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Considered one of Sweden's finest and also to date most appreciated actresses, Wållgren was famous for her fragile and sensual way of acting, her warm and rich inner soulfulness, and her never failing ability of presenting an absolute presence and naturalness on stage. Her Chekhov and Ibsen character interpretations, in particular, are considered to be unbeaten.
Born and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden's second capital, Gunn Wållgren played a lot of amateur theatre in local groups in her teenage years. She knew very early that she wanted to become an actress although her father; the stern company manager Harald Wållgren, strongly disapproved: To get the theatre ideas out of her head, he even sent her overseas on a trip to Switzerland. However, the acting dreams only increased as she strolled by the coast of Lake Constance and had only gotten worse by the time she returned. Carrying a tremendous personal shyness and insecurity (which came to define and restrict her private persona all her life) she secretly applied for the Royal Dramatic Theatre's acting school in Stockholm (in 1934) – and was admitted on first try, at age 21.
Gunn Wållgren's first major role at the Royal Dramatic Theatre as "premiere actress" became the playful daughter Mildred in Eugene O'Neill's beautiful play Ah, Wilderness! (a very successful and long-running production) in 1936. Winning the critics' and the audience's heart in her part she received an immediate contract with the Royal Dramatic Theatre after her graduation from drama school in 1937. Even though she came to work at different theatres all her life, she always returned to the national stage. Some master performances by Wållgren on stage include her Sorel Bliss in Noël Coward's Hay Fever in 1937, Celia in Shakespeare's As You Like It 1938 (directed by Alf Sjöberg), the strong portrayal of Curley's wife in the original Swedish staging of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men in 1940, Iphigenia in Goethe's Iphigenia in Tauris 1941, her Ophelia in the classic 1942 staging of Hamlet (opposite Lars Hanson in the title role), Mary Grey/Joan of Arc in Joan of Lorraine by Maxwell Anderson in 1948, Catherine Sloper in The Heiress by Ruth and Augustus Goetz in the 1950/51 season, Indra's daughter in the Olof Molander-staging of Strindberg's A Dream Play 1955, Nina in Chekhov's The Seagull 1955, Masha in Chekhov's Three Sisters 1958, Isabella in Shakespeare's Measure for Measure 1958, Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House 1962, Gerda in Strindberg's Storm 1964, Mrs. Alving in Ibsen's Ghosts 196?, the grand portrayal of Madame Liubov Andreievna Ranevskaya in The Cherry Orchard by Chekhov in 1967, Martha Brewster in Arsenic and Old Lace in 1970, the title role of Agnes in Kent Andersson's 1972 play, Lena in Fugard's Boesman and Lena 1977; and the role of Ethel Thayer in Sista sommaren (play based on the Oscar winning film On Golden Pond, starring Katharine Hepburn in the same part) in 1981.
Her film debut came with Sonja in 1943, but her break-through came with Kvinnor i fångenskap the same year, where Wållgren portrayed a young prisoner on the run. Being "of the theatre" Gunn Wållgren filmed sporadically during her life. But whenever she turned to the big screen she was "The Actress". Ranked absolutely equivalent to Ingrid Bergman back in Sweden at the time, both in beauty and in talent (in Sweden even considered some notches higher than Bergman as an actress) she delivered electrifying performances in films such as Flickan och djävulen (The Girl And The Devil) (opposite Stig Järrel) 1944, Var sin väg (Each To His Own Way) 1946, Medan porten var stängd (While The Door Was Locked) 1946 (written & directed by Hasse Ekman), Kvinna utan ansikte (Woman Without A Face) 1947 (with an early script by Ingmar Bergman), Glasberget (Mountain Of Glass) 1953 (directed by Hasse Ekman) and Klänningen (The Dress) 1964 (directed by Olof Molander with script by Vilgot Sjöman), among others.
Her supporting part in Gunnel Lindblom's debating drama Sally och friheten (1981) (Sally and Freedom), about a woman dealing with the painful memories and reality of an abortion, later in life rendered her Sweden's most prestigious film award, the Guldbagge Award (the Golden Beetle), for Best Actress.
She was highly praised everywhere for her warm and sober portrayal of the grandmother – the immediate centre of the Ekdahl family - in Ingmar Bergman's colourful film Fanny och Alexander (1982). The role was to be her very last, as shortly after the shooting finished she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Her condition deteriorated quickly and she died on 4 June 1983; ten months later Bergman's film was awarded with 4 Oscars, one for Best Foreign Language Film, at the Academy Awards.
Gunn Wållgren was married to 1) Erik "Hampe" Faustman (actor and film director) 1941-49 and; 2) Per-Axel Branner (stage director) 1954-75 (his death). She had two daughters (from her marriage with Faustman); Susanne and Elaine.
- 1982 - Fanny and Alexander
- 1981 - Sally och friheten
- 1978 - Strandvaskeren
- 1977 - Bröderna Lejonhjärta (aka Astrid Lindgren's The Brothers Lionheart)
- 1976 - Förvandlingen (aka Kafka's The Metamorphosis) (TV-theatre)
- 1974 - Rulle på Rulseröd (mini series)
- 1972 - Mannen som slutade röka (aka The Man Who Gave Up Smoking)
- 1970 - Söderkåkar (mini series)
- 1970 - Frida och hennes vän (mini series)
- 1969 - Miss and Mrs Sweden
- 1967 - Gengångare (aka Ibsen's Ghosts) (TV-theatre)
- 1967 - Fadren (aka Strindberg's The Father) (TV-theatre)
- 1966 - Tartuffe (TV-theatre)
- 1966 - Kvinnas man (TV-theatre)
- 1966 - Asmodeus (TV-theatre)
- 1964 - Klänningen (aka The Dress)
- 1953 - Glasberget
- 1948 - Var sin väg
- 1947 - Kvinna utan ansikte (aka Woman Without A Face)
- 1946 -While the Door Was Locked
- 1946 - Begär
- 1945 - Resan bort
- 1945 - Brott och straff (Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment
- 1944 - Kejsarn av Portugallien (Selma Lagerlöf's The Emperor of Portugallia)
- 1944 - Flickan och djävulen
- 1943 - Ordet
- 1943 - Sjätte skottet
- 1943 - Kvinnor i fångenskap)
- 1943 - Sonja
- The Eugene O'Neill Award (1959)
- The Swedish Theatre Critics' Award (1962)
- The Guldbagge Award for Best Actress (1981)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Gunn Wållgren.|
- Gunn Wållgren at the Internet Movie Database
- Gunn Wållgren at Find-A-Grave.com
- Complete list of Gunn Wållgren's stage work at the Royal Dramatic Theatre (Swedish)