Though born a citizen of Norway, Liv Ullmann did not set foot in her homeland until she was seven years old. The daughter of a Norwegian engineer stationed in Japan at the time of her birth, Ullmann moved to Canada when World War II broke out, then relocated to Norway in 1946, where she received the bulk of her education. Deciding upon an acting career, she studied at the Webber-Douglas academy in London. Ullmann began her stage work in Stavanger and Oslo, and in the late '50s, she starred in the Norwegian production of The Diary of Anne Frank.
In films from 1959, Ullmann's breakthrough role was catatonic actress Elisabeth Vogler in Ingmar Bergman's Persona (1966), a part she landed primarily because of her striking resemblance to co-star Bibi Andersson. Bergman became Ullmann's mentor and paramour; they lived together for several years, during which time Ullmann bore the director a daughter named Linn Ullmann, who has occasionally appeared in her mother's films. Ullmann was honored with numerous New York Film Critics Awards during the early '70s; she also earned Oscar nominations for her work in The Emigrants (1971) and Bergman's Face to Face (1976), and has received eight honorary college degrees.
An attempt to establish herself in Hollywood films was largely unsuccessful, though Ullmann received a Golden Globe nomination for her performance in 40 Carats (1973). She fared rather better on Broadway, starring in a 1977 revival of Anna Christie and a 1979 musical adaptation of I Remember Mama. In 1977, she wrote her memoirs, Changing, prematurely as it turned out, since she had many years' work ahead of her. During the '90s, Ullmann turned to directing, helming the theatrical features Sofie (1992) and Kristin Lauransdotter (1995) (both of which she also scripted), and the 1996 Swedish TV miniseries Enskilda Samtal.
In 2000 she had arguably her biggest directorial success with the drama Faithless, and in 2003 she returned to one of her signature roles in Saraband, playing opposite Erland Josephson yet again in Ingmar Bergman's sequel to Scenes from a Marriage.