Danish ‘Borgen’ star making up for lost time

She made her name in hit TV drama "Borgen", but only a few years later Danish actress Sidse Babett Knudsen is juggling coveted small- and big-screen roles on both sides of the Atlantic.

Danish 'Borgen' star making up for lost time
Sidse Babett Knudsen plays the manager of a futuristic amusement park in HBO's "Westworld". Photo: HBO Nordic
It is all a long way from her Copenhagen roots — especially for an actress who spent a long time struggling, before finally making the big time.
The award-winning 47-year-old, who played Denmark's first female prime minister in the political drama, is currently starring alongside Hollywood veteran Tom Hanks in “Inferno” by Oscar-winning director Ron Howard.
At the same time on the small screen she is in hit US sci-fi western thriller “Westworld” with Anthony Hopkins.
Back in Europe she won a Cesar, France's version of the Oscars, this year for “L'hermine,” while her latest Gallic outing is in “La Fille de Brest” after French film icon Catherine Deneuve suggested her for the role.
When director Emmanuelle Bercot offered her the part, the elegant blue-eyed actress didn't believe him at first.
“I was like 'What are they thinking?' because I don't speak French very well. I thought maybe somebody told them I was half French because I studied in France,” she told AFP, sitting in a plush Paris hotel.
“Maybe they thought that was it,” she added.
Much like in “Borgen,” for which she shared a BAFTA award, she loves playing strong and intelligent women. “I love being in the skin of courageous people. That inspires me,” she said.
“When I read a part, either I think it makes the world smaller or the world bigger. I want to go towards those where I see the world getting bigger.”
In “Inferno,” she plays the head of the World Health Organization (WHO), while in HBO megaseries “Westworld” she is the operations manager of a futuristic amusement park.
“It's been wonderful to work in such different places and in such different settings. I really liked that,” she said.
Childhood ambition
Born in Copenhagen to a photographer father and teacher mother, she spent part of her childhood in Tanzania — but she decided at the tender age of eight that she wanted to be an actress.
But it was only 10 years later, when she arrived in France with a bicycle to be an au pair, that she started doing something about her ambition to be on the big screen.
Between odd jobs she took acting lessons, indulged her love for cinema and spent lots of time in the Pompidou Centre, where she learned French by reading a translation of Kafka's Metamorphosis.
But after six years she decided to return to Copenhagen, tired of struggling to make ends meet.
“I came back because it was not easy being (in Paris) I had no place to live and it was just going around with your hat, asking for jobs all the time. It became a bit too hard,” she said.
Back in her home town, “a friend of mine did (Ibsen's) 'Peer Gynt', and she asked me to come to Dan, and I thought 'Yeah, do that'.” Further parts with the same theatre group followed.
Her cinema breakthrough came in the 1997 improvisational comedy “Let's Get Lost,” which won her a best actress Bodil, Denmark's version of Hollywood's famous golden statuettes.
She followed that in 1999 with romantic comedy “The One and Only” by Susanne Bier, and seven years later “After The Wedding” with Mads Mikkelsen.
But she really made the big time with “Borgen,” which hit TV screens in 2010.
The Danish TV series, in which she plays premier Birgitte Nyborg, has been a hit around the world, with one US critic comparing it to Emmy and Golden Globe-winning political drama “The West Wing”.
As she entered her 40s, it changed her life. “Absolutely,” she said. “The consequences of 'Borgen' did, because I'm here now, finally. It has opened a lot of doors.”

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Why has Denmark made a children’s TV show about the ‘world’s longest penis’?

The everyday adventures of new Danish kids' TV character John Dillermand like walking the dog or going to the zoo might not look like the stuff of scandal -- if the tales didn't often revolve around his oversized penis.

Why has Denmark made a children’s TV show about the 'world's longest penis'?
An image from the first episode of 'John Dillermand'. Photo: DR/Louise Bergholt Sørensen

Even in one of the world's most progressive countries, the stories of the man with “the world's longest willy” have sparked debate about just what is appropriate for children in the programme's target audience of four- to eight-year-olds.

“We think it's important to be able to tell stories about bodies,” public broadcaster DR posted on Facebook Tuesday.

“In the series, we recognise (young children's) growing curiosity about their bodies and genitals, as well as embarrassment and pleasure in the body.”

Broadcast on kids' channel Ramasjang, the first of Dillermand's 13 episodes has already been watched 140,000 times since it was released on January 2nd.

His extra-long member is often key to the wacky situations in which he finds himself at one point floating over the city thanks to balloons tied to his tackle.

“It's a very Danish show. We have a tradition to push the limits and use humour and we think it's totally normal,” education expert Sophie Munster told AFP.

With some members of the public posting outrage online, far-right MP Morten Messerschmidt attacked the show in a Facebook post.

“I don't think looking at adult men's genitalia should be turned into something normal for children. Is this what you call public service?” he fumed.

Munster argued however: “The debate is from an adult perspective, in which the long penis is sexualised. Children have a different perspective.

“The size of the penis is exaggerated so much, children realise it's a joke.”

The series can be watched via broadcaster DR's website.

READ ALSO: Danish zoo invites kids to watch lion dissection (2015)