The ticket is booked, the beloved car is sold, and the moving container is slowly making its way across the Atlantic. In just a couple of days, actor Ottiliana “I was Greta Garbo” Rolandsson grabs mini poodle Evert and returns to her native Sweden.
It’s been 18 years since actor Ottiliana Rolandsson first moved to the United States, leaving her home town Umea in the north of Sweden behind. Her first stop was New Orleans where she went to school and explored new forms of theater. Later on she has lived in various parts of Southern California: Irvine, Long Beach, Los Angeles County, Santa Barbara for several years and, most recently, Los Angeles once again.
Like so many other young people, Ottiliana moved to the U.S. to find ways to fulfill her dreams and ambitions. She wanted to act, to develop as a person and she was curious about the country and culture that had such a strong influence over Sweden and the world.
– I needed to get in touch with a culture that had the power to break down the strong “Law of Jante”* that us Swedes and Scandinavians grow up with. […] I dreamed of learning and growing as an artist and to create a platform to stand on, grow from and enable me to reach out to the world.
Looking back, she has certainly done all that, but, she says, life has also taken some unexpected turns.
– On a very personal level, I did not expect to get married, or to get divorced. There is a sadness in this, and a deep desire to create a better marriage with the right man.
On the artistic and professional level she has certainly developed as an actor, but she has also written screenplays, directed, and lectured in the performing arts. She took her studies all the way to a PhD, something she definitely had not planned to do when taking her first classes at the Delgado City College in New Orleans.
– It was a surprising, but absolutely wonderful experience. She fires of her deep and hoarse actor laugh. “I’ve definitely managed to downplay the Jante within me, even if he still exists. I’ve become more confident and I have a strong self esteem.”
For many Scandinavians in Southern California Ottiliana Rolandsson is first and foremost associated with Greta Garbo. Not so surprising – the theater monologue she wrote for an exhibition of Greta Garbo at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art in 2005 has been with her ever since, sometimes very intensely, other times simmering on the back burner. Over time, as she has come to know the main character better and collaborated with various people, the script has changed, evolved and traveled in new directions.
What is it like to be alone on stage during an entire performance?
– The period leading up to the actual performances is just really exciting and fun. It’s so creative and wonderful to work with other people during the entire production process. When the premiere is getting closer I completely panic and keep wondering why on earth I’ve gotten myself into this? But then, once I’m on stage, it’s just wonderful again. I’m calmer now than I was many years ago. I used to be so nervous I couldn’t talk before getting on stage. All I could do was to sit and meditate, completely undisturbed.
Her work on the monologue has also led to new projects and collaborations. When Julien’s Auction in Beverly Hills held its large Garbo auction in December 2012, Ottiliana attended as cultural ambassador for the Garbo Society in Hogsby, in the South of Sweden. The prices were sky high, but dressed up as the actor herself, she was able to call in four pairs of shorts (three to the society, one pair for herself ), and the auction house owners, Darren Julien and Martin Nolan, were very pleased with “Greta Garbo’s ” presence.
Most recently, the work of the Swedish actor icon has brought Ottiliana back to Sweden. During the past six months she has worked with various Garbo related projects in her native country, primarily in Stockholm and Högsby. Her play was set up at Strand Hotel in conjunction with the hotel’s grand opening of the Garbo suite, she has held readings of other Garbo plays in the Hall of Mirrors (Spegelsalen) at Grand Hotel, and she has made her debut as a TV-host .
One of the highlights of the trip came about as a result of a collaboration with the Garbo Society and the Högsby based organization Höllywood Studios, where she got the opportunity to do the show on Garbo’s home turf.
– We did two performances in a film studio [belonging to Höllywood Studios], something I have always dreamed of, since she was film actress. We had a full audience and the studio was set up with vintage chairs from an old movie theater nearby. There was a champagne reception held afterwards, it was amazing!
The collaboration between Ottiliana and Höllywood Studios will continue into the future. By means of a grant from the Regional Council in Kalmar County, “I was Greta Garbo ” will be transformed into an artistic feature film that will eventually be shown on television.
