With his oversize ears and equine face, Bertil Guve lacks the Tom Sawyer cuteness of a typical child star. What he resembles instead is a young Ingmar Bergman, which almost surely is why the Swedish director chose the boy for his loosely autobiographical movie, Fanny and Alexander. But the critics, who are certain to list the film on year-end 10 Best lists, were enchanted by Guve’s sensitive performance as the offspring of a wealthy family in turn-of-the-century Sweden.
For Bertil, now 13, it’s all a lovely surprise. When he was asked to audition for the Alexander role, he wasn’t excited. “At the time, I didn’t know who Ingmar Bergman was,” he says. His mother briefed him on Bergman’s international stature as the director of such classics as Persona, Wild Strawberries and Cries and Whispers, and that changed Bertil’s attitude. “Then I became nervous,” he says. “After I found out he was so famous, I was very nervous indeed.” He needn’t have worried. Despite Bergman’s reputation as a demonic taskmaster, Bertil had no trouble on the set. “He was one of the nicest persons I ever met,” Guve says. “We would make jokes before shooting.”
Delighted with the movie—although hypercritical of his own deservedly praised performance—Bertil especially enjoyed traveling last June with mother Berit and sister Ana, 14, to the film’s premieres in New York and Los Angeles. Disneyland was his favorite sight. His greatest discovery was baseball. An instant convert, he treasures a bat and a ball autographed by the L.A. Dodgers. “When we got home from America, I was still too excited to sleep,” he says. “So I took Ana out in the yard at 4 in the morning for batting practice.”
Bertil lives with Mom, an administrative secretary, in a three-bedroom villa overlooking a birch forest in a Stockholm suburb. His parents are separated; his Spanish father, José Maria Gonzales Castro, is a sales manager in Madrid. Until he was 7, Bertil lived in Spain (where he still spends summer vacations), and he is fluent in Spanish and English as well as Swedish. “I am 100 percent Spanish, 100 percent Swede, and 100 percent Bertil,” he says.
Each day he travels more than an hour to attend a school for musically gifted students, where he is studying piano. Despite a 9-to-5 shooting schedule for Fanny and Alexander that stretched from September 1981 through March 1982, Bertil kept up with his classes by devoting Saturday and Sunday to homework. He also continued as a member of a popular barbershop quartet that performs in elegant restaurants and for swanky private parties.
His international success in Fanny and Alexander hasn’t skewed Berth’s perspective. “It hasn’t affected our lives in any decisive way,” his mother says. “It’s a marvelous thing to happen—but it did happen.” Meaning it was a stroke from the blue, and it’s over. Not a stage mother, Berit views the movie as an enjoyable experience, not a launching pad for her son’s career (Bertil previously had acted in just one TV drama).
Berth’s schoolmates kid him good-naturedly about his new visibility. “My face gets red when people recognize me,” he says. “So when friends saw me on the subway or the bus, they would say, ‘Well, hello, Bertil Guve of Ingmar Bergman’s new film.’ Then, of course, I would blush.” As much as he liked acting, Bertil doesn’t know whether he’ll be doing it in the future. “There is nothing I’m very, very good at, and I’m not yet decided as to what I want to do as a profession,” he says. “But when I decide, I want to be one of the best.” Judging from his work in Fanny and Alexander, that’s a realistic ambition.