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Connie Nielsen

'Gladiator'

Believing in a high-tech, computer graphic-generated ancient Rome may sound like a difficult job for any actor, but Connie Nielsen says “Gladiator” director Ridley Scott made it easy.

“Once you start doing a thing like that, you are so completely into the story,” she says of her role as Lucilla in the summer smash. “What Ridley created around us were absolutely convincing backdrops. … It’s so easy to fall into that fiction.”

Born in Denmark, Nielsen began acting at 15. After traveling extensively, she worked and studied in Paris and Rome before her American film debut in “The Devil’s Advocate,” and roles in “Rushmore,” “Permanent Midnight,” “Soldier” and “Mission to Mars.”

Nielsen came to the “Gladiator” role courtesy of a casting director who sent a tape she had done for another film to Scott. After a series of meetings in America and London, Nielsen says she never expected to actually land the role.

“I kept hearing the big Hollywood names who were going to do it,” she recalls. “I guess Ridley just kept on thinking I was right for it.”

Proper casting was crucial for the complex role. Lucilla is the former lover of Russell Crowe’s Maximus, sister of the vain emperor Commodus and mother to the heir to Rome. Getting into character involved learning about the privileges and limitations of life in ancient Rome, and about the reality of the person she was playing.

“I had to think, ‘What is the thought process of a person who’s raised as royalty, absolute royalty?'” Nielsen says. “At the same time (that) she’s a very spoiled brat, she had to live with a lot of compromises.”

Nielsen took her cues toward making the character likable from the script, which indicated Lucilla had “some sense of principles.”

It’s not until the film wrapped and Nielsen got out of character that the enormity of the production hit home.

“Afterwards, it’s sort of overwhelming,” says the actress, who is soldiering on with her career.

She will be seen next in “One Hour Photo,” with Robin Williams and Eriq La Salle, and then with Tommy Lee Jones in William Friedkin’s “The Hunted.”

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