Ottiliana’s decision to move back to Sweden is by no means sudden; the thought has been brewing ever since she completed her graduate studies in 2010. Having family and friends so far away has always been tough and when some elderly women from the SWEA organization told her that if you live abroad for more than 20 years you’ll end up staying for good, she got somewhat stressed. When her beloved younger brother Mathias was seriously injured in a traffic accident in the summer of 2010 the distance to her family became unbearable; all she wanted was to return home immediately.
But her brother recovered and the urgency she had felt towards moving back sort of disappeared.
– I thought, well yes, I do want to move, but there’s no need to hurry home right this minute. She laughs.
– A good friend of mine who moved back to Europe came back after four years, telling me he was not finished yet. He told me, ‘ Make sure you do all that you came here for before you leave, otherwise you’ll always regret it.'”
For Ottiliana that has meant spending more time in the Hollywood culture and for the past two years she has done just that. Not least through the work of the Garbo show, which has been set up at two different theaters in the Hollywood area.
Unlike the last time she lived in Los Angeles and barely got to know any Scandinavians, she has also dived head first into the local Swedish community. She’s been a part of the Swedish church choir, served on the SWEA Los Angeles board and film committee, been active in the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and mingled at Scandinavian Mixers. She was the MC at SWEA Christmas Fair in December last year and has gotten to know many Swedes and Scandinavians. She feels more rooted in Los Angeles now; she knows she has a lot to come back to.
If she previously found it difficult to decide just when to move back, her six month sabbatical in Sweden last year made the decision easy. The entire time, no matter what she was doing – working, taking saunas, hanging out with friends and family – she felt that now is the time.
– When I came home to Sweden, as soon as I landed, it was like singing in my bones – ‘stay stay stay.’ I felt that so strongly the entire time and I decided, ok, I better take the bull by the horns and trust that it is the right choice. I can never know for sure.
Ottiliana did trust her gut feeling, she is all packed and ready to go and looking forward to a new chapter in her life. The making of a movie out of her Garbo-monologue is coming up soon, and her home town, Umea, is the European Capital of Culture this year. Several projects are in the planning stages and Ottiliana will participate in different ways.
While she’s excited about her move, Ottiliana has no intention of leaving the U.S. for good, quite the opposite. She’s not sure how yet, but she would very much like to work as a cultural ambassador between Sweden and the U.S., promoting cultural exchange between her two home countries. She is proud of Sweden, of Norrland and Umeå and she would love to do something significant and inspirational for her homeland – the future will tell how it will unfold.
How do you feel now that you’re leaving in just a couple of days? Melancholic? Calm? Absolutely wonderful?
– Deep down it’s a peaceful feeling, a calling for change and a strong conviction that my place is in Sweden right now. It’s also somewhat scary not knowing what’s going to happen. I really do have to muster up some extra courage and fighting spirit. Also, it’s sad leaving dear friends. When a major change happens we tend to express our feelings more clearly, we want others to really know how we feel. I have tried to be open about my love and appreciation for those who are close to me personally and professionally. And I’ve got such a wonderful response, so much love, respect and appreciation. It’s amazing to be seen in such a beautiful light.
Text: Ingegerd Landstrom
Photo: Joshua Wood and Ingegerd Landstrom
Inspired by: The dream world, the subconscious, the mysterious and magical life in all things big and small.
Laughs at: As much as possible! I love to laugh, from giggling to laughing out load to tears streaming down my face. I think of humor as a great liberating force for healing and enhancement of awareness.
Couldn’t survive without: Love, meaningfulness , creativity.
Alternative career: Rock Star, midwife or globetrotter
Favorite hobbies: Creating things that fuel my passion and allows me to connect to my soul, to other people and to the world around me.
Things to do before leaving California: Ride the Ferris wheel at the Santa Monica Pier, go hiking at sunrise, take a cold dip in the ocean.
* “The “Jante Law” is used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success common in Sweden and the rest of the Nordic countries, the term refers to a mentality that de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.” ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jantelagen)