Hollywood star on a mission in Kenya

Sunday August 10 2014

Connie Nielsen.

Connie Nielsen. "I’m here because the Human Needs Project Town Centre is opening, there is also the P&G Wash Centre but the main project is really about water for Kibera." PHOTO | NATION 

BUZZ: This isn’t your first time in Kenya is it?

No, I’m running out of space in my passport, I have to get a new one.

Why are you in Kenya?

I’m here because the Human Needs Project Town Centre is opening, there is also the P&G Wash Centre but the main project is really about water for Kibera.

It’s completely clean water and we can serve about 10,000 people a week and that will be a big change for a lot of people in Kibera.

One woman from our focus group in Kibera was quoted as saying water is life but in Kibera water is also death, I thought that was a very fitting description. 

We are also providing sanitation, connection to the internet and any information about public health issues, so it becomes a one stop centre.

How do you like Kenya so far?

I love Kenya, I always have. I came here for the first time 20 years ago; it has a special place in my heart.

Have you watched any Kenyan movies?

You know what? I literally work from early morning till late at night. I haven’t had time because I’m always working when I’m here.

You starred alongside Kevin Costner in 3 Days to Kill, how was it working with him?

Wonderful! Kevin Costner is a real gentleman; he’s a very old fashioned guy in a good way.

He’s kind hearted, incredibly smart, and a consummate professional. I cannot say enough wonderful things about him, he’s a wonderful family man and he loves his kids.

You have starred in so many movies, which one stands out?

That would be unfair, that would not be kind. But I had a really wonderful experience going back home to Denmark and shooting the movie Brothers.

It was a special experience for me.

Every movie is an incredible journey, you discover and explore parts of yourself through the character every time and you get to do it with incredible artistes.

You are the lead actress in The Following season two, were you a fan of the show before you joined the cast?

I had never seen it, when they called me I had no idea what it was.

I cannot watch anything scary, every time I read the script and came to the scary parts I jumped over them.

How did you prepare for that dark role?

I think one of the things that is really scary about scary people is that they are more charming, nice and sort of fetching than normal people. I’ve met my share of psychopaths so I was able to source it directly to my life.

How long have you been acting?

Since I was 15: I just turned 50 so it’s a long time.

Is there anything that you know now that if you had known then you would have done differently?

I think that acting is everything I thought it is a way of empathising with human beings, so I use my heart and my soul to treat a character with love whether it’s a good or bad person.

I really think my approach to acting is pretty much the same as it was then, it’s always been the same quest, trying to be courageous, honest, truthful and filled with joy.

There is no commonality in the roles that you have played in television and movies, why is that?

I love to explore, I’m not here to be famous, to figure out a successful character and play that character again and again.

I truly like to disappear into my world; I like it when people say I didn’t realise that was you. That’s my biggest compliment.

Hollywood is leaning towards making roles for actors and actresses in their 20’s and 30’s, do you think there are any interesting roles left for more seasoned actors in their 40’s and 50’s?

Yes. I think that it has been like that for a long time but I think it’s definitely changing.

Television is dominated by women and that is, women who are of advanced age but it’s doing even more interesting things than movies are.

The fact is women buy more theatre tickets and they are the biggest viewers of television therefore we are the market and must cater to it.

Have you done any roles that you were a little hesitant to let your children watch?

Absolutely. I always say to my kids, do not watch my movies either because I do whatever I need to do for my characters and they go like, no problem.

My oldest son is 24 and when he was a teenager his friends would ask, that’s your mum? She’s hot!

He was mortified when he was a teenager, but he quickly learned that it’s not his life its mine.

He really respects that, all my kids are great supporters of my work.

You did a movie called Nymphomaniacs, let’s talk about that.

I haven’t watched it. But people tell me it was very good.

Why?

I never watch my movies because I’m afraid I will start censoring myself, and I want to come at something with honesty, I don’t want to come at it and be scared. 

Fear is a good thing if you want to be smart about a lot of things but not when it comes to creativity.

Being a Hollywood star, is it easy for you to be swallowed up by the glitz and glamour?

No, I don’t live there. I live both in New York and San Francisco. I live completely away from the business.

Like every mother, I take my kids to school, I make play dates and I cook for them. I’m very much a mum.

One of the richest experiences of my life has been motherhood.

Between television and the big screen, which is your greatest love?

Alright, I love movies. (Laughs) You know what I do like about television?

That you really get the time to explore a character, sometimes the writers drive you nuts and you are like, wait, I thought my character was this last week and now all of a sudden she’s doing that?

Then you’re struggling to keep up but then again that really makes it exciting.

Are you doing any movie now?

Yes, I just wrapped up The Runner with Nicholas Cage last week. Cage’s character is somebody who deals with stress by running.

I play Cage’s wife, he’s the politician but she is the mastermind.

He is a very flawed person but also has some really great ideas. You get to understand how difficult it is to be a politician, you can’t please everybody and you have to create a compromise between serving your constituents and also moving different agendas forward.

Have you ever had a role that affected you even after wrapping it up?

For a couple of weeks after I finish shooting there’s that moment of devolution where I am letting go of a character.

Sometimes it’s been more difficult than others.

My family has to live with whatever accent I’m carrying for that time, so they are just happy when I make the transition.

You speak seven languages; will you be making Swahili your eighth?

I’ve been trying because I really want to speak Swahili. My sister-in-law came with a friend who is a photographer and in two days he got like 20-30 words and he knows when to use them. 

When I’m here my brain is so focused on getting this centre up and running there is no space for learning a new language.

What was the most significant step in your career?

Moving to America, it made that difference in my career.

In Europe each country makes maybe one or two good movies a year so the volume of film is very small.

It’s really hard to maintain yourself at a certain level of work.

Who are the most incredible people you have worked with?

When I knew I was going to work with Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator I was really excited to meet him and you look back over this guy’s career, he is truly an extraordinary actor. I’m so proud of him and I’m really happy to call him my friend.

Do you know of any Kenyan actors?

Yes, Lupita Nyon’go and the artist Teto Tutuma. He is an amazing musician, he’s very cool.