Best-known for her ten seasons on the reality show Swedish Hollywood Wives, Gunilla Persson opens up about her rise to fame in this exclusive interview with Swedish Press. “Nothing is acting. Everything is real. There is nothing fake about me,” she says.
Gunilla Persson, 63, made her television debut as a participant in the reality show Svenska New York-fruar (Swedish New York wives) in 2010. The show lasted only one season, but the producers were not ready to part with Gunilla, who was promptly offered a spot on reality hit Swedish Hollywood Wives, if she moved to Hollywood.
“It was an easy decision and I’ve never regretted it,” says Gunilla who came to the US as a model in the 80’s.
Gunilla was born in Norrköping in 1958. In 1983, she participated in the modelling competition, “The Face of the 80’s”, in Swedish women’s magazine Damernas Värld. One of the judges was Eileen Ford, co-founder of the world-renowned Ford Modelling Agency, who offered Gunilla a modelling contract.
“I moved to New York City, but filmed commercials in LA and spent a lot of time here,” Gunilla recalls. So when the opportunity to move arose, Gunilla was excited. She left the Big Apple for Hollywood and soon became one of the most famous – and controversial – stars of the show. While filming Swedish Hollywood Wives, Gunilla also joined the Swedish celebrity reality series Realitystjärnorna på godset (Reality Stars at the Manor). In 2015, she got her own show called Gunilla tycker till (Gunilla States Her Opinion), followed by The Gunilla Show in 2017. She has also recorded a music video with rapper Dogge Doggelito. Most recently, we’ve seen her as Stig’s sambo in food chain ICA’s new commercial.
How would you describe yourself? Who is Gunilla Persson?
“I am a very loyal and positive person who dares to do things that most people don’t dare. And I’m not talking about climbing mountains or bloody downhill skiing, or physically dangerous things, but mentally I believe I am stronger than most people as I deal with life and death on a daily basis.”
Gunilla is referring to her role as caretaker of her 96-year-old mother Iris who suffers from dementia and Alzheimer’s.
“On her 85th birthday I took her out of the home she was at in Humlegården [Sweden] and where I don’t think she could have lasted more than another three months,” says Gunilla.
Since then, Iris has lived with Gunilla and television audiences across Scandinavia have become acquainted with her throughout the show, as well as with Gunilla’s daughter Erika, now 19 years old.
After a decade on the air, Swedish Hollywood Wives did its last season in 2019. Over the years, many women came and went, but Gunilla, along with fellow star Maria Montazami, remained throughout.
What set the two of you apart?
“Maria Montazami and I were the driving forces, the engines that propelled the show since we managed to get so much publicity and so many fans. I was queen of the press. It is important, for good and for bad, to stay connected to the audience.”
What was the best part of the show for you?
“Getting to show off my family! Erika and her talent, my mother. To be able to share with other people around Scandinavia how we live, think and are as people. That’s what reality TV is all about, to give of oneself and show the world who you are. I have so many funny video clips that will live on forever. Long after my death, people will say that I did legendary television.”
Over the years, Gunilla has been involved in her fair share of heated discussions and fights on the show, some of which have turned physical. After one such incident, Gunilla accused one of her co-stars of attempted murder. The episode, available on the YouTube channel “Gunilla Persson World” has garnered much attention and many views.
How much of what we see on television is the real Gunilla and how much is acting?
“Nothing is acting. Everything is real! There is nothing fake about me and absolutely nothing that is made up or twisted. I am who I am and who you see on TV is who I am.”
You have been accused of provoking others on the show. What are your thoughts on that?
“The audience isn’t interested in kafferep [Swedish fika tradition]. It’s no fun watching people eat cookies in peace and quiet. Life is controversy and I’m very good at standing up for myself and my opinions.”
Since you know that the audience is looking for controversy, is that something that you and the other participants on the show consciously create?
“No, our conflicts have grown naturally. It is not something we have rehearsed or scripted in any way. These are situations that arise, and I’ve been the best at improvising and turning them into something interesting.”
You once studied journalism and started your career conducting celebrity interviews at Swedish Radio. How has that experience been of use since becoming a celebrity yourself?
“It has been great to have a background as a journalist. I know what journalists are after and I understand media. I’m also a good writer which has helped me a lot. I believe that God creates certain situations. He gives us different tasks in life, and he made me a reality star. I’ve always wanted to be famous.”
What is your relationship to the other Hollywood wives like today? Do you still spend time together?
“I stay in touch with Siv, Maria and my former nemesis Åsa, on social media. I have a good relationship with all Hollywood wives except Anna Anka because it’s impossible to be friends with her. She is crazy, mean, and lies about everything she does.”
Do you have any new, exciting projects on the go?
“Yes, but I’m not at liberty to discuss them. Let’s just say that I fly to Sweden on Sunday.”
Fans of Gunilla Persson and Swedish Hollywood Wives are advised to stay tuned!