Lena Olin

Active - 1976 - 2019  |   Born - Mar 22, 1955 in Stockholm, Sweden  |   Genres - Drama, Romance, Thriller, Comedy

Share on

Biography by Sandra Brennan

Lena Olin is an internationally respected actress noted for the smouldering sensuality and free-spiritedness she brings to her roles. The daughter of Swedish actor Stig Olin, who starred in several early Ingmar Bergman films, she made her film debut in Kärleken (1980) while still in drama school. Like her father, Olin worked with Bergman and appeared in three of his films, including After the Rehearsal (1984), in a role Bergman created especially for her. Olin's first English-language role as the sexy mistress of a prominent Czech surgeon in The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988) is also her best known, though in 1989, she earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for portraying the survivor of a Nazi death camp in Paul Mazursky's Enemies: A Love Story. In 1994, she played one of her more offbeat parts, a lady mobster who takes on would-be assassin Gary Oldman in Romeo Is Bleeding. Back in Sweden, Olin is a prominent member of the Royal Dramatic Theater, where she is known for appearing in a wide variety of productions ranging from Shakespeare to Strindberg and temporary works.

As Olin's popularity grew throughout the 1990s, audiences worldwide would bear witness to her talents through a series of remarkably diverse roles. From the straight drama of Night Falls on Manhattan (1997) to the wildly irreverent antics of Mystery Men (1999), audiences could never be quite sure what to expect next from her, and that was just the way she liked it. Even if every film Olin was in wasn't necessarily box-office gold, they were usually compelling. Following the lukewarmly received Roman Polanski thriller The Ninth Gate, Olin earned a BAFTA nomination for Best Supporting Actress as a result of her small role in her husband Lasse Hallström's arthouse hit Chocolat (2000). A high-profile part in the eagerly anticipated Queen of the Damned followed in 2002, and Olin's next big role would find her the mother of a haunted family in Jaume Balagueró's stylish chiller Darkness. Though most of her work leading up to the new millennium had been feature-oriented, she took to the small screen that same year for a season of the popular sci-fi action series Alias, playing lead character Sydney Bristow's (Jennifer Garner) enigmatic, long-presumed-dead mother. Endearing herself to Alias fans with her enthralling blend of toughness and sensuality, Olin was even nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work on the show. Returning to the big screen for roles in The United States of Leland (2002) and Hollywood Homicide (2003), Olin next geared up for the humorous crime drama The Swedish Job in 2004. Olin would spend the next several years appearing a number of acclaimed films like The Reader, Remember Me, and Devil You Know.

Movie Highlights

See Full Filmography


  • Worked as a hospital orderly and a substitute teacher before becoming an actor.
  • Flunked her first drama-school audition at Stockholm's prestigious Royal Dramatic Theatre.
  • Was mentored by Swedish director (and family friend) Ingmar Bergman, who hired her as an extra in 1976's Face to Face and as a maid in 1982's Fanny and Alexander.
  • Largely unknown to U.S. audiences until her acclaimed performances in 1988's The Unbearable Lightness of Being and, a year later, Enemies, A Love Story.
  • Has collaborated on two films with director-husband Lasse Hallström: Chocolat (2000) and Casanova (2005).