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Isabella Rossellini and Jeremy Irons Honor the Centennial of Ingrid Bergman

The pair star in a new theatrical piece called The Ingrid Bergman Tribute at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

Ingrid Bergman as Alicia Huberman in Alfred Hitchcock's 1946 film Notorious.

"She was the most luminous of actresses," muses stage and screen titan Jeremy Irons about the legendary Swedish film star Ingrid Bergman. Irons shares a sentiment felt by anyone who has ever seen a film in which Bergman starred during her five-decade career. Whether you're watching the three-time Academy Award winner in classic dramas like the Casablanca and Gaslight, or in comedies like Cactus Flower, you're truly mesmerized.

When Bergman's daughter, the equally noteworthy actress and author Isabella Rossellini, called Irons and asked him to appear in a theatrical homage to her mother's work, he couldn't say no. The Ingrid Bergman Tribute, a two-hander in which Rossellini and Irons star, takes place September 12 at Brooklyn Academy of Music's Howard Gilman Opera House.

Celebrating the centennial of Bergman's birth (August 29, 1915), the show will incorporate Rossellini's memories of her mother along with interviews, letters, and previously unreleased clips and images from Bergman's archive. Rossellini and Irons will get to sink their teeth into Bergman's work, and will take turns reading from her autobiography, as well.

In anticipation of the show, the two actors spoke about their favorite Bergman films, their mutual admiration of her work, and their newfound theatrical partnership.

Isabella Rossellini (left) and Jeremy Irons (right) star in a new stage tribute to Rossellini's mother, the actress Ingrid Bergman.

Isabella, how did this project come about?
Isabella Rossellini: There is an autobiography of my mom that is out of print. When we reached mama's centennial, I knew museums would do retrospectives on the work, and I thought maybe I could do readings from the autobiography and illustrate it with photos. This grew to be a much bigger thing. Photo rights and clip rights are very expensive. I had a producer say, "Isabella, you're crazy! You can't do this like you imagine it. We need to buy the rights. It cannot be done for one or two museums; it has to be a show." So, a forty-five minute lecture became an hour and a half.

What were your inspirations for the piece, and what will it entail?
Isabella: Once I understood that I couldn't do what I initially thought, I remembered seeing two presentations about two Italian directors, Visconti and Fellini, done by the same director, Guido Torlonia. There were two actors onstage; one year it was Tilda Swinton and Richard Gere. They were reading letters, reviews, a piece of a diary, and they were illustrated with photos, news reels, interviews, and in an hour and a half, Guido Torlonia was really able to capture the character of these [directors] in our minds.

There is an enormous amount of material about my mom, but I don't really want to go there...I asked Guido, "Can we just take [my mother's autobiography] and make sure we just hear her voice?" [Torlonia] and I worked closely [on that], but I also gave him the freedom [to do] his art.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in the 1942 film classic Casablanca.

Jeremy, how did you get involved?
Jeremy Irons: Isabella wrote and invited me...Never having worked with her, I felt it was a good opportunity. I have a deep admiration for her work, both out of Hollywood and Sweden.

Isabella: I called him and said, "Would you like to do this?"...Jeremy accepted right away, very generously...The reason why I asked Jeremy? Mama had an exceptional career. She worked in five languages [and] it's difficult to find any actors who speak five languages and are also very integrated in the United States, which is a difficult country to be accepted as a foreigner. Jeremy is a European, [and] like my mom, has a career in America, and has done theater, television, and film. I thought, in a way, their careers were similar.

Why did you decide on two actors instead of just you as you had initially planned?
Isabella: [Having two actors] gives it a little bit of variety. We are reading mother's autobiography, so it's always "I." [And] I wanted to have a male voice read letters that are from my father, from a director, a reviewer. It's easier to follow.

Isabella Rossellini reads from her mother's autobiography in the new stage production The Ingrid Bergman Tribute.
(photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music)

Do you have a favorite of Ingrid Bergman's films?
Jeremy: Probably Casablanca, where her performance is iconic, or her last motion picture, [Ingmar] Bergman's Autumn Sonata.

Isabella: She has a very wide range of films. She was a delightful comedienne in The Bells of St. Mary's and Cactus Flower, but we think of her more as a dramatic actress. I have a few favorites. Notorious from the Hollywood period. I love Stromboli from the period with my dad [director Roberto Rossellini]. Of course, Autumn Sonata is an incredible performance.

This is your first time working together. What is that like?
Jeremy: A true delight. We have known each other a little socially for many years.

Isabella: I always said it would be nice to work together.

Jeremy: She and the writers have done a tremendous job creating a deep and heartwarming portrait of her mother.

Isabella Rossellini and Jeremy Irons take the stage in The Ingrid Bergman Tribute.
(photo courtesy of Brooklyn Academy of Music)