NEW YORK — There’s something about Connie Nielsen’s austere Scandinavian beauty and cool self-possession that doesn’t lend itself to playing comic heroines or witless bimbos. Instead, the Danish actress tends to be cast as the long-suffering, strong-willed type — Joaquin Phoenix’s stoic sister in “Gladiator” and the object of Robin Williams’ creepy obsession in “One Hour Photo.” Her latest project, “Brothers,” which opens Friday, is no exception. In the Danish film, she plays Sarah, a brilliantly composed, staunchly loyal mother of two caught in a love triangle between her husband, a former prisoner of war in Afghanistan, and his wayward but loving brother.

“I read the script for ‘Brothers’ during a time when I was feeling very impotent inside and watching the news of the war,” explains the leggy, Valentino-clad Nielsen, who’s perched near a window in a suite at the Regency so she can draw on an endless supply of Marlboro Lights. “A couple weeks before, there had been these wife-killings at Fort Bragg by soldiers who were coming back from the first tour of duty in Afghanistan.

“I remember that I was struck by this sense of tragedy. I didn’t feel like they were bad guys. I felt that those were men — human beings — that had been through a trying situation and had come back and not known how to deal with what they had seen and done and had no way of fitting into the society they were coming back to.”

 Given this was the first movie in her 20-year career that Nielsen filmed in her homeland, she was initially apprehensive about the role and worked with a voice coach to make her plummy accent more working-class. “I thought the Danish might judge me harshly,” says Nielsen, who lives in the West Village with her 15-year-old son, Sebastian, and dates Metallica’s Lars Ulrich. But her moving performance in “Brothers” garnered her best actress awards from both the Danish Academy Awards and the San Sebastian Film Festival.

And her upcoming films aren’t exactly light fare either — she recently finished a World War II film with Benjamin Bratt and Joseph Fiennes and now is shooting “The Situation” in Morocco, in which she plays a journalist covering the war in Iraq. But there’s laughter, of sorts, ahead — Nielsen is happy to report she also has completed the black comedy “Ice Harvest” with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thorton.

This story first appeared in the May 5, 2005 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

“I really enjoyed doing comedy and would love to do more of it. The funny thing is that I actually started out doing them,” says Nielsen, who was 18 when she starred opposite Jerry Lewis in “Par où t’es rentré? On t’a pas vu sortir.” “He was my first movie kiss.”

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