’t go to New York. I was too angst-ridden and too afraid to do it. At that point in my life, [modeling] wasn’t my thing.
The famed Swedish director Ingmar Bergman wrote a role for you in one of his films when you were just 21.
In those days in Sweden, to be picked by Bergman and get his blessing and his interest, that gave me a huge amount of confidence. It was really such a treat to work with him. He taught me a lot. I learned that although you might be talented, it’s all about the work you put in — how you have to learn the craft and really apply yourself. I think that was a huge.
In 1988, The Unbearable Lightness of Being with Daniel Day-Lewis was your first big international hit.
I actually saw Daniel [before COVID-19] — we’re neighbors in the city. We talked about that shoot and how much comfort we drew from each other. I was fragile and had just gone through a breakup and Daniel, he had a lot of things going on, too. I love him and his work. He is just an amazing person.
Your role as Jennifer Garner’s mysterious mother on the first season of television’s Alias introduced you to a whole other audience.
It’s so fun that people are still talking about Alias and loved it. That was my first TV role. I met with Jen and there was something so true about our relationship. We had a very natural way with each other. We seemed related. And of course, Victor [Garber]. Some acting families you just love a little bit more, and that was certainly one of them.
Your latest TV project is Amazon Prime’s Hunters, which is scheduled to come back for a second season. How has it been working with Al Pacino on the show?
Al is a cool, cool guy. He doesn’t take anything for granted. His way of working is so curious because he wants to understand why he’s doing everything he is doing on-screen. He doesn’t just come in and do his line because he’s Al Pacino. He jokes about that. He makes such an effort and is a sweet and generous guy.
You’ve been married to director Lasse Hallström since 1994 and you’ve done several films together. Is it hard to work with your spouse?
We have a really fun, extremely creative collaboration, which has been such a joy. On set, I feel we have a shorthand. And when we work in America, he can speak to me in Swedish and no one quite understands what we’re talking about. [Laughs] I find it very romantic to shoot with him. He’s such a splendid director. It’s romantic and inspiring.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned about love?
In a true love, you dare to be who you truly are and you find out through love who you really are. I think that you need to be very honest and take to heart the deeper understanding of who you really are. You have to be very true to yourself.
In your latest movie, The Artist’s Wife, you play a woman who puts aside her own artistic ambitions for her husband, another painter, played by Bruce Dern.
It is such a layered character. I don’t really want to call [what she does] a sacrifice, because I feel like she went where her heart told her to go. I don’t see her as a victim. I see her as a strong survivor. These are choices we make. She does it out of love. I think it’s an interesting concept of what we do for love.
Could you relate to your character Claire on a personal level?
Yes, I think I have done things without even thinking there is an option out of love for [Lasse]. Or the things you do out of love for your children. So on some level, I can relate to her.
Was it difficult to balance your acting career with being a mother of two?
I think I am really a hands-on mother, but it has been good for my children that I’ve been away working for periods of time. They were exposed to other people, and that has been a blessing for them. When they have partners, boyfriends, girlfriends, when they [meet new people] they so easily love them and become loved themselves. I think that is probably because of their upbringing.
— Reporting by Amanda Champagne-Meadows