Actress, model, celebrity cook, businesswoman – Julie Zangenberg has done it all. This June, however, she will be doing something new: taking time off. Scan Magazine spoke to the Frederiksberg-born all-rounder about being a child star, working 80-hour weeks, and how she is finally learning to unwind.
Julie Zangenberg is in the UK to talk about the launch of Heartless on Channel 4’s new foreign language showcase, All 4. The supernatural mini-series was created by the writer of The Bridge and the director of The Killing. Set in an elite Danish boarding school, Heartless blends the best elements of Nordic drama with a dark, edgy storyline that has led many to dub it ‘Twilight for grown-ups’.
Zangenberg and co-star Sebastian Jessen play orphaned twins who are cursed to suck the life energy out of others in order to live. Desperate to unravel the mystery of their origins, the siblings also have to contend with life at a new school, and the challenges this presents.
Zangenberg plays Sofie, a woman who is comfortable with who she is and the fact that people are her food. All that changes when she falls in love with Emilie (Julie Christiansen), the headmaster’s daughter, who has secret powers of her own. “When we first meet Sofie,” Zangenberg says, “she’s come to terms with what she is. She feels like she’s an animal – what she does, how she lives; she didn’t chose it, she just deals with it. She’s very tough where as her brother, Sebastian, feels guilty. But then, Sofie falls in love and finds out that she can’t be close to the one she loves because of this curse. That makes her want to change for the better. She wants to figure out what their curse is and fix it. So she goes from being very, very tough to more soft and human, which is fun for an actress.”
Although Zangenberg has had a successful modelling career – formerly the face of Adidas –acting has always been her first love. Starting her acting career at 12, the now 27-year-old has been acting for over half her life. “I actually started by accident,” she explains. “I loved theatre and I loved movies but I thought that acting was something that the big grown-ups with all the talent were doing. I didn’t think it was for me. But I wanted to see movies, up close, so looked into being an extra. I just wanted to be the girl walking by in the background with a soda in her hand.”
Zangenberg then wrote a letter asking if she could be an extra and was called out for a test. “I remember thinking that it was a bit weird that I needed to do a test to be the girl drinking the soda,” she says. “Then, after my third call back, they realised that I didn’t understand what was going on and they told me that they were casting for the lead in the biggest children’s movie ever made in Denmark.” Zangenberg initially told them she did not think she was right for the part, but she got it anyway and the movie won a Crystal Bear at the Berlinale of 2002 and ended up travelling around the world.
The movie was the children’s crime caper Klatretøsen (Catch That Girl), which made Zangenberg into a household name. However, along with the opportunities, fame made it hard for her to be an ordinary child. “My school days were two extremes,” she says. “At first, I went to a normal public school, but I was getting beaten up, stuff like that. Then my parents put me in a private school, kind of like a boarding school. So I’ve tried both and I think that it was difficult for me to be in school because I’m a bit of a nerd.
“I love knowledge and I’m very competitive. That part of school worked for me: getting nice grades… But the whole environment – you couldn’t be creative, you had to do everything in a very specific way and that didn’t work as well for me. I wanted to be my own boss and acting’s perfect for that.”
The award-winning Fakiren fra Bilbao (The Fakir from Bilbao) followed, with Zangenberg playing a young teenager who moves to the country with her twin brother and widowed mother. There, the trio discover that their new house may be haunted.
Is she drawn to spooky tales? “I’m not a horror fan,” she says, “but I’m definitely a genre fan. I love time pieces and everything from Twilight to Harry Potter. I’m a big Harry Potter geek! When Nicklas [Bendtner, her ex-boyfriend] and I lived in London, near Bushy, we lived in a place where they shot some of the Harry Potter films, which was a really big deal for me. I love long-running series, movies, theatre. I’m very geeky about it all.”