Danish Hollywood actress Connie Nielsen grew up in a very religious household and was a lonely outsider in the village before she broke free and went the only way she could – out of there.

Connie Nielsen sits at the very edge of her seat. Just like she did when she saw her mother on stage in Frederikshavn as a little girl and knew that she had to become an actress to survive. She has been asked to do a TV interview this evening in her native country of Denmark. Her hands, now gesticulating wildly, now folding into prayer-like poses, make the host exclaim: “You are a dedicated woman, aren’t you!”

The dark blue hoodie from earlier in the day has been exchanged with a black T-shirt and a suit jacket with silk lapels. The discrete make-up and the seemingly casual hairdo are the same as when we parted a few hours ago at Skovshoved Hotel north of Copenhagen. She has not been allowed to keep her sunglasses on in front of the cameras.

She has not slept all night. She spent the hours on the plane from San Francisco, where she lives, on writing her speech for tomorrow’s award show, where the Danish CSR Foundation gives awards to businesses and corporations that have made a difference in environmental terms. That is why she is here. Originally she was offered the position as host of the entire show, but after an initial meeting she ended up on the executive board instead. She wanted to have a say. Otherwise she would not be interested.

Her Danish agent, Peter Damgaard, waits in the wings. This afternoon he told the story of how they met at a Copenhagen café some ten years ago, after he had whispered to a friend, “Is she Danish in that Scarlett Johansson way?” Any Dane knows what that implies. We like making fun of the history-less Americans, especially when they brag of their Danish/Italian/Irish ancestry without – in case of any Danish connections – being able to remember the ubiquitous liver pâté of their childhood and the feeling of salt water in their nostrils that every child can recall just by closing their eyes and leaning back, regardless of where in the country they grew up.

Connie Nielsen turned out to be as Danish as Tivoli and the Little Mermaid combined. A Viking with healthy interests and a straight-forward attitude. Her future agent was slightly star struck. He still is, but for totally different reasons than before. He knows nothing about the films she is involved in, because each and every one of their conversations deals with complex documents on legal matters, green fees, and statutes and by-laws on environmental issues and production conditions.

“She has this totally photographic memory,” he said earlier. “And she just sleeps less than other people.”

He knows better than most. He used to book hotel rooms for her; now she stays in his spare room. Tomorrow she will go to Jutland for the award show and to Frederikshavn to see her father, siblings, and the friends she had long before she did what she had to do and went away at age 18.

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