Connie Nielsen: 'Role Play,' 'Gladiator 2' reflect on motherhood

Connie Nielsen discusses her new comedy "Role Play" and the upcoming "Gladiator" sequel. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 5 | Connie Nielsen discusses her new comedy "Role Play" and the upcoming "Gladiator" sequel. File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 11 (UPI) -- Gladiator and Wonder Woman star Connie Nielsen said her new movie, Role Play, on Prime Video Friday, takes the demands on working mothers to the extreme.

In the film, Kaley Cuoco plays Emma, a secret agent who is also married to Dave (David Oyelowo) with two kids. Her life or death job often makes her miss family commitments, and she can't tell them the truth about why she's absent.


Nielsen plays Gwen Carver, an agent who is pursuing Emma and interrogates Dave. Nielsen said even parents with less intense jobs struggle with work/life balance.

"A parent has to balance the work and the family time," Nielsen told UPI in a recent Zoom interview. "I think for everyone that is a completely recognizable problem."

'Role Play' and 'Gladiator 2'

A mother of two, Nielsen said she brings her sons to work when they do not have school so she can spend time with them. When her oldest son, Sebastian Sartor, 34, was a child, Nielsen brought him along when she filmed Gladiator in Malta.


Nielsen's younger son, Bryce Thadeus Ulrich-Nielsen, 16, accompanied his mother to the Malta set of the sequel Gladiator 2 last year.

"It was such an incredible experience to bring my youngest onto the set and show him what my oldest saw when he was on set," Nielsen said. "I loved bringing them on set."

Gladiator 2 follows Queen Lucilla's (Nielsen) son Lucius (Paul Mescal), now grown up since the first movie. Ridley Scott returns to direct, with Denzel Washington and Pedro Pascal joining the cast.

Having worked on both films, 23 years apart, Nielsen said returning to the set of the new movie was surreal.

"It was so bizarre to walk on set," Nielsen said. "Ridley barely looks different."

At the time Nielsen made Role Play, the comedy offered her some relief after intense roles. Nielsen played author Karen Blixen in the Danish series Dreamer, and a supporting role in Ava Duvernay's drama about racism, Origin.

Role Play still tackled substantive issues, but with action and comedy, Nielsen said. Dave finds out the truth about Emma when a killer interrupts their date night.

"It's an upbeat, fun script that does use and ground itself in real human feelings, and also in family," Nielsen said of Role Play. "Kaley's character and my character are just, in very different ways, trying to understand what family is."


More themes of 'Role Play' and 'Origin'

In addition to the work-life balance issue, Role Play also spoke to Nielsen about relationship issues. While the scenario of Emma being a spy is far-fetched, Nielsen said many couples make startling discoveries after years together.

"Sometimes, you do wake up and you go, 'Wait, my whole last whatever many years was not true?'" Nielsen said. "I think that those people too will look at this film and go, 'Yeah, I know that truth.'"

Emma is ultimately the hero of Role Play, making Gwen the antagonist. Nielsen said she enjoyed playing the villain.

"You just have a little bit of a free hand to create a sociopath," Nielsen said. "I bring in all the sociopaths I have ever met in my work."

In Origin, Nielsen plays Sabine, a German-Jewish friend of author Isabel Wilkerson (Aunjanue Ellis). Sabine questions Wilkerson's comparison of American slavery and the Holocaust.

"You feel the weight of the suffering on both people," Nielsen said of the scene. "It's just horrific to have to even make the comparison and yet people do."

Passion for Acting

Nielsen worked in Danish television until she made her Hollywood debut in The Devil's Advocate. Even in action movies like 1998's Soldier, Nielsen saw substantial themes in the stories.


Soldier starred Kurt Russell as a man raised to be a super soldier. When the next generation of soldiers renders him obsolete, the military dump him on a planet on which he discovers family with Nielsen's character.

"Even the most brutalized, de-socialized person understands love," Nielsen said of the film. "Somewhere in his body, he understood love and I thought that was such a pretty message."

With four decades in the business, Nielsen said it is hard for her to believe how long she has been acting. Still, Nielsen said her passion for her career has not waned.

"It feels like nothing has changed for me," Nielsen said. "I still come on set with this almost naive belief that what we're doing is incredibly important."

Whether acclaimed films like Gladiator and Origin or comedies like Role Play, Nielsen said she loves telling stories.

"This joy in storytelling is just never ever diminished," Nielsen said. "I feel this humble gratitude for wow, I've been allowed to have this kind of life and have this kind of experience."

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