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Who’s the Boss?

by Matt Lee | Men's Book Chicago magazine | November 8, 2011

It’s hard to believe, but word on the street is that Chicago has developed a reputation across the country for its politics. But even the hilarious antics of Blago and his ilk pale in comparison to the drama on offer in the new series Boss. Starring Kelsey Grammer as fictional mayor of Chicago Tom Kane, Boss takes a wild look at the corruption, deceit and decadence of those who seek unbridled power. One might think that Danish beauty Connie Nielsen, who co-stars as Meredith Kane, is on set to soften things up—on the contrary, first lady of Chicago Kane is, according to Nielsen, just as scheming, ruthless and corrupt as her husband. We caught up with the Gladiator and Devil’s Advocate star, who lives in San Francisco with her husband, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich, and their four children, to talk about the five months she spent in town filming and more.

Thanks for giving me a ring. I’m very sorry I’m late. I have a 4-year-old who’s terrorizing the whole house. He won’t go to school. It’s not that I mean to hide behind my kids, but it’s a fact.

He’s really not going to go? He’s refusing. He’s very busy. We’re going to have a lot of candy, popsicles and chocolate instead.

That must be the Lars side. Without a doubt this is not my side. I take no responsibility.

That’s really funny. Your character on Boss, Meredith Kane, is also pretty cantankerous. She wields a lot of power, not only in her relationship, but in the city. The whole piece is very much about power and its effect on people and what people do with it when they get it. And my character is someone who absolutely feeds off of power. She needs it to feel comfortable and happy, because there is a very big void in her life. She’s someone who would rather pretend things are a certain way than take the responsibility for making them real.

It sounds like, in a way, she and her husband are a good fit for each other. Yes, they are absolutely perfect for each other. It’s a kind of a doomsday scenario—they’re going to go straight to hell, these people.

Is that what attracted you to the project? It’s a lot of fun to play a negative character that way. It’s interesting. The way she was sold to me was as Lady Macbeth in Chicago today, and that sounded too good to pass up.

How was working with Kelsey Grammer? He’s a really nice guy, lovely to work with. He also had some interesting things to bring to his character. It’s funny to see the dichotomy of the two people—between who he really is and the character, who could not be further from his personality. Kelsey’s a gentleman, very kind and sweet. And then we start our scenes and we turn into these monsters.

Power-hungry monsters! Yes, absolutely.

And are you a political animal? I very much like politics. It’s interesting to me, what politicians do with power—that they try to build the best societies they can, whichever side you’re on. I do believe some of the people who are involved, at some point at least, are interested in building a better place for us. I don’t know that all ideas are equally good, but it’s the nice thing to say, that at least everyone thinks they’re trying.

Were you familiar with Chicago’s political reputation before you joined the cast? I was familiar with that, definitely. But I think more than anything everyone wanted to shoot there because it’s really a spectacular-looking city. It’s beautiful to film. And the downtown is very American; these huge phallic buildings just rise out of the flat country, and it’s a sort of visual metaphor for the powers at work here. It’s gorgeous and interesting. It has a lot of history; it’s a very rich town in many ways.

Did you get to spend a lot of time enjoying the city? I was very much working. But we did take the kids on a boat ride around the canals; it was breathtaking.

What attracts you to a role these days? I’ve always looked for the same kind of roles. It’s difficult, but I look for something that’s interesting to talk about.

Looking back on your career, do you have a few favorite projects you’ve done? Yeah, but they’re not necessarily as known. Like there is a tiny movie I did in Ireland two years ago called A Shine of Rainbows. It had a very small budget. It was, maybe, not able to express everything that it could have in terms of special effects, but the underlying idea is really beautiful—it’s about the power of love as a gift to other people. Even as I explore what evil is, what selfishness is, it’s beautiful to explore what love is and what generosity is.

You live in San Francisco. What do you like about living there as opposed to L.A.? I’ve never lived in LA. There’s something about L.A.; I don’t vibe with it. I vibe very much with New York and London and Rome, that kind of place, and San Francisco has some of that. There’s a lot about the nature in San Francisco that reminds me of, say, Tuscany. And there are a lot of interesting people who live here, writers and filmmakers and actors. It’s a place that allows you to be in contact with a real world, not a world that’s so connected to fame. There’s a part of me that just recoils at that whole setup. I find that it’s completely absent here, so I find that really refreshing.

Boss airs on the Starz network Fridays at 9pm.