A Talk With Connie Nielsen
Shine of Rainbows Takes on Bullies
Just about a year ago, my wife and I were in the middle of moving into our first home—and as you might expect, a few balls got dropped over the course of eight or ten weeks while mortgages, reconstruction, packing, and moving got done.
One of those balls that got dropped was a review of A Shine of Rainbows—due to the fact that I misplaced the screener, and by the time I found and watched the film, it was long, long past the scheduled release date.
Out of a sense of guilt, then—and enthusiasm for the film, too—I jumped at the chance to interview Danish film star Connie Nielsen in support of the broad-market home DVD release from Fox Home Entertainment today. The film also stars Aidan Quinn.
Nielsen, who you no doubt remember as Russell Crowe’s imperial love interest in Gladiator, amongst many many other films over the last two decades, here plays an Irish woman who lives in a remote fishing village with her husband—who reluctantly agrees to take in an orphan on a “trial” basis. When the young boy doesn’t live up the rough fisherman’s visions of manliness and hardiness, he refuses to sign the adoption papers. Meanwhile, of course, the boy and the woman, Maire, have deeply bonded.
Courtesy of a national publicist, I had the chance to speak with Nielsen over the phone.
The DVD release of this film has been a long time coming.
Connie Nielsen: Yes!
As near as I can tell, it started out on the awards circuit back in 2009. So when did filming actually start on this production?
CN: I started filming in 2008. In the spring. In the spring of 2008.
So I’d have to bet that the publicity cycles, for most films that you’ve worked on, haven’t gone on this long. Am I right?
CN: No, they haven’t. But I’m pretty used to the fact that, if you’re doing a European movie or one that is first going onto the festival circuit—I’m pretty used to seeing these long, long terms.
Yes. Now, I became aware of the film first through its release in the Spiritual Cinema Circle in early 2010. Had you heard about that release?
CN: Nope! Nope, absolutely not.
There’s an outfit called Spiritual Cinema Circle that packages festival films—features with shorts—and puts them out on a DVD to subscribers with three or four films per disc.
CN: That’s interesting.
It’s kind of a niche market, and as I recall, the film was even released under a different title. [Spiritual Cinema Circle, Volume 4, 2010, Thomas and the Rainbow.]
CN: I have no idea about that.
So I’m very happy to have seen the film come out in a mainstream DVD release through a major distributor. What was it that drew you to the project initially, when you first read the script?
CN: To me, it was first of all a lovely script. I was deeply moved, and by page thirty of the first time reading the script I was in tears and I was basically calling my agents back telling them I’d do the script. Secondarily, I was interested in doing a film that my children could see with me as well, and I was also just really interested in playing this character. I feel that it’s really hard to come by stories that truly show what it’s like to be a mother; and, incidentally, it’s funny because she’s an adoptive mother. And I felt that her behavior in the script was so close to a natural mother, in the most beautiful way, and I thought that might say something about what adoption can also be—the ability to channel a greater love of the world, of beauty, of live in general. And I felt that this character was doing that in a beautiful way, at the same time giving a message that I thought was important.
Yes. I was really struck when I saw the film how wonderful that character was. We’re so conditioned in our culture to expect, you know, the evil stepmother movie.
CN: Yes. Yes.
Adoption movies don’t tend to be positive. And even the use of color in the film—
CN: A beautiful metaphor.
CN: The use of color is just a beautiful metaphor for the love of life. And the beauty, in terms of color, is a way of loving life. It’s a way of spreading love, of using that kind of color, of using love as a metaphor.
Well, I have to say that I was actually stunned to find out that you were in this film, even after having watched it—because I’m a big fan of a lot of your bigger Hollywood pictures, and I have to say that I simply did not recognize you in this role at all.
CN: Well, thank you very much. I take that as a compliment.
Yes, you should.
CN: I try to be surprised and grow in every film that I do, and I try to constantly get closer to sort of an inner desire that I have to say certain things with my work. And so sometimes when I get that opportunity, I certainly jump at it.
How did you feel that you grew from playing this character, in particular?
CN: Well, there are some parts of an artist, I think, that lead you to want to keep some things private.
CN: In this case, maybe my motherhood is something that I feel is very, very private and very beautiful. And so to open that part up to the world is a strange thing to do. Because it’s probably the most intimate part of me.
You said that you wanted to make a film that your kids could watch with you. Have they seen the film, and what was their reaction?
CN: Yes, they have. And even the twelve-year-old cried like a baby! My oldest son, who is twenty-one and lives in London studying music there, took his hipster friend to see it when it came out there, and they said they both sat there crying like children!
Yes. Not to give anything away, but it certainly has that capability to pull on the heartstrings.
I spend a lot time following what happens with releases of films—and with a lot of them, it seems that the people involved have no desire to promote them… for a lot of different reasons. Obviously, this is one that you feel you really have an investment in—to be doing promotions for it this far down the road. What is it that you hope people really get out of this film when they see it?
CN: First of all, as a parent it’s really hard to find movies that you feel your child can grow from. I think that what the people at Pixar do is literally genius. It’s literally genius. And the way of doing that is something that I think we all aspire to: a way of communicating not only with children but the whole family that is often not only funny but is also profound. It’s rare to find a film—a live-action film—however, which is able to do the same thing. And this is a film that, had it had the money to do bigger and more spectacular special effects—particularly with the seal pup—
CN: I feel that it would have had a much better chance of being seen here in America—where there is an audience expectation, and a distributor expectation, to be able to explore more of these spectacular effects in a film. Now, this film does not have the ability to do that; and so it’s perhaps not going to be seen by as many people who might benefit from it. But in terms of being a parent and wanting to find something that you can see with, especially, tweeners, this a really great film for that age group to see—because there is a lesson of compassion in this film. There is a great opportunity for children of this age to see this film and feel compassion for a child who most certainly, or almost certainly, they are a part of ostracizing in school right now.
CN: The little kid who has no one as his safety net in school, who has no robust home support, and who is therefore weak in the greater community of the school. And you know, these little children have these amazing antennas to know which kid can be dumped on and which cannot. And for me, being a parent who can be a part of telling their kids and showing their kids, “Look what it feels like to be this child”—and John Bell, who plays the child, does an amazing job of creating this character. Just an absolutely astounding job of creating this character. And I doubt that anyone can see this film and not come away without having a wonderful discussion with their parents about how they can help kids like that in their school—how they can be a part of lessening the effects of the pain and suffering that some of these children go through. You know, this is one of those films that can do things like that.
I think you’re right. And I agree that it’s a shame that the American appetite for special effects biases us against what are some really fine films—films that are simply good at storytelling, which is what this is.
CN: I agree with you, and thank you for saying that. I’m very pleased that other people see this, too.