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Roger Smith

At home with Ann-Margret:
We have a big house because of the children

In this interview, Ann-Margret tells us about her marriage with Roger, who gave up his career for her. "We're the best of friends", she says.

Ann-Margret and Roger Smith live on a hill above Hollywood. The house looks like a castle, and in the yard 2 dogs are sitting. The land is 7 acres.

I have read so much about Ann-Margret, almost too much, and I'm really curious about her. They say everything about her, from being a maneater, an ideal girl-next-door, super-talent, to being ruled over by her svengali husband. She's cheeky, sweet, calculating. She's born lucky, a love goddess, and she's had a fantastic career so far.

When I ring the bell, I wonder who she really is. She's a superstar in the U.S., and she never gives interviews in her own home. This is a rare occasion, as we know each other from before, and we're both Swedish.

A super-slim Ann-Margret opens the door. Her face has no make-up. She has a peach-colored dress and she's fresh as a daisy.

"I just did my own hair", she says. Husband Roger smiles. "Looking good", he says, then he retires to his study. Roger never takes part in interviews.

Ann-Margret brings me coffee, and offers me homemade cookies. She drinks camomile-tea. We're in a large and light room. Colors are green, white, yellow and pink. Both elegant and cosy.

"We've lived here for ten years", she says. "We've tried different colors, but these are the ones we like best. The house used to belong to Humphrey Bogarst and Lauren Bacall. Six years ago we received custody of Roger's children, and needed more space. We did the work ourselves".

Her soul is still Swedish, and her kitchen is the most Swedish one I've ever seen. There's Swedish bric-a-brac everywhere. A Swedish map is printed on the table cloth.

"I speak Swedish everyday with my mother", she says. "And last Christmas, my uncle Kalle Aronsson was here, my God, we spoke Swedish!"

Ann-Margret starts telling me about her life. She's 37 years old and born in Sweden. Her daddy was Gustav Olsson and mother is Anna. The family left Sweden for the U.S. when she was 5 1/2. She was a very shy child, and the cure for it was dancing lessons. She had to quit when her daddy was made redundant. That's when her mother took up cleaning just so A-M could go on dancing.

"Ever since I was 4, I've had this yearning to perform and entertain, I have no idea where it comes from. No-one in this family has ever done it, and it's that ambition that still urges me on. I'm actually the most happy when I work".

Ann-Margret went to university for a year, sang in a schoolband, and when she was 19, she left for Las Vegas, and looked up George Burns. A veteran in show-business, and well-known for his big heart. He saw the fire in Ann-Margret's heart and she was invited to perform on his TV-show.

Her break-through happened over night. As a completely unknown, she got to sing at the Academy Awards. She shook her hips, threw her head around, and snapped her fingers. "Shameless", some said. "That much sex around the Oscar isn't suitable", others said.

But when the show was over, offers streamed in. She did film after film, most of them got bad press. Ann-Margret was the new sex symbol, and was seen with a new man every night. She was 21 and drawn into show business, believing every agent, every movie producer, and took their advice seriously. Wild night with young millionaires were arranged. She played a game, worked hard, but wasn't taken seriously.

"I became a joke. Do you know what that feels like? I stopped reading reviews and articles. If I hadn't I wouldn't have made it. Then a critic said I was talented, and that I should be offered better parts. I was so happy that I cut it out of the magazine. I still keep it to this day. The critic's name was Vince Canby.

"It's funny with fame", Ann-Margret says. "When you're the new kid in town, everybody loves you. But if you continue to rise, that's when all meaness comes. As a celebrity, you're either a scandal or boring, there's no in-between. And that's sad".

Ann-Margret met her husband-to be, Roger Smith. He was a writer and an actor. He gave up his career for her and became her manager and producer. Since then, things have been on the up for Ann-Margret.

