Connie Nielsen is enjoying motherhood more than ever as she’s currently homeschooling her youngest son amidst the global pandemic and its indefinite period of social isolation. The Danish actor, who returns to the screen in Vaughn Stein’s Inheritance as Catherine Monroe, the grieving matriarch of a wealthy and powerful family, believes that her own protectiveness as a mother informs her performances as Catherine and Wonder Woman’s Queen Hippolyta. Oddly enough, both characters happen to withhold a dangerous truth from their respective daughters.
“I think that the protectiveness that you see in both characters really comes from my version of motherhood,” Nielsen tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I just have that kind of mothering that is uber protective. I have this fierceness as a mother that is probably where the connection between the two characters comes in there.”
With Nielsen set to reprise her role as Queen Hippolyta and mother to Diana Prince (Gal Gadot) in August’s Wonder Woman 1984, she fondly reflects on Zack Snyder’s role in setting up a meeting between her and Wonder Woman director Patty Jenkins, who was reluctant to cast Nielsen at first.
“It’s funny because it was Zack Snyder who was the one who kept saying to Patty, ‘I really think you should meet with Connie Nielsen. I really think she’s right for this role,’” Nielsen recalls. “Patty was like, ‘Oh, no, she’s this tough girl, and I’m not looking for a tough woman for this.’ Zack then said, ‘I really don’t think so. I think you should meet with her.’ I had to fly to London just before Christmas. … I think I arrived and went straight from the airport to lunch with Patty at this Japanese restaurant. I just immediately fell into this comrades-in-arms kind of feeling with her, and we just bonded over the next four hours. We had the longest lunch, and it just felt like a conversation that was unable to end.”
In a recent conversation with THR, Nielsen reflects on Snyder’s role as matchmaker with Jenkins and Wonder Woman, doubting her ability prior to shooting Gladiator and working alongside Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino in her first English-language film, The Devil’s Advocate.
How are things going with you and yours right now?
Really well! I have to say that this family has really taken to family isolation. Homeschooling is unexpectedly fun, and our school has been amazing. The school really stepped up and made the school days spectacular. My son has just done really well with social isolation because his oldest brothers have come home and isolated with us. It’s given him a chance to really be together and get that close with adult kids who are busy pursuing careers and other things. Now, all of a sudden, they’re home, teaching soccer and having dinner every night together. It’s been pretty amazing, and I know it’s a terrible thing to say because many millions of families are having severe distress, from economic and medical distress. So, my heart goes out to them — even as I tell you the truth that we’ve had two amazing months together.
So, lots of secrets are kept in Inheritance. Are you someone who can keep a secret, or do you have a tough time with them like a lot of people?
No, I’m just like my character in that way; I can totally keep a secret.
I found it interesting how your character protects Lily Collins’ character from the truth — much like Hippolyta did with Diana and her origin in Wonder Woman. Did you make that connection when you first read the script?
I think that the protectiveness that you see in both characters really comes from my version of motherhood. I just have that kind of mothering that is uber-protective. I have this fierceness as a mother that is probably where the connection between the two characters comes in there.
While the film deals with inheritance in a traditional sense, it’s mostly about the trauma we inherit from past generations of our respective families. Could you relate to this theme on some level?
I absolutely do. I believe in the whole genetic effect of trauma and toxic stress on DNA. In addition to the environment, one of the most important things that we have to look at after the pandemic ends is really the role of parenting in creating the social ills that we’re living with — divorce, personality disorders and many others issues — not least the criminal system, as well. These traumas, to a large degree, can be avoided by providing more support to parents, especially those first three to five years. With our best effort, we can try to shield that early being from trauma so that they’re more resilient in the future.
Simon Pegg plays against type in this pic, and it reminded me of your work with Robin Williams in One Hour Photo since he also played against type in that film. Is it always exciting when you get to act opposite an actor who’s doing something so markedly different from their usual work?
Absolutely. I love working with people who work hard to get out of a certain way that the audience sees them and are willing to take the risks to have the audience say, “That’s not the person I usually see.” It shows that the heart is really with the acting.
Between Sea Fever and this movie, is there a greater feeling of fulfillment or satisfaction when you’re able to make a good movie without the resources of the major studio system?
I enjoy doing both types of movies equally — whether it’s a big studio film with all the available resources or indies that are just trying to tell a story their way — outside of the system. Throughout my career, I’ve gone back and forth between both types of filmmaking precisely because I just love the freedom in that. I’m not a big luxury gal; I just want to tell stories.
Well, you helped tell a story that just celebrated its 20th anniversary a few weeks ago. What memory springs to mind when you think back on Ridley Scott’s Gladiator?
