Fancy a Danish? What about Pilou Asbaek - the man who plays Kasper Juul in ‘Borgen’

He tells Susie Mesure of family, bad hair, and his politician groupies

Pilou Asbaek is best known as the stubbled spin doctor in the Danish drama Borgen, and meeting him was always going to be about one thing and one thing only – and I’m not talking politics. I’m not even talking about the strong women that dominate the addictive show, whatever Asbaek might expect (he says he gets “provoked because it’s the No 1” people ask him about).

I’m interested in weightier matters: his hair. Pictures from the drama’s third series, which has already aired in Denmark, show a clean-shaven Kasper Juul looking distinctly top heavy with a seriously bouffant quiff, and my main question was going to be: why?

We meet not in the hallowed cloisters of Denmark’s actual Borgen (“castle” in Danish and the nickname for their government building), but in a London hotel where Asbaek is selling his new film, Kapringen. It opens as A Hijacking in Britain this week and tells the story of a ship hijacked by Somali pirates. Asbaek makes a fine ship’s cook, complete with a seaman’s bushy beard. But as he greets me, taking my hot cup of tea from my right hand to shake it, I’m confused by yet another new look: a serious pair of mutton chops. The effect is at odds with his outfit of jeans and sloganed T-shirt (“Guns, Beer, Wine, Cards”, which he says, smirking, are “all those things in life you shouldn’t enjoy”). But it makes sense when he tells me he has spent the past two weeks filming in Prague for his latest part: “the evil guy” in 1864, a historical drama for the Danish broadcaster DR about their country’s defeat in the Schleswig-Holstein war against Germany.

If that sounds an unlikely televisual hit then consider Borgen, a series, after all, about the intricacies of coalition politics in a country of barely five million people. Asbaek, 31, remembers being offered the part of the troubled press adviser in Borgen, which followed the global hit Forbrydelsen, better known as the multiple Emmy award-winning The Killing. “I was like: ‘Are we going to be international?’ Answer: ‘No. It’s Danish politics about a female politician and you’re a spin doctor. No, it doesn’t have international potential.’”

He cracks a characteristically engaging smile: “And now it’s sold to more than 70 countries. Argentina, Japan. It’s kerayzeeeeeee!”

Britain was agog for the last series, which despite airing on BBC4 had even the Sun in a breathless tizz over “Dishy Dane” Sidse Babett Knudsen, who plays the fictional prime minister Birgitte Nyborg. Just imagine the frenzy that will greet season three when it finally airs over here this winter, given the identity of Birgitte’s new boyfriend, Monarch of the Glen star Alastair Mackenzie, who plays an English divorcé and architect. Sadly, Asbaek says Juul had no hand in their meeting. Potentially sadder still is the revelation that Juul plays only a small part in the next – and final – series.

“That was my own choice. I did half a year of theatre,” he says, adding that he was loath to be typecast    as the cynical Juul for ever more. Especially, as he says, that in person he’s the “exact opposite. I’ve had the same girlfriend for seven years. I just became a dad. I love my kid. I love a boring life. I’m the worst liar alive. I’m not cynical. I cry at ET. And Kung Fu Panda!”

Talk of Asbaek’s four-month-old daughter, Agnes, brings us to Juul’s child. SPOILER ALERT: Juul and his on-off girlfriend Katrine Fonsmark (Birgitte Hjort Sorensen) do have the child that she so desperately wanted, and of whom Juul is so afraid, given his own dark past. “Kasper Juul’s scar in life is he can never run from his past,” Asbaek says. “I think he really wants to be a good dad, but he’s just a character written with blood.”

Asbaek has amusing anecdotes about how seriously the Danes have taken their unlikely hit, which he tells me several times is watched by one in three people in Denmark. “The funniest thing was that all of the political parties called and said: ‘Would you come and talk with our main spin doctor in a public forum when we talk about your job and his/her job as a spin doctor?’ And I was like: ‘Guys! This is fiction. I’m an actor. Somebody writes my lines.’”

Or the politicians he met over dinner: “All of them said – and these are top political leaders in Denmark – ‘Pilou, I love, love, love your spin doctor. He’s so realistic; he’s a cynical bastard; and he’s not like my spin doctor, because he’s a good guy, but he’s like the opposite party’s spin doctor.’” Then there was the time that our very own Alastair Campbell interviewed him ... “He was so sweet,” says Asbaek.

And yes, he does address the “strong woman” appeal of Danish telly, which has Brits like me so enraptured. “The big secret behind the whole female situation is much more logical than you would expect. Who gets to choose what to watch on TV [on a Saturday night]? It’s the women. And what do women want? They want to watch something they can relate to. You women are tired of watching superhero men fighting other superhero men. Now you want to watch powerful, strong women. It’s like Macbeth. Sidse is like Macbeth. And I think that’s the secret. You have control of the remote after seven o’clock.”

Asbaek admits the all-male milieu of A Hijacking was something of a shock. The film is an intense documentary-style drama. Perpetuating the notion that Denmark has only a handful of actors, another Borgen alumnus, Soren Malling (he plays the hard-bitten TV news producer in the political show) co-stars as the shipping company’s chief executive.

While filming off the Kenyan coast, in Somali pirate territory, on a boat he says “had actually been hijacked” as had some of his fellow cast members, Asbaek lost 16 of the 18 kilos he had gained for the role. “I was determined. And sick.” He admits the production company must have been worried that life would imitate art but adds: “We had so many live firearms on board that we could have hijacked a big ship if we’d wanted to.”

He did wind up getting his head stitched in hospital though, after throwing himself into one of the scenes too whole-heartedly: “I did what you’re not allowed to do as an actor. I tried to hit my co-actor in his head. Then the other guy just behind us just flipped his gun into my head. It was stupid.”

He clearly takes his work very seriously, which would bring us back neatly to his new hairstyle for Borgen 3 – except I later realise to my horror that I was so engrossed in chatting that I ... gulp ... forgot to ask why Juul looks so different. Luckily, Asbaek answers my follow-up email in a heartbeat.

“It’s because we jump two years in time and Kasper Juul needed to do something else. I was like: ‘Let’s go with longer hair and a shave ;)’ Do I regret it? YES!”

‘A Hijacking’ is released on Friday

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump


Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser