Worked With:

Julianna Margulies


Kevin Bacon


Charlotte Gainsbourg


Kevin Costner


Ewan McGregor


Kelsey Grammer


Aidan Quinn

Connie Nielsen Biography


Home > Actresses > N > Nielsen, Connie > Biography


Birth Name: Connie Nielsen
Born: 07/03/1965
Birth Place: Denmark


Born July 3, 1965 in Elling, Frederikshavn, Denmark, Connie Inge-Lise Nielsen was the daughter of a bus driver and an insurance clerk. Raised Mormon, Nielsen had the opportunity from birth to interact with the American missionaries her mother invited over for holidays, and she would eventually speak eight languages: Danish, English, French, German, Italian, Norwegian, Swedish and Spanish. Nielsen's mother enjoyed writing and acting in local musical revues and often included her daughter, instilling in the young girl a lifelong love of the arts. At 18, Nielsen moved to Paris, France to model and act, proceeding on to Italy where she attended drama school in Rome and took master classes in Milan. She made her big screen debut in the French comedy "Par où t'es rentré? On t'a pas vu sortir" ("How Did You Get In? We Didn't See You Leave") (1984) starring Jerry Lewis, and continued to cut her professional teeth in a string of Italian and French projects. Nielsen was the divorced mother of a young child when her major English-language breakthrough came as Christabella Andreoli, a devilishly seductive legal co-worker of Keanu Reeves in the Al Pacino thriller "The Devil's Advocate" (1997). The actress quickly followed up with juicy supporting roles in three 1998 films: a German junkie in the Ben Stiller drama "Permanent Midnight," the Texas mother of a prep school rival to Jason Schwartzman in the quirky "Rushmore," and a space colonist in the Kurt Russell sci-fi actioner "Soldier."

With each new role, Nielsen revealed her greatest strength as an actor and greatest weakness as a star: her ability to so completely disappear into a role that audiences, while appreciative of her talent, had trouble recognizing "Connie Nielsen" the celebrity. Throwing a unique monkey wrench into Nielsen's star status with the average moviegoer was the colorful legacy of another famous, similarly named Danish actress, Brigitte Nielsen. Approximately the same age as Connie, Brigitte had attained stardom in the 1980s but cast a very different persona. The actress's next big professional year, 2000, saw her playing a psycho in the barely-released, murderous-sisters-on-the-lam thriller "Dark Summer" and a heroic astronaut in Brian De Palma's sci-fi "Mission to Mars," which managed to do strong business at the box office despite lukewarm reviews. Critics and audiences alike adored her next film, the Best Picture Oscar-winning "Gladiator" (2000) which more than any other film made her an international star. In the gritty take on a sword-and-sandals tale, Nielsen played the female lead of Lucilla, the former lover of the titular Maximus (Russell Crowe) and older sister to the evil, incestuous emperor Commodus (Joaquin Phoenix). Praise for every aspect of the film was universal, and it raked in enormous box office receipts and multiple awards, including Nielsen's nominations for a Screen Actors Guild ensemble award and a Las Vegas Film Critics Society Best Supporting Actress award. The actress won the Empire Award for Best Actress, and many were shocked she failed to receive an Oscar nomination for brilliantly essaying an intelligent, passionate woman who was politically powerless despite her royal birth, yet remained the film's most honorable figure.

The chameleonic Nielsen resurfaced onscreen next as a sweet suburban wife and mother whose family is threatened by an obsessive film developer (Robin Williams) in the creepy drama "One Hour Photo" (2002). For her work opposite a cast-against-type Williams, Nielsen earned a Best Supporting Actress Saturn Award nomination for her role. Much more interested in art than commerce, Nielsen next played a mysterious executive navigating ever-twisting corporate intrigue and espionage in "Demonlover" (2002). Blurring the line between eroticism and cutthroat capitalism, the French/Japanese hybrid film was a challenging indictment of modern perceptions of violence and sex. Unconventionally constructed, the movie was simultaneously hailed for its creativity and panned for being too outré. Returning from the art house to the popcorn thriller, Nielsen drew upon her time-honed talent for playing icy, commanding women who hold their own against devious men. As the female lead in male-driven films, she played high-powered agents in the thrillers "The Hunted" (2003) with Tommy Lee Jones and Benicio del Toro as well as "Basic" (2003), with John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson. That same year, Nielsen began dating fellow Dane Lars Ulrich, best known as Metallica's drummer.

The following year saw Nielsen star in her first Danish film and also receive the best reviews of her career up until that time for her pivotal role as a woman caught between her shell-shocked officer husband and her sensitive, sympathetic brother-in-law in "Brødre" ("Brothers") (2004). The emotionally wrenching story of repression, war and relationships earned the film critical raves and Nielsen the lion's share of international plaudits and trophies, including the Best Actress Bodil Award, the Danish equivalent of the Oscar. After the success of "Brødre," Nielsen's professional momentum slowed. With the occasional foray into dark comedy with "The Ice Harvest" (2005) with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton, she mostly appeared in serious-minded movies that, while little-seen by the general public, reflected her dedication to making thoughtful cinema. Nielsen played an American nurse in a World War II Japanese POW camp in "The Great Raid" (2005), a journalist investigating the murder of an Iraqi child in "The Situation" (2006), and a TV reporter determined to get the story behind the historic protests of the WTO Ministerial Conference of 1999 in Stuart Townsend's "Battle in Seattle" (2007).

On the small screen, Nielsen ably filled the formidable shoes of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (NBC, 1999- ) star Mariska Hargitay when the latter went on maternity leave. The actress was perfect for the show as Detective Danielle Beck, an alluring but tough officer who enjoyed a brief flirtation with fellow Detective Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni). With her intelligent, powerful presence, Nielsen was a natural series lead, although A&E's attempt to build a detective show around her, "Danny Fricke" (2008) failed to make the leap from TV movie to series. She continued to work in lower-profile projects, however, including the Irish family drama "A Shine of Rainbows" (2009). Following a supporting turn in the romantic drama "Perfect Sense" (2011), starring Eva Green and Ewan McGregor, Nielsen returned to regular status on television with the acclaimed political drama "Boss" (Starz, 2011- ), where she played the semi-estranged wife of a Chicago mayor (Kelsey Grammer) who conceals his degenerative neurological disorder from everyone in order to run for governor of Illinois.

By Jonathan Riggs