Beautiful and radiant, Swedish actress Charlotte af Geijerstam (aka Charlotte Emma) has gained a foothold in American entertainment after quite a troublesome journey: A difficult childhood followed by years of indecisiveness, has finally given way to courage, determination and a sense of awakening.
At the end of his play A Streetcar Named Desire, Tennessee Williams has his tragic heroine Blanche Dubois say: “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”
Although there’s nothing remotely tragic about Swedish actress Charlotte af Geijerstam (aka Charlotte Emma), that kind of faith has certainly been a guiding light in her own life.
“I was on my way to New York, to study acting,” she says when we meet on a sunny day at a New York café, “but I didn’t know anyone here and I had nowhere to live. Next to me on the airplane sat a man, a complete stranger, and we started talking. When we arrived in New York, he found me a hotel room, which he paid for, and supplied me with newspapers and ads about rooms for rent. He was very nice and never asked for anything in return.”
Charlotte’s life seems sprinkled with such important messengers and fairy godmothers, the kind who step in when things seem like they’re about to fall apart, just in time to deliver the good news.
Her childhood in Falun, Sweden, is something she describes as “kind of rough.”
“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I had no sense of belonging in life. I guess I just had no happiness in life.”
She studied at the Ballet Academy in Stockholm but was sidetracked by a model agency, which sent her on assignments throughout Europe.
“Modeling definitely wasn’t what I wanted to do,” she shrugs. “But then a woman suggested a spiritual retreat, and that was the beginning of an endless series of spiritual workshops for me. It was beautiful because I shifted from thinking into feeling, and I learned a new way to relate to life. I got to experience love and hurt and not just talk about it, and I learned to experience myself as me, not through someone else’s eyes.”
After years of struggling with no real focus, this spiritual awakening eventually led her onto the path of acting.
“I still didn’t know what to do in life, until one day somebody told me I should do what I was meant to do: Go to New York, study at the Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute and become an actress. I had never acted before or heard of Strasberg, but suddenly it seemed perfectly right. Of course I should act! Three weeks later I was on my way. I picked up my student visa en route to the airport.”
As if in a fairy tale, Charlotte progressed at Lee Strasberg and was quickly moved up into the advanced classes.
“I felt it in my body, that it was right,” she now says.
Nothing’s novel about turning pain into something artistic, as sadness often produces an interesting kind of vibrato. But it takes an enormous amount of lust and discipline to mold all emotional baggage into work and make it stick. Charlotte continued to take classes with acting coaches and teachers like Harold Guskin and Austin Pendleton, she has played Miss Julie in August Strindberg’s play by the same name, she was filmed as Holly Golightly for an episode of “CSI: New York,” and can be seen in the upcoming movie Let Them Chirp Awhile. She even went Bollywood with a part in the movie Kank…all while working as a counselor; Charlotte was recently added to the faculty of Harvard’s Negotiation Insight Initiative program as a spiritual counselor.
“New York really lets you flower,” she says. “I am not as fragile anymore. I stand steady, I am no longer a victim. What I want now is an interesting part in a feature film. So often you get typecast, which is sad, because as an actress you want to stretch, but I also think that there’s something Nordic that colors me and makes me hard to place. Perhaps I am more obviously layered than other actresses.”
Nordic is a word that comes up a lot. For Charlotte it means “knowing the darkness and silence within; to be down-to-earth,” she explains. “I feel there’s something Swedish in that. I appreciate now, finally, the grounds that have shaped me. Last year I went home for Christmas, and I felt very connected to the grounds there, to nature. I’m coming into womanhood, and I definitely feel I am a Nordic woman.”
Text: Eva Stenskär
Photography: Nikolaj Alsterdal
More info on Charlotte: www.nordicsecret.com
Other articles on People /
In Touch with Creativity
A Danish Scheherazade
Straight talk with Walter Mondale
Bioscience advocate draws on Scandinavian roots
Nick and Eddie owner marches to different beat
Finnish through osmosis
Framing the Future:
[Still] not politics as usual
He drives how GM supplies its business
At home in the universe
Izabella Scorupco: Bond girl (Golden Eye)
Entrepreneurship and Innovation
Stellan Skarsgård: Man of Character
IKEA’s Ingvar Kamprad
Jonas Åkerlund:"Oh, that's Madonna"