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Connie Nielsen: 'Close to Me' doesn't sugarcoat its heroine

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Connie Nielsen: 'Close to Me' doesn't sugarcoat its heroine
Christopher Eccleston and Connie Nielsen appear in a scene from "Close to Me." Photo courtesy of AMC

NEW YORK, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Wonder Woman and Gladiator actress Connie Nielsen says she wanted to star in Close to Me because the miniseries' honesty and dark humor doesn't attempt to sugarcoat her amnesiac character, Jo Harding.

"Women have had to find a space of power within the patriarchy. They are so rarely allowed to be who they really are," Nielsen told UPI in a Zoom interview Tuesday.

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"Women get enveloped in these ideals of who they are supposed to be, and almost all of them mean non-aggressive, not angry, charming, funny, loving, kind -- all of these beautiful-person aspects," she said.

"I wanted to show the truth with warts and all because that is real power -- when women are allowed to really, really be what they really are."

Based on Amanda Reynolds' novel of the same name, the six-part mystery follows Jo, a wealthy translator who is struggling to remember the events of the previous year after she falls down a flight of stairs and cracks her head on the tiled floor of her home.

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Co-starring Christopher Eccleston and Sarah Lynch, it debuts Thursday on Sundance Now and AMC+.

In addition to starring in the thriller, Nielsen also served as an executive producer on the project, which was adapted for the screen by Angela Pell.

In essence, it was a woman's story told by women storytellers, and it included nuances, particularly concerning marriage, menopause and pregnancy loss that a male filmmaker might have missed.

"Our male director [Michael Samuels] took a certain joy in being able to participate in something that was most definitely female-driven," the 52-year-old Danish actress said.

"As executive producer, I felt really glad to protect those ugly aspects of the character, the truth about her. We weren't trying to make her palatable. We were trying to make her real."

Nielsen also relished the rare opportunity to play a woman investigating her own life.

She said she thinks the story is set up brilliantly, with Jo saying exactly what she feels -- no matter how rude or cruel it might sound -- while she sifts through her jumbled thoughts, trying to determine what are real memories as opposed to fantasies, hallucinations or ideas other people have suggested to her.

"You have someone who is looking for her own self to be a reliable narrator," the actress said.

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"She thinks she knows the truth, but then she has forgotten stuff," Nielsen added. "Her brain has this injury that makes her unfiltered on the one hand, but also makes her experience the world in a way that makes her worry if she can she trust herself."

Because much of the story unfolds via flashback when blonde Jo had red hair and no visible wounds, the production's crew -- particularly the makeup and costume departments -- kept meticulous records of details called "bibles" to maintain story continuity.

How long she should limp or act like she is in physical pain were some of characteristics that were carefully considered and planned out.

"Those had to be truthful," Nielsen said.

Further complicating matters was that episodes were not filmed in their entirety, one at the time.

"We were all over the place because we were doing locations," Nielsen recalled, with scenes that took place in Jo's posh house, childhood home and office, as well as various restaurants, friends' homes and medical facilities.

The actress said she became used to the bruising makeup after a while, and it didn't bother her to see her face appear injured when she looked in the mirror.

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She emphasized that the gruesome look and blonde hair were important to help viewers keep track of where they were in the timeline of the story.

"It was really important for me to map those Jos," she said.

As it turns out, the year Jo is having trouble remembering was fraught with family and financial tensions, including the sad realization that her father has dementia and no longer can take care of himself.

His failure to recognize his current reality and remember clearly events from the past mirror what his only child is enduring.

Some middle-aged adults might relate to this aspect of the story because they also have witnessed the decline of their own mothers and fathers, Nielsen emphasized.

"When you get into menopause, you are already seeing that reversal of roles between you and your parents -- where you become their protector, their nurse," she said. "That is an emotional difficulty."

Nielsen said she is enjoying this stage of her career, which has afforded opportunities to play meaty character-driven roles, as well as larger-than-life comic book characters.

"I'm certainly having a fun time," she said. "I feel like [during] my whole career, I was at a loss as to why all of the brilliant women I knew in my real life and who I admired were not being portrayed on film. ... I'm just fighting to show women stories that reflect them."

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