Getting her break in Hollywood in the 1997 courthouse horror/thriller “The Devil’s Advocate” opposite Al Pacino and Keanu Reeves, Danish actress Connie Nielsen, 48, has made her opportunities in the film and TV industry count. From her role as a member of the Roman aristocracy in the Oscar-winning drama “Gladiator” to playing a strip club owner in the dark comedy “The Ice Harvest,” Nielsen’s career has progressed nicely since moving to the U.S. from Italy in 1996.
Currently, Nielsen can be seen in the action film “3 Days to Kill” as Christine Renner, a loving mother whose CIA agent ex-husband (Kevin Costner) has terminal cancer and must go on a final mission so he can receive an experimental drug that could possibly save his life. Along with her time on the big screen, Nielsen stars in the TV drama/thriller “The Following” with Kevin Bacon. Later this year, she will bare some skin in director Lars Von Trier’s two-part erotic drama “Nymphomaniac.”
During our interview, Nielsen talked about Costner’s transition into an action star, her experience working with late director Harold Ramis, and lets us know what we can expect from a film as shrouded in controversy as Von Trier’s latest opus.
It looks like your co-star Kevin Costner has suddenly become the go-to-guy for studios looking for a middle-aged action star. Earlier this year, we saw him in “Jack Ryan” and now he’s in “3 Days to Kill.” I think Liam Neeson might be getting a little nervous.
Now that you’ve seen it first hand, how do you think he fits into these more physical roles?
I think he’s always been a physical actor. All his movies have that wonderful, full package that he is. He’s a great actor. He has a huge heart and great passion for the very important scenes. He’s built himself up to these heroic roles and he fits them so well. He’s always been a very athletic type of guy.
So, be honest, in a hand-to-hand fight – no weapons allowed – who would win, Kevin or Liam?
I’ve heard Kevin say they’re good friends. I really don’t know, but I don’t think Kevin would hurt a friend.
In the film, Kevin’s character is keeping some major secrets from his family. Being in a relationship with an assassin doesn’t sound like it would be very sustainable.
That’s exactly one of the problems for our characters. It’s not the fact that we didn’t love each other. We loved each other to pieces. The problem for us was that there was no trust. I couldn’t trust one word that he said was actually true. He knows my character is absolutely right about that. He knows he hasn’t been there for either me or our daughter. Yet, there is this enduring love – this thing that will not go away. These two people were meant to be together.
Back in 2005 you starred in the dark comedy “The Ice Harvest.” Can you talk about your experience working with director Harold Ramis? We’re, of course, extremely saddened by his sudden passing this week.
He was an incredible joy to work with. He was an incredibly generous person. He was a wonderful artist and an amazing thinker. He was someone who applied his very healthy skepticism to art but also was buoyed by his enduring love of humanity. This is a great loss. I’m really sad that he had to leave us this early.
How shocked are audiences going to be if they decide to go see Lars Von Trier’s “Nymphomaniac” later this year? Do you feel his films are less about shock value and present more complex issues about relationships and personal demons?
I think Lars speaks incredibly well for himself. I think he is definitely one of those people who are misunderstood. He is a true artist and someone who refuses to let us hide behind our socially acceptable ideas about – in this case – sex. He wants to confront some taboos. I think that is, to a large degree, the work of an artist. I personally applaud all artists who are courageous and who are dedicated to their craft like he is.
There was a major twist with your character in “The Following” recently. What kind of research do you put into a role like that knowing what kind of change she is going to go through later in the season?
Well, I can tell you there are so many psychopaths and so many people with personality disorders out there, it was pretty easy for me to bring [those traits] to my character. What are the tricks they use? What are the ways psychopaths are able to endear themselves to people and seem so sweet, innocent and vulnerable when in reality underneath all that there is this panther waiting to pounce? That’s kind of how I saw my character.
When you moved to the U.S. back in 1996, did you see yourself working as an actress on TV? I mean, 20 years ago there wasn’t nearly as much great content as there is today. Did TV start becoming an option as the landscape started changing over the past few years?
You know, I remember being a young girl when I saw Katharine Hepburn do a special TV movie. I always thought that it was important to reach as many people as possible across the board. I am so happy to see that TV really has reached the right mixture of technology and storytelling. We are able to tell more complex stories. It’s been so great to be a part of this revival or innovation of TV. I think many actors feel there is a certain freedom that comes with doing TV that never was there before.
You starred in what I consider one of my favorite comedies of all time, the 1998 film “Rushmore” by Wes Anderson. I have to ask: If Max Fischer really put forth as much effort as possible, would Mrs. Calloway have given him the time of day?
(Laughs) I don’t think so. (Laughs) Even as charming as he was, I don’t think Mrs. Calloway was crazy.