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Connie Nielsen: 'Dreamer' Karen Blixen shows 'it's never too late'

Connie Nielsen portrays author Karen Blixen in "The Dreamer." Photo courtesy of Viaplay
1 of 5 | Connie Nielsen portrays author Karen Blixen in "The Dreamer." Photo courtesy of Viaplay

LOS ANGELES, March 30 (UPI) -- Connie Nielsen said she was inspired to develop the Danish TV series, The Dreamer: Becoming Karen Blixen, premiering Thursday on Viaplay in the United States, when she learned how late in life Blixen became an author.

The show depicts Blixen embark on a writing career in 1930s Africa at age 47.

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"Do you know how many people wake up at 46, 47 and they've raised their kids and they've done all these things?" Nielsen told UPI in a recent Zoom interview.

"I think it would be really nice for people to know this story because then they can see that it's never too late to become something or explore something in yourself."

Blixen published short story collections and the novel Out of Africa, which was adapted into a 1985 film. Nielsen, 57, said she learned about Blixen's history while attending a press conference for her series, Liberty, at the Karen Blixen Museum, Rungstedlund, in Denmark.

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"There was this painting hanging on a wall," Nielsen said. "It's this gorgeous black-and-white hand drawing of a classical bust."

The painting has no title, but Nielsen said the museum curator began to tell her Blixen's story and how she drew the picture that captivated Nielsen when she was 17. She then continued to paint.

Nielsen learned that Blixen struggled to pursue painting because she was a woman, and only took up writing after her family lost its coffee farm. The Dreamer shows how Blixen sought independence through her career as an author.

"She'd rather die than go back to being put inside a conformist little box and not allowed to do what she wanted to do," Nielsen said. "That's when she starts writing."

Blixen's first book was the short story collection, Seven Gothic Tales, published under the male pseudonym Isak Dinesen. The Dreamer shows how Blixen sent manuscripts to publishers and negotiated her contracts to gain the attention of the publishing world.

"She was so different," Nielsen said. "In the '30s, everything was about social realism, and here she is writing tales, tales for adults, these odd concoctions, metaphysical stories filled with philosophy."

Out of Africa was Blixen's autobiography of her time in Kenya where her family's coffee plantation was. Some editions of Out of Africa were also published under Dinesen's name.

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Reading Blixen's work, Nielsen said, provided "a key to understanding how she worked through all of the trauma, experience and her thoughts about life. She then wove all of that into these exquisite stories with these exquisite characters."

It was also part of Nielsen's pitch to dramatize some of Blixen's stories within the narrative of The Dreamer. Nielsen said it was important to focus The Dreamer on Blixen's work, rather than her relationships.

"You don't really get to see female artists on film create," Nielsen said. "It's always about some romantic or sexual story. What I wanted to do was to actually pay the due to the artist that Karen was."

Nielsen also appears as characters in Blixen's stories. This required a dramatic physical transformation from Nielsen's appearance as the real Blixen.

She said she lost 22 pounds to play the ailing Blixen, suffering from syphilis and subsequent mercury and arsenic poisoning from the treatment for the former condition.

"I just starved for the first six months," Nielsen said.

Two months into filming, Nielsen said she began 4:30 a.m. workouts to appear robust in the dramatizations "and started eating for the second half of the shoot."

Nielsen has worked out for other physically demanding roles, such as the Amazon queen Hippolyta in the Wonder Woman movies. Nielsen said she was hoping to reprise her role of Hippolyta in a third Wonder Woman film, but director Patty Jenkins has since left the project.

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New DC chiefs James Gunn and Peter Safran are undecided about whether or not Gal Gadot will continue as the superhero. Nielsen said she remains hopeful that the films will continue and include her character.

"I hope that Warner Bros. will continue to give it respect and its due because it's such an amazing experience for so many people," Nielsen said.

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