The ‘Demon Theater’ Brings Ingmar Bergman’s Plays Back to Life

Meet Anna Lerbom, a Swedish actress, director, writer, and learn about why she is so passionate about acting and what it was that kept her going although she is in a tough business. Find out how she and her husband run their own theater from their home in L.A.

Has acting always been a calling for you?

Anna: I can’t remember a time where I did not want to be an actor, so yes always.

Why does bringing life to a stage feel so special for you?

Anna: It’s so hard to explain what happens to you when you are on stage and you connect with the character, the audience and the text. It’s a new universe that is being created for that short time. It’s kind of like a high I think, when people explain how it’s like taking LSD or some crazy drug, that’s what it’s feels like. But it’s a bit healthier.

michael and anna

Did you get any chance to try acting back on the Swedish island Gotland where you grew up?

Anna: I have acted every time I got a chance during my whole life. I grew up close to a little Fisherman Village and there is this big rock I stood on, performing for the fisherman when they were cleaning there nets out. Then I acted in school plays and every Friday for “fun hour.” My class mates probably hating every second of it.

How come that you one-day decided to move and try your luck in Los Angeles and how long ago was that?

Anna: It was kind of like an accident that I ended up in LA. I had got some insurance money from my old job after I broke my leg and I was very much into films at the time. I went to LA for three months just to hang out and get the feel of Hollywood. While I was here I found Lee Strasberg Institute that I had wanted to go to since I was ten years old so I applied and got accepted. When I came back home I could not get a student loan so my mom loaned me the money to go back and go to school. I had been there for about three months when I got a scholarship from Mrs. Anna Strasberg and I stayed for four years. I was getting ready to move back to Sweden when I ran in to my husband to be so I’m still here, 14 years later.

the stronger matter of a soul
A part of the Demon Theater ensemble. From left to right; Anna Lerbom, Inessa Gunther and Nina Sallinen by photographer Michael Moon

I assume it must have been a big culture shock for you to arrive in L.A. considering your upbringing in a small place in the country during the 70s and the 80s. What did that feel like? Was it scary or mainly fun and exciting?

Anna: Oh, it was scary! The first couple of nights I ended up in a sleazy hotel in Down Town where I had to climb over two homeless guys sleeping in the doorway to get in. I cried a lot in the beginning. But the fun and excitement took over after I moved to a hostel in Hollywood. I have always had an easy time making friends so it was fun! It is a lot different from Gotland and Sweden, everything is faster, bigger, crazier and I like it!

Acting is a tough business, were you able to work as an actress or did you have to work as something else?

Anna: I have done a few movies and plays here. In between I have worked as a clown and different characters like Barney and Elmo at children’s birthday parties, I was chased once as Elmo with a gun, SCARY!! I have also been a waitress, baked pizzas, delivered muffins and painted houses. Right now I work as an extra in movies. If you don’t blink I can be seen in a lot of TV shows and movies.

Did/ do you ever feel like giving up?

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Anna Lerbom in action by photographer Agneta Lundberg

Anna: Yes! But I don’t know what else to do. I really, really suck at waiting tables and holding down a job for any period of time.

What was it that kept you going and how come that you have stayed in California all these years?

Anna: My husband Michael, with him I can do anything! We have started a theater company here, “Demon Theater,” which does only Ingmar Bergman’s writings on stage. We have gone from a tiny theater in Hollywood two years ago to going on a world tour this year. It is very exciting!

I’m happy to hear that you have found your true love! What was it that made you fall in love with him? What did he do to capture your heart?

Anna: Ghosts. It sounds silly but we connected over ghost stories that we both enjoy a lot. And then we found that we have a lot in common like books and theater.

Why did you and your husband Michael decide to establish the “Demon Theater” in L.A. and what is your goal with that?

Anna: We had been talking about doing something together forever when we in 2007 went to Bergman week in Sweden and saw “The Devils Eye” in a small barn there. So we build the theater around Ingmar Bergman and have got lots of help from the Bergman Foundation in Sweden. Everything has happened kind of quick and we are so far this year going to three cities in Germany, then Chicago and we are meeting about maybe going to Toronto this fall. And of course Faro, the island in Sweden where Bergman lived for one part of his life, and L.A.

Why is it called the “Demon Theater”?

Anna: Bergman had an anger fit on one of the first movies he worked on, I think he was assistant director on it and got the nick name “Demon Director.” So it’s a nod to him and his temper.

How many people work at your theater and what are their roles in your ensemble? I mean do they work as actors or do they work in the background with decor and stuff like that?

Anna: We run the theater out of our home and have to rent a stage when we have a production so it’s me and Michael doing pretty much everything. We get actors when we do productions and hire lighting and sound guys. I do the sets and props. We have an amazing girl, Jessica Dalager, that’s been helping us with costume. But all the paper work and promoting and things like that Michael and I do.

How come you are so passionate about Ingmar Bergman’s work? Has he had a big influence in your life?

Anna: I have never cared about Ingmar Bergman. To me he was just the old dude up on the island. I could not care less. Michael loved him and we only went to Bergman week for that reason. My biggest idol when I was a kid was Nils Poppe, he was God to me, and he was in “The Devils Eye.” I have got to know Bergman through his writing and I am falling for him that way. I have to translate everything for my husband and it is very interesting material. Sometimes I like the writing better than the films.

In a nutshell, what’s the greatest thing with Mr. Bergman as the world famous director, writer and producer he was according to you?

Anna: His writing. And that he pushed the envelope so much.

Did you ever get a chance to meet him considering he lived on an island next to yours when you were a kid?

Anna: I did not. I missed him by 15 minutes in 2007. My mom’s husband’s neighbor was his cook and he came by to visit her. Michael and I showed up 15 minutes later. I have worked with his son Mats on a movie, and auditioned for his other son Daniel when I was like 18 or 19.

What’s your favorite play with him?

Anna: I really like the one I’m working on now, “A Spiritual Matter,” which I will perform on Bergman week this year. I like the one we did last year too, “The Day Ends Early.” It’s hard to pick a favorite.

When and where does Bergman week take place? And what can people who decide to go there do during that week?

Anna: Bergman week starts June 25 on Faro, Sweden. There are tons of things to do more then come see our play! They are showing movies and have lectures etc. You can learn more about this week on their website.

Have you ever felt daunted by the task to translate Ingmar Bergman’s great work into English?

Anna: Oh, yes! Sometimes I have to translate his Swedish into my Swedish before I can translate it into English. I was super scared last year when we went to Bergman week! It was a little bit like jumping right in to the snake pit, with an audience that knows Bergman way better than me. I was so proud when they gave us a standing ovation and Inga Langre came up to me after with tears in her eyes saying: “This had Ingmar all over it” and gave me hug. That’s a moment that keeps you going.

What a nice memory! I hear that Inga Langre knows a great deal about Mr. Bergman. Who is she?

Anna: Inga Langre was in the early movies of Bergman and throughout his carrier. She is an amazing actor! I saw her in the American version of “Girl with the Dragoon tattoo”

What do you like the most, to sit by the desk and translate or direct or act in front of a big audience?

Anna: Act! The audience don’t have to be big though, three fisherman cleaning there nets or 500 at the Dramatic theater is the same to me.

And which of the above tasks do you find most challenging to do?

Anna: Directing. It’s a balance to get the actor to do what you need them to do and to not hurt their feelings. I did get really “demon mad” once when an actor refused to do what I asked her to, saying she could not, and I had seen her do it over and over before. It’s not fun to have to get angry.

How often does your theatre group come together and perform for the people?

Anna: We try at least to have one performance a year. Last year we only did Sweden and this year we are going over the world. If there is a stage and we can raise money to get there we will perform there.

I wish you the best of luck with that or maybe I shouldn’t say that, I have heard that it is bad luck to say that in the theater world. But what do you say to each other when you wish someone to be successful?

Anna: Break a leg! But we don’t say it anymore after one of the actors last year tore a ligament and had to do the whole play on crutches. We say “go get them” and “please don’t suck”! Oh, and we do the Swedish custom of kicking each other in the butt.

Well, then I have nothing else to say but go get them and please don’t suck!

To find out more about the “Demon Theatre” please visit their website about where you can go and watch them perform or for contact information if you are interested in having them to perform a Bergman play on a stage near you! For the latest news please follow them on their facebook site!

Anna-Stina Johansson is an author and poet from Lapland, Sweden, a graduate from Long Ridge Writers Group. Her children’s book about animals was published in 2008.