Sidse Babett Knudsen had an ulterior motive to join the cast of BBC’s new political thriller One Roadkill, playing the mistress of Hugh Laurie’s ambitious Conservative minister. Of course, she’s a fan of Roadkill writer David Hare (whom she describes as “one of the gods”); in her days as a theater troupe, she regularly traveled from Copenhagen to London to see her plays at the Royal Court. But that’s far from the whole story. “One of my all-time favorite shows is Veep, and Selina Meyer’s obsession with the character of Hugh Laurie is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen,” she says. “I thought to myself if I could take a picture in bed with him and send it to him, it could be so funny!”
It’s the sort of cunning plot that would certainly come under the dignity of Knudsen’s most famous character, Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg, in the soon-to-be-revived drama Borgen. In any case, she admits, the kompromat was never obtained. “I never really managed to do it. The mood when we shot wasn’t exactly ridiculous.
Opportunities were probably also scarce because Knudsen’s Roadkill character, Madeleine Halle, isn’t the type to lounge in the bedroom in revealing lingerie. There are plenty of risky roles in her back catalog – she played half of a dom / under lesbian couple in Peter Strickland’s 2015 film The Duke of Burgundy and a femme fatale senior manager in HBO’s Westworld – but Knudsen doesn’t do nude scenes. It’s a decision she made against the grain of her drama training in France, where, she says dryly: “It was all crazy and psychological and the more you didn’t care and believe you were the part, the better. His experience since has only reaffirmed his choice.
“I can’t help but look at someone naked and think, ‘Oh, it is what the actress looks like for real! Oh, she has very beautiful breasts, or her knees are very funny. I don’t want people to walk away from the role and think that about me. For some reason I think nudity does this. And she is not a fan of the sex scenes. “There are only so many ways to throw your head back and pat the laundry. It becomes a cliché so quickly.
Unlike the roles she has become famous for, Knudsen is currently playing weak characters without much personal authority. “I want to try something else, see?” And I actually read [Madeleine] as quite pathetic. A little sad and sad creature who does not understand what she is getting into. Hare, who was on set for much of the production, had a “healthier and sane” take on the role he wrote, which Knudsen says she accepted – but, you feel it, reluctantly: “Because, I mean, I like the really pathetic parts,” she laughs.
Roadkill has the privilege of being one of a small handful of roles Knudsen played during what was supposed to be a year off. “I kind of locked myself in before the virus,” she says. “I intended to be very secluded and calm, so when it all locked, I just thought, ‘Welcome aboard!’” She likes to take those long breaks every now and then to reset, she says. “I mean, it’s not a natural thing to be someone else, and sometimes you just have to take a little time to find out who you are now. Plus, you’re influenced by the genre, “What kind of drama are we doing now? You just have to get out of it completely and not be trendy at all. “
This current period of calm will end in January when, with the pandemic permitting, Borgen’s new series is set to begin filming. The original three-series series was produced by Danish public broadcaster DR and arrived in the UK as part of a wave of enthusiastically received scandi broadcasts, which also included crime thrillers The Killing and The Bridge – well that as a murder-free political drama, full of government intrigue, Borgen has more in common with the West Wing. In April, Netflix announced the rebirth seven and a half years after the last episode aired. Was it difficult to persuade Knudsen to return to the role that made her an international star? ” Very difficult. It took them – what? Eight years? I mean, we’ve talked about it from time to time. I met Adam [Price, the creator of Borgen] and we both agreed we had a great race, but let’s stop there… Unless a good idea comes along.
Knudsen can’t be too specific about what this compelling idea was, but she says the new Borgen will “definitely, definitely” recognize the massive transformation in political culture that has taken place since 2010, when sane centrist Nyborg was passed for the first time at the top of a coalition government. It’s also a theme explored by Roadkill, summed up in an arrogant comment that Laurie’s character makes to her special advisor: “Voters see me as a character.” They much prefer to be led by characters rather than zombies.
For Knudsen, Borgen’s lack of cynicism is striking both in retrospect and in contrast to British political television. “Especially in the UK, when you talked to people about [Borgen], they said, “We could never do anything that wasn’t cynical. we to have to show this side; it’s in our mindset. Borgen comes from a really sweet, gentle, idealistic place. I mean, even for Danish audiences it was a nicer place. I think we have just lived through the last of an era where a little innocence is allowed.
In some ways, however, Borgen was extremely prescient. He put on screen the first Danish woman Prime Minister a year before the country elected its own, Helle Thorning-Schmidt (who is married to British Labor MP Stephen Kinnock), and five years before Selina Meyer was elected to the presidency in Veep. Since then, Nyborg-like leaders around the world, such as Jacinda Ardern, have – according to some analyzes – fared better in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis than their male counterparts.
But Knudsen doesn’t see leadership in such categorical terms. “I think, maybe, deep down – I’m very, very careful in saying this – but instinctively, if it’s something about ‘Let’s come together and protect our weak’, on humanity more than on the economy, maybe we’ll believe that just a little faster on the part of a woman? On the flip side, channeling the bridge-building nature of his most famous character: “When you look at the men who have done the worst in this crisis, it’s not because they’re men. They really are incapable of being leaders, ”she said with a mirthless laugh, once again sounding like a Veep or Yes Minister character than her own Birgitte Nyborg.
“This thing in America could have been a woman and would have been just as bad.
• Roadkill starts on BBC One Sunday at 9:00 p.m.