She did "Carnal Knowledge", "Tommy", "Beau Geste". Twice nominated for an Oscar. She has done several TV-shows, and appeared in nightclubs in Las Vegas, Miami and Lake Tahoe.

"Of course I've changed", she says. "After 32 films, the Oscar nominations and other awards, I finally have self-confidence".

She suddenly stops at the word 'self-confidence'.

"We were talking about it the other day, my mother and me. In Scandinavia, it seems, you're born without it, and we have to fight hard to get it. It's not that you think you're better than other people, it's more that you accept yourself as who you are, you like yourself the way you are, challenging your talent, take risks. I love a good challenge.

"My whole life I've had to fight my shyness. I don't like speaking in front of other people. Before I went on stage, I panicked, my heart beating, sweating, my hands were ice cold".

That's not the case anymore. "Partly thanks to Roger", she says. "These days, I'm taken seriously, both as an actress and and entertainer. And I almost died six years ago. That made me think".

She fell 7 metres from a platform, while performing live in Las Vegas. She broke her left arm, her chin and several bones in her face. She injured her knee, and it was a miracle she survived.

"When I woke up after being unconscious for 4 days, I felt so grateful. It killed almost all of my shyness and my panic. I still feel jittery going on stage, but not that black anxiety. Before the accident, I looked above the audience's heads, now I can see them in the eye and establish contact".

"I'm like a weatherman. Before a rain I feel like a 95 year-old, and when I'm nervous and tired, my left hand shakes. And my cheeks sound funny when I'm chewing. Not very romantic... Imagine, I'm having dinner with Roger, just the two of us, candlelights and everything... and my cheeks go chirp chirp...".

They got married in 1967, Roger, 45, has said: "Before we met, we had our separate careers, and we never saw each other. We just spoke on the phone. Life is too short to live like that. And I knew that Ann-Margret was more than just a great body with lots of hair".

Rumour has it, that Roger rules Ann-Margret's life with an iron fist. He's her manager and he decides everything. Is that true?

Ann-Margret laughs.

"Roger with the whip", she says. "There's noone on this earth that can make me do what I don't want to do. I'm the most stubborn person in the world. There was a time when I wasn't well, in 1971, when I let Roger take all my desicions, and that was nice, I needed it then. Normally, though, we take all desicions together".

Roger has three children from a previous marriage. Daughter Tracey, 19, and sons Jordan, 19 and Dallas, 16 years. They come home and visit during breaks. "That's when this place really comes to life".

"We've been together 14 years, me and Roger. We know each other well, and we complement each other. We strive to be honest with each other in all situations. We never argue about money,we don't flirt with others, threatening with divorce if something goes wrong. We never critiziseeach other publicly. We accept each other as we are.

"It may sound as an old cliché, but we actually are the best of friends. Roger has accepted me as I am. He doesn't care, for instance, that I can't cook".

Ann-Margret has a good life, she tells me.

"I have never been more relaxed than I am now, and never more happy. I'm strong and I candeal with stuff. WhenI think of my early days, how I could start to cry for the smallest thing... I'm grown up now".

She has matured.

"I thought I knew everything when I was 17. I was sphisticated and cocky. It's funny, but I guess it's only natural to mature. These days I enjoy every moment, and I'm definitely not afraid of getting older".

At the moment, she's shooting "Magic", where she plays a middle-aged woman, unhappy and married to a "daddy's boy" type. The part was written especially for her.

"It's a great part", she says. "I play a real woman with real feelings. It's a love story. You think at first, then it all gets scary. I can't leave my part, I bring it home. Luckily for me, I'm married to Roger, who has been an actor himself, so he understands. It would be hard for another man, he would think I was slipping away from him".

Ann-Margret has a one-month vacation every year.

"Then Roger and me and the children go to the sea, run, play, laugh a lot. No telephones, no deadlines to make.

"Tell Sweden I'm almost always happy", she says finally. "My mother's doing well, and I'm feeling great!"

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By Marianne Ruuth

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