I think the memory of driving up to fort — the fort in Malta. I’d been on a downtime for a month while the crew and the rest of the cast was off to shoot the interlude in Morocco. Then, I met up with everybody in Malta where we were going to be shooting the Rome parts. I’d seen the things that Ridley was doing at Shepperton Forest where we shot the Gothic Wars and the death of Marcus Aurelius. So, I’d already seen how he juggles big scenes with relish, and I was so excited to work on all those scenes in Rome. As I drove up this steep incline to get up to the fort with my driver, we turned the corner and saw a quarter of the Colosseum. As I drove further on to set, I came upon this open square of a Roman streetscape and this giant foot from the statue of Hercules. Then, I saw Ridley walking towards me to greet me, chomping on a cigar and looking happy as a clam in the middle of all of this. As I stepped out of the car, I looked around and realized for the first time that I’d really seen the enormity of what a studio can create. It was one of those realizations that I was in a film that was huge, and you just had to look at what they’re creating. I also had to control my nerves about that; I was scared of not being up to the task. I remember confessing my fear of not being good enough to my acting coach, and being scared of going to do the film. He took me aside in class and said, “Do you really disrespect Steven Spielberg and Ridley Scott to that level that you think they would be so stupid as to hire someone who isn’t good enough?” (Laughs.) That’s what he said, and I was like, “I guess I’m just going to have to trust that they weren’t stupid.”
You shot Wonder Woman 1984 a couple years ago, and now that it’s been delayed twice, are you on pins and needles for it to come out?
I want it to be received well, and I want it to have the best odds of that. So, my fingers are crossed that the fans and environment around us will allow us to debut this film in the manner that it deserves.
Even though Diana (Gal Gadot) caused Hippolyta great sorrow by leaving home forever, she has to be proud of what Diana has accomplished around the world, right?
Yeah, like all mothers, we stand at a distance and watch our kids learn and grow by coming up against the inequities of life and of our society. You watch them as they try to find a way to be good people in the middle of that, make wise and kind choices and fight to make a better world through their own behavior. Like any mother, you just want your kids to be part of the solution and actively working towards a better world.
One of my favorite films is The Devil’s Advocate. Since it was your first studio film in the States, are your memories more vivid than most of your experiences on set?
I have so many memories from that. I got that film literally a month and a half after arriving in America. It was one of those crazy stories of making it after just arriving in New York, and it was my third meeting on a project. The fact that I got to walk on set the first day and find Al Pacino in the makeup chair next to me, who was God to me, playing my dad, was an incredible experience for me. I realized that it was special and something unique. A few days later, I recall standing inside a penthouse apartment in the middle of Fifth Avenue, looking out over the entire Central Park, which had been lit by our crew for a scene with me, Keanu Reeves and Al Pacino. I was playing this nonchalant, very arrogant, very self-assured woman, and I wrestled with myself to feel that reassured next to one of the hottest actors on the planet, Keanu Reeves, and Al Pacino. It just felt so insane. Tony’s [Gilroy] script was so freaking awesome, fun and wicked, pointing out the deep ironies of our beliefs, the ways in which our systems create inherent moral dilemmas for human beings and how we create the justification for pursuing them anyway. It’s just such a wicked black satire, and I was really fortunate to be picked for that as my first American film.
Clearly, you and Patty Jenkins like working with one another since you’ve made two Wonder Woman films and I Am the Night together. Do you remember the moment where you first hit it off with each other?
It’s funny because it was Zack Snyder who was the one who kept saying to Patty, “I really think you should meet with Connie Nielsen. I really think she’s right for this role.” Patty was like, “Oh, no, she’s this tough girl, and I’m not looking for a tough woman for this.” Zack then said, “I really don’t think so. I think you should meet with her.” So, Patty said, “Okay, I’ll meet with her,” and I had to fly to London just before Christmas. I’m a Dane, so Christmas is a big thing for me with lots of prep, but I just got on a plane and flew over there. I think I arrived and went straight from the airport to lunch with Patty at this Japanese restaurant. I just immediately fell into this comrades-in-arms kind of feeling with her, and we just bonded over the next four hours. We had the longest lunch, and it just felt like a conversation that was unable to end. There was more and more stuff that we wanted to share with each other, and it was just that kind of experience. She’s just this really uniquely beautiful person and so driven. She has incredibly strong instincts and a sense of how she’s going to make a thing look and feel. She’s truly a natural director. She just really is that person. I both really admire her, and then I just happen to have this great joy in hanging out with her. I just like her.
Inheritance is available now on Digital HD and VOD from Vertical Entertainment.