Goodbye to Erland Josephson

Erland Josephson has died. He was a great Swedish actor of Jewish extraction. He was in Fanny and Alexander and Hour of the Wolf by Ingmar Bergman, among many other films (I think 40 collaborations, including theater). Also he was in Andre Tarkovski’s The Sacrifice. He was a great actor.

I met him when I was cast as Anya in Peter Brook’s production of The Cherry Orchard, in 1986, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We became really close friends. He was already in his sixties. He was witty and a little bit sad and very bawdy. We went on tour with The Cherry Orchard. We went to Russia and Japan. I remember walking with Erland under a red umbrella in a Japanese garden. I remember eating sturgeon with him in Moscow, after a performance. I remember sitting on a wide purple cloth, eating a picnic with the rest of the company, in the countryside near Tibilisi, which was then in Soviet Georgia. The resident actors of the theater we were playing in, the Rustaveli (sp?) theater, invited us on the picnic. We drank wine from ceramic bowls with gold rims. The rims were stamped with little golden crosses. When we looked up we could see cliffs, and in the cliffs were little caves, and in the caves, hermits had lived. In Tokyo, people had simultaneous translators they could hold to their ears. We used to joke that every time we heard one of them clatter to the floor, an audience member had dropped off to sleep. One night, during Erland’s speech to the book case, we heard so many simultaneous translating devices clatter to the floor– Erland later said he counted nine–that I simply lost it. Luckily I was just sitting upstage, because I actually peed in my pants a little, but I hid the laughing pretty well. He was a wonderful friend.

4 Responses to “Goodbye to Erland Josephson”

  • Therese Wolfe:

    Oh, indeed he was so fine an actor, and extraordinary in ‘The Sacrifice’, which I own and will have to watch again in order to honor his life.
    I am sorry you have lost your friend, what a friend to have! Thank you for posting the delightful personal story with us.

  • Vanessa Butler:

    What a lovely friend to give you such gifts of laughter and memory.
    For some reason after reading your post, I think that sense of loss, made me recall the book ‘Woodbrook’ by David Thompson. It still lingers with me long after I have read it and could be translated visually although perhaps it has been done already.

  • I’m sorry to hear this. I agree, this is a precious story. I will think of it the next time I see an audience member falling asleep.

  • Yetta:

    As an ultra-Orthodox Jew (who not so secretly reads nonJewish books), I was surprised to at how accurately you portrayed our life! Usually when I read about ultra-Orthodox Jews written about by nonJews or Jews who are not religious, little (and often big) misrepresentations are common. But you managed not to make a single mistake (except that I think you mentioned the Tanya in a context that was a little too early for it, but that is a pretty minor thing compared to everything else). Thank you so much for getting everything right from certain superstitions (proper disposal of cut fingernails) to the orthodox dating scene and sex life (going to the mikvah/niddah). Your story made me blush quite a few times and it is upsetting to read about anyone frum leaving the path (falling off the derech), it is part of our life and very sad. But you captured the sadness for the person doing it and the families involved perfectly.

Leave a Reply