In the new series Boss, which debuts this month on Starz, Connie Nielsen plays the pearl-wearing, power-wielding wife of Kelsey Grammer’s sinister Chicago mayor. (Forget the Grammer of Frasier and Cheers; this time around he pops a pair of human ears into a garbage disposal.) Nielsen hasn’t seen the show and probably won’t. She can’t bear to watch her -performances—ingen af dem, as they’d say in her native Denmark: none of them. “It’s excruciating,” the actress says. “You see all the moments where you didn’t do a good enough job.”
Apparently those moments don’t register with casting directors, who’ve paired Nielsen, 46, with a spectacular list of costars: John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in Basic, Benicio del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones in The Hunted, Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Five foot ten and fluent in seven languages, she has a regal beauty that’s hard to camouflage, yet she manages to tone it down for grittier parts, such as Law & Order: SVU’s Detective Dani Beck.
Born to a Mormon family, Nielsen left Denmark at 18 to pursue acting. An American director in Paris advised her to move to the U.S. Within a month of arriving, she was cast opposite Al Pacino in The Devil’s Advocate.
Nielsen avoided Hollywood (“Its image never jelled with me”), but several years ago her -boyfriend—Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, also Danish—lured her to Tiburon, just north of San Francisco. The couple has a blended family: Nielsen’s son Sebastian, 22, from her marriage to an Italian actor; Ulrich’s sons, Myles, 13, and Layne, 10; and the couple’s four-year-old, Bryce.
This fall she will probably take her brood to Kenya, where she’s leading a humanitarian effort. Last year Nielsen filmed the Danish movie Lost in Africa in Nairobi and spent time in and around Kibera, one of the world’s most desperate slums. “There is no running water, no electricity,” she says. “Twenty percent of the kids under the age of five die from diarrhea, cholera or malaria.”
In response, Nielsen cofounded the Human Needs Project, which plans to provide residents with sustainably supplied water, lavatories and electricity, as well as education and business counseling. Nielsen and Ulrich are paying for 18 of the area’s children to attend a boarding school. One, a nine-year-old girl, had been sent back to a tribal village while Nielsen was out of the country. It took seven months to track her down; she was working as a house servant. Now, Nielsen reports, “she’s learning to play the trumpet at a wonderful school outside Nairobi.” It looks as though the actress finally has a project in which she can fully appreciate her role.
Want MORE? Check out this slideshow of Nielsen in fall's best luxe looks.
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