Sidse Babett Knudsen achieved international recognition for her starring role as the Danish Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg, in the hit TV drama Borgen that ultimately became a global phenomenon. Currently in Italy filming Inferno, the latest instalment of the Dan Brown movie franchise, Knudsen paused from her hectic schedule to reflect on her career so far and her foray into the world of Hollywood.

Knudsen stars as Dr. Elizabeth Sinskey, the leader of the World Health Organisation, in Inferno, the eagerly anticipated screen adaptation of the Dan Brown novel of the same name. “It’s definitely the largest, most expensive, most ‘Hollywood’ production I’ve ever been involved with,” Knudsen explains. “I’ve never done anything in America before so it’s quite different from anything that I know – but very exciting.” Knudsen will star alongside Tom Hanks as he reprises his role as Harvard professor and symbologist (a fictional field relating to the study of historic symbols, editor’s note) Robert Langdon. Working with Hanks is one of the greatest aspects of the role for Knudsen. “He’s just the way I had dreamed for him to be,” she explains. “He is such good actor with great energy, a pleasure to work with, and he has the best work ethic I’ve ever come across.” With a release date set for October 2016, fans are already impatiently awaiting the cinematic release. However, Knudsen will appear many times on our screens in the meantime in numerous eclectic roles.

A Hologram for the King

Inferno offered a second opportunity for Knudsen and Hanks to work together as they already co-starred in A Hologram for the King due for release in November this year. This German-American comedy drama was directed and written by Tom Tykwer. Knudsen plays the role of Hanne, a character she describes as “a crazy narcissist ex-pat”. “I had some fantastic conversations about her with the director who I love very much,” she says. A Hologram for the King is based on the 2012 novel by Dave Eggers with the same name. “It’s quite amazing how much the script resembled the book,” Knudsen reveals. “I was also really fascinated by how much Tykwer managed to recreate the ambience, mood and surreal touch of the book. I have a strong feeling that the movie will really capture that.”

An accidental Parisian education

Studying in Paris happened quite by accident for Knudsen as she travelled there on a gap year with plans to audition for theatre school in Denmark upon her return. “I knew that when you applied to acting school you often had to apply over and over so I thought I’d start my rejection process in Paris where nobody knew me and lick my wounds in private,“ she explains laughing. “To my surprise I got in and I thought I’d try it out and prepare for the real thing awaiting in Denmark but I fell in love with it and finished my training in Paris at the Théâtre d’Ombres.” Back home in Denmark, Knudsen joined the experimental theatre OVINE 302 and performed with the Betty Nansen and Royal Danish Theatres in Copenhagen before her first big break on screen in the cult comedy Let’s Get Lost. Knudsen takes on her first French role this year in Christian Vincent’s film L’hermine, expected in movie theatres this autumn.

Award winning Sidse

Knudsen has acquired many accolades and much recognition from the film industry including a BAFTA, two Bodil Awards, two Roberts Awards, a Monte- Carlo Award and a nomination for best performance by an actress at the International Emmy Awards. “They do mean a lot,” she says warmly. “It’s very important, particularly when you start, because they open doors for you but of course it is really wonderful to be recognised for your work on a personal level as well.” Knudsen also received the prestigious title of Knight of the French art guild ‘Arts et Lettres’ in 2014 for her work onBorgen. “That was truly fantastic,” she says. “The French Ambassador to Denmark gave an incredible feminist speech about not just me, but women in politics and as leaders on a global scale and I felt very proud to be part of something that was so strong and empowering for women.”

The Borgen experience

There is no doubt that Knudsen’s portrayal as Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg in the political drama Borgen, truly established her as a tour de force in the international acting arena. “I had initially been really reluctant to do TV,” she explains, “but just before Borgen I started watching The West Wing and became completely addicted. On the day that it finished I was invited to audition for what I was told was a new Danish political series and I thought I’d love to do that.” In the beginning, none of the programme creators anticipated what a global success the show would become. “We thought winning the Danish audience over alone would be a big challenge and we prepared ourselves to be much less popular than the crime series that everybody loves so much. We never considered that it would move outside of Denmark.” The show, however, ultimately was sold to over 70 countries worldwide. Now that Knudsen has had time to reflect on the secret to their success she sees things a bit more clearly. “I think it was the duality of the relative obscurity of Denmark combined with universal questions of politics, drama and morality,” she explains. “People liked to see a political show that wasn’t cynical about politics. It’s about power but it’s not about being corrupted by power.”

Knudsen still gets recognised as the fictional Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, but explains that appearance is where their similarities end. “There is nothing in Birgitte’s life that resembles mine in any way, shape or form. She’s so foreign to me and yet she looks exactly like me,” she says smiling. “I didn’t make any physical changes to play her so I gave a lot of my own attributes to her, how I look when I tell a joke or cry. Normally I make more of a physical transformation but we started filming before the whole series was written so I had to play her quite naturally so that there was room for her to grow.” Looking back on her most famous role to date, Knudsen has only affection towards the Prime Minister. “I admired her when I played the role and I still do,” she says. “I see her as a hero,” she sums up.

Text: Helen Cullen | Photos: Isak Hoffmeyer

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