I walked out of the theater, spellbound having just watched Everlasting Moments. As I talked to a colleague and prepared to go into the next screening, it was pure chance that I realized Maria Heiskanen sat a foot away! “Maria”? (me thinking Larsson) I asked, to which Maria Heiskanen looked up and said, “Yes”? We talked: Maria‘s involvement in the making of Everlasting Moments is a great story in itself. To truly appreciate the film, Maria told me the history on which it is based.
Documentary filmmaker and writer Agneta Ulfsäter-Troell, wife of director Jan Troell, researched her family history for a book. Agneta spent more than six years interviewing Maja (born in 1901), the oldest daughter of Maria Larsson, who was Agneta’s father's Aunt Mary. After some years and countless interviews, Maja happened to mention her mother had been a photographer: Agneta then compiled hundreds of photographs. It was about six years ago that Maria (Heiskanen) received a phone call from Agneta, saying they intended to make a movie about Maria Larsson and asked, “Will you send me your photo so when I write, I can look at you?” Naturally flattered since it is not often that actors have something written with them in mind, Maria sent her a photo; although she hoped to get the part, she did not dwell on it.
Approximately four years later, Maria was cast as Maria Larsson, the lead role in the film Everlasting Moments. For director Jan Troell casting is crucial; he relies on his heart and intuition. He pulls together the best production team in the industry as well and puts his trust in it, which motivates everyone to give their utmost. “I had the opportunity to work with the best in the industry and with a superbly written manuscript” Maria told me. To help her get into character, Maria received a copious amount of wonderful material from Agneta, including a great number of Larsson’s photographs. She studied the information, absorbed all knowledge relative to her character and people in the story, then set it aside. Maria trusts her intuition to create the character: “You could say I’m a method actor… I kept her (Maria Larsson) inside the whole time we were shooting, not easy for those closest to me. But, (a hint of wonder in her voice), it was very easy to say goodbye! I talked to Jan (Troell) while he was editing and I told him, O.K. you are there with Maria Larsson and all the other characters but I’m not ‘there’ anymore.”
Next, rehearsals began and the entire cast was brought together. Maria, not a mother, was a little worried about bonding with the many (18 to 19) child actors, primarily the older ones because convincing personal interaction was essential, yet when she talked to Troell about this, he said not to worry. Rehearsals included children workshops where they practice improvisation, which put everyone at ease and brought them closer together.
“His (Jan Troell) way of working is so special.” Maria told me. “He really trusts his actors and that creates a special feeling, and as an actor you trust yourself and take risks.” To work with Troell is very distinctive: “a never-ending relationship between him behind the camera, and me acting… I’m aware his camera is following me but, I don’t know whether it is focused on my face or, my fingers drumming on the table.” “With the lead role it is so fantastic because you have the time and space to elaborate on the character… and more demanding, because I know I can’t give up. I have a lot of doubts as an actor with my character, but I have learned from Jan that doubt belongs to the creative process — doubt can be positive if used in a constructive way, not negatively.”
Production began in Sweden February 2007. Over a five-month period the cast rehearsed, approximately 60 days were spent filming, and they shot one-week in Hamburg inside photographer Pedersen’s atelier (the exterior was shot in Sweden). Maria surrounded herself with Larsson’s photographs — hung them on walls, arranged them on furniture surfaces — where they stayed during the production.
Jan Troell is Maria’s mentor: it is 1989, and Maria has just graduated from a theater high school in Helsinki. By sheer coincidence one morning she opens the newspaper and spots an audition announcement for two actors. Curiously, there is a long list of attributes for the male role, but the female role lists only age and height; Maria correctly that deduces they don’t yet know how the woman should be. She then realizes the audition is in two hours, and rushes so that she is the first one there! After auditioning hundreds of girls, Jan Troell chose 19-year-old Maria Heiskanen.
Il Capitano was made in 1990 and released in 1991; they worked together again in 1999, and now, this masterpiece. Everlasting Moments is Sweden’s film submission for the Foreign Language Oscar®.