Over the past few years, British TV viewers – especially male ones – have been bewitched by a succession of strong, compelling Danish actresses. First came Sofie Grabol, as The Killing’s brilliant-but-flawed police detective, Sarah Lund. Then there was Sidse Babett Knudsen, as Denmark’s brilliant- but-flawed prime minister Birgitte Nyborg in Borgen. Now, Scandi fans can meet their new crush: Trine Dyrholm.
Forty-two-year-old Dyrholm stars as the brilliant-but-flawed Gro Gronnegaard in The Legacy – a new ten-part drama series that, like the other two, comes from Denmark’s national broadcaster, DR. Gro is the devoted daughter of a famous bohemian artist, Veronika Gronne- gaard (Kirsten Olesen) – but Veronika dies, leaving her four grown-up children to fight over her estate. (The original Danish title of the series is Arvingerne, which, literally translated, means The Heirs.)
Sensible, conscientious Gro is stuck in the middle. “On the one hand, Gro is a very outgoing career woman, the director of a big art gallery in Copenhagen,” says Dyrholm. “On the other hand, she’s kind of the practical partner of her mother. Gro’s the one who takes care of Veronika’s exhibitions and sales. Maybe, in fact, she’s the reason why Veronika is such a big star internationally, because Veronika is much more messy and chaotic.”
Veronika’s mess and chaos extends to her private life: those four children have three differ- ent fathers. Gro is the eldest: her dad, the wild- haired avant-garde composer Thomas (Jesper Christensen), still lives in a caravan in the grounds of Veronika’s country house, which, confusingly enough, is also called Gronnegaard (literally “green farm”).
“It’s on the island of Funen, in the middle of Denmark,” explains Dyrholm. “That’s where I’m from originally, from this big island. A lot of artists live there because of the nature, it’s beautiful, and you can have big houses that are not too expensive. It’s a real house, where we film the exteriors.
The inside of Gronnegaard, by contrast, has been built at DR’s drama complex in Soborg, a suburb of Copenhagen. Fans of The Killing may feel a particular pull towards Veronika’s interiors – they’re housed in the same studio that was once home to the Birk Larsens’ removals depot.
This DR studio is where I meet Dyrholm, in December 2013, at The Legacy’s international press launch. She may be familiar to cinema- going viewers, having starred recently in the English-language film Love Is All You Need with Pierce Brosnan. Dyrholm’s Danish movie credits include A Royal Affair, In a Better World and, perhaps most famously, the 1998 Dogme 95 film Festen.
Today she is wearing a tailored black satin trouser suit, a black silk shirt buttoned up to the neck and no jewellery: the height of Scandinavian chic. Yet as she talks, she has the unaffected, friendly air that seemingly all Danes share – despite still sporting Gro’s jaw-length, pulled-back blonde hairdo, which is as severe as it is glamorous.
“I did a film with Pierce Brosnan called Love Is All You Need, and I cut off all my hair because I was wearing a wig, playing a woman who has breast cancer,” explains Dyrholm. “When I started on The Legacy, it was this length. And we decided that Gro should look like this. She’s quite tough. She’s vulnerable, of course, but you will find out that she is not always the nicest person.”
Indeed, says Dyrholm, “a lot of secrets and lies” come out during the course of the series. Before Veronika dies – but after learning of her illness – the mercurial artist writes a surprise letter to 26-year-old Signe (Marie Bach Hansen), a local girl who has no idea that Veronika is her real mother.The letter bequeaths Gronnegaard to Signe, putting her on a collision course with the apparent heirs, Gro and her half-brothers Frederik (Carsten Bjornlund) and Emil (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard). Indeed, the Gronnegaard estate was the childhood home of Frederik and Emil’s father, Carl.
The siblings’ fight over the estate became a weekly addiction in Denmark earlier this year, with ratings of up to 1.95million viewers – more than a third of the entire population. The Legacy’s average ratings were higher than for both The Killing and Borgen in their native land and, when the final episode was made available on the Danish version of iPlayer a week early, 100,000 people watched it online. A US remake of The Legacy is, inevitably, in the works.
That compelling on-screen soap opera is a far cry from Dyrholm’s own domesticated life. She lives in central Copenhagen with her partner Niclas and their five-year-old son, Axel. “I’m not a good cook, but I love food. I do a little pilates, but not enough,” she laughs. “And I sing – I started out as a singer when I was 14. So once in a while, I sing at some ball, just for fun.”
But being a celebrity in Denmark – even for actresses who make movies with Pierce Brosnan – just isn’t the same as being a celebrity in the UK. Danish actors seldom have agents, let alone PRs. After Love Is All You Need, Dyrholm has an agent in London – but looks quizzical when I ask about Denmark, replying simply: “It’s not a huge market here, they can just call me.”
When The Legacy was being made, says Dyrholm, the cast and crew had no idea that it would be exported to the UK. “That’s only because of Borgen and The Killing,” she says. “Hopefully it will work out there.” So is Dyrholm prepared, I wonder, for the adulation that could come with being the new Sarah Lund or Birgitte Nyborg?
“Well, I know some of the other girls quite well, so I’ve seen it from this side. Sofie and Sidse, we all know each other, it’s not a big busi- ness here,” she says with a smile. “I don’t know. Let’s just see what will happen.”