Interview: Sidse Babett Knudsen of Danish political TV drama Borgen
Denmark’s fictional leader wants the public to cut politicians some slack
Like Martin Sheen in The West Wing, Sidse Babett Knudsen has done her bit in giving politicians a good name. As Danish leader Birgitte Nyborg in two seasons of Borgen, Knudsen’s popularity rating with British TV viewers would have Cameron, Clegg and co cowering. But she proves as open-hearted and empathetic in the flesh as her character is on screen.
‘I think it was worth making a show which showed the human side of politicians. They are human beings who are also trying to have a life. I get a little offended when I chat to somebody and they define all the politicians in one way and have little respect. Of course, we shouldn’t just think that they are all doing this great work, but there’s an arrogance towards them: “well, they put themselves out there so they have to take everything that comes their way”. I don’t think so. It’s a job about responsibility and it would do us all a favour if we treated them differently.’
Dressed in a tartan trouser suit, Knudsen chatted openly ahead of her q&a appearance at the Edinburgh Filmhouse where the final episodes of Borgen’s second series were given a special screening. Season two (now out on DVD) delved deeper into Nyborg’s personal problems as she split with her husband, had a brief fling with an employee and tried to handle her daughter’s anxiety attacks.
When the tabloids intruded on the family’s privacy and hit the Statsminister hard over the perceived hypocrisy about her stance on private healthcare, it showed that a seemingly civilised north European nation could have just as much a problem with paparazzi and red-top bin-rakers as everywhere else. ‘We haven’t had any of the kind of scandals that you have had, but it’s developing quite fast,’ admits Knudsen. ‘I had a total shock not very long ago when I saw a photo of the Queen eating a hotdog in a very unfavourable way. That would have been unthinkable ten years ago, but we are in a moral vacuum somehow, and we touch on that in Borgen.’
Knudsen is also happy to concede that without The Killing, her show might never have had the success it’s enjoyed in Britain. ‘I think we owe it all to The Killing. It was very approachable, a crime drama that was very well done, became a cult and spread through word of mouth; they paved the way completely for us. And I hope we can keep up the quality so you won’t have to hate us again. But the danger now is that we think too internationally; if we just try to be like America, that would be boring. We can’t do shows the way they do anyway; there’s been an integrity with our projects and I hope that continues.’
Borgen fans will be upset to learn that the next season will be the show’s last. Asides from a few post-production sound duties, Knudsen has said her farewells to Nyborg. Without revealing too many plot details, she seems glad to have put the third season behind her, which has her heading off to Hong Kong. ‘The last episode of season two was filmed almost two years ago and I miss that; the third season I don’t miss at all. There was an intimacy that we had in the first two that was special and I really missed my prime minister’s office so much because it was such a great companion. There is definitely still some Nyborg left in me.’
Borgen season two DVD is out now on Arrow Films.