Jesper Christensen – Danish master of stage and screen
Jesper Christensen, the renowned Danish actor and veteran of European cinema, has in recent years captivated audiences with his English speaking roles. Instantly recognisable as the Bond villain Mr. White inCasino Royale, Quantumof Solace and the upcoming Spectre, he also recently starred in the hugely successful TV show, The Legacy. Christensen joins us to talk about his legendary career to date and some of the exciting projects he has lined up for 2015.
The Legacy became an instant international hit when its first season aired in early 2014. The foundation for its success lies in the unique writing of creator, Maya Ilsøe, and the consistently powerful acting performances of Christensen and his colleagues. “If the acting is good, and if the story rings true with people, they will want to watch,” Christensen explains. The role of Thomas offers a Little light relief to the actor after a career filled with portraying serious characters. “It’s so much fun to play him and he allows me to improvise,” he says. “He’s gifted musically but he has never committed to his art. He’s a completely irresponsible person and really not to be trusted but I love him anyway because he is such good company.” Christensen is full of praise for the writing approach of Ilsøe. “She involves all of the actors in her writing process from the very beginning and invites suggestions on her partially written material,” he explains. “It’s so brave for a writer to be open to any comments that they may receive.” The collaborative nature of the work resulted in the actors experiencing some involvement in the development of their characters and the evolution of the show itself. “It meant that we all had a much larger responsibility toward our own part than I think I’ve ever experienced before,” he reflects. The Legacy also offered Christensen the opportunity for his directorial debut. “I hadn’t tried that before but I ended up enjoying it very much and ultimately directed five episodes,” he says. “This project has really been an ongoing party for two and a half years and has proven to be one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with.”
From stage to screen
Christensen excelled in leading theatrical roles in some of Denmark’s best theatres for 25 years. He received all manner of accolades for his performances in iconic works from playwrights such as Shakespeare to Chekhov, Molière to Schiller before making a permanent transition to the screen in 1998. Working in film and TV became Christensen’s greater passion; he harbours no desire or plans to return to the stage unless a very unique project captures his attention. “Normally I say I don’t have any inkling of regrets and that I don’t see myself doing theatre any time in the future,” he shares. “Today, however, I had an offer of doing a very interesting Iranian play so maybe I will consider it just this once.” Evolving from European Cinema to Hollywood. As a stalwart of European cinema, Christensen has been nominated as Best Actor twice at the European film awards, won four Danish Bodils and also won the Guldbagge for Best Supporting Actor at the Swedish equivalent to the Oscars. “The Awards themselves don’t mean a lot to me,” he reflects. “I never go to the ceremonies if I can avoid them, but my ticket to international film came from my nominations as best European actor, so how could I not be happy about that?” The transition to English speaking roles was an inevitable one although not one that Christensen actively pursued. “Of course you want it to happen but it’s very, very hard,” he explains. “When I was younger I could have gone to America or England and tried for years and years to breakthrough but I didn’t want to leave Denmark and my family and the career that I had established there behind.” His patience proved a calculated risk as offers for interesting roles in international hits such as The Young Victoria, Melancholia, The Interpreter and, of course, James Bond, eventually came to him.
The Bond Villain
Christensen will reprise the role of Mr. White in the 24th James Bond film, Spectre, that will be released later this year; his third time to inhabit the epic world of Bond. “It’s like seeing each other in school after the summer holidays, mostly with Daniel Craig,” he says. “I love Working with Daniel. I think he’s a terrific actor and I thought so before he became Bond too.” This is Christensen’s first time working with director Sam Mendes, whom he describes as a joy to work with. “He’s my kind of guy,” he shares. “He has a theatre background which means he is open to the sort of discussions that I love where actors share very personal experiences that they can draw from and take the time to analyse the different characters and their motivations. Working with him is much more free, courageous and interesting.” There is a new approach to creating this Bond instalment that Christensen identified as an entirely new experience. “Things are very different this time around,” he explains. “The atmosphere has changed so much. Now we are free to rewrite the scenes; Daniel and I can experiment and test the material out together which creates the kind of working dynamic that I love.”
The Bond phenomenon
To play a Bond villain is a unique and privileged opportunity that few actors can lay claim to. “Very few actors would turn down a part in a Bond film,” Christensen says. “We’ve all been little kids wowed by Bond and you get so much credit for doing it from the industry and from your own family.” He explains that the reaction to his casting has been phenomenal. “My Family discovered that I’m a real actor after all of these years,” he laughs. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done before, they have never been so interested in your work.” When the Bond circus comes to town, the level of scrutiny from the press and general public reaches an all-time high and all the cast are thrust into a very hot spotlight. “Bond’s not like anything else,” Christensen explains. “You can’t really call it a film because it is more like a great machine, and the interest that the public has in it, and all the internet furor is quite frightening and strange but really very funny.”
Next for Christensen
In addition to Spectre and the return of The Legacy, Christensen is also Working on two other exciting productions this year. Christensen stars alongside Daniel Brühl in a German film, Kaminski and I, which will be released this summer. He is also currently filming his lead role as King Haakon VII of Norway in The King’s Choice. Norwegian director, Erik Poppe, is recreating the first three days of the German invasion of Norway and the role of theKing in preventing Norway’s surrender. “The King is a very interesting person who had a crucial role in Norway’s fight against Germany,” Christensen explains. “We’re making the film in a very realistic documentary style and I think it will be a very important movie for Scandinavia.” Christensen’s legacy of work to date is magnificent but no doubt there is even more greatness still to come.
To read more about his exciting projects,
By Helen Cullen | Main photo: jokrausz.com
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