'Close To Me' star Connie Nielsen: 'The menopause has been invisible on TV for far too long'

Connie Nielsen
(Image credit: Channel 4)

Connie Nielsen plays Jo Harding, a woman who seems to have it all in Channel 4's new psychological thriller Close To Me, until she comes round from a fall to find an entire year has been lost from her memory!

Jo begins the painstaking process of piecing together the events that led to her accident in this week’s opening episode, with the help of her beloved husband Rob and their friends and family. 

But as fragments of her old life start returning, Jo can’t escape the feeling someone has been lying about what