A blonde German leading lady, her stage career began in Zurich in 1919, then she put in appearances all over Europe and on Broadway, gaining an international reputation as one of the finest actresses of her time; she became a favorite of celebrated German stage director Max Reinhardt. Bergner's film career began in Germany in 1923, leading to great success there in fey gamine roles until Hitler's rise to power in 1933; then she and her husband, German film director Dr. Paul Czinner (who directed most of her films to that point), moved to England, where she continued her stage and screen work. Her performance as Rosalind in As You Like It (1936), directed by Czinner, was the raison d'etre for the movie -- Bergner having done it successfully on-stage in Germany -- but her German accent and mannered acting were considered detriments to what was otherwise a potentially fine film. In his 1986 autobiography A Life In Movies, director Michael Powell revealed that Bergner was originally cast in his 1941 film 49th Parallel in the role of Anna, the young Hutterite girl, and contrived to be brought to Canada to shoot the exteriors and long shots of her scenes (the other British-based stars used doubles for their Canadian scenes). But while in Canada, she slipped across the border into the United States and refused to return to England to shoot her scenes -- as a result, the role was re-cast with Glynis Johns, and became something of a breakthrough for her, while Bergner didn't return to movies until 1952.
After the war she took up an international stage career again and occasionally appeared in German films. Bergner was nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her work in Escape Me Never (1935), which was also a stage vehicle of hers. She appeared in only one Hollywood production, the unsuccessful Paris Calling (1941) with Randolph Scott; her last film was the German The Pentecost Outing (1979).