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

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
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.

    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor
    The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

    The ZX Spectrum is back

    The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
    Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

    Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

    The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

    Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

    If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
    The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

    The quirks of work perks

    From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
    Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

    Is bridge becoming hip?

    The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
    Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

    The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

    Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
    The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

    The rise of Lego Clubs

    How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
    5 best running glasses

    On your marks: 5 best running glasses

    Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
    Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

    Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
    Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

    Please save my husband

    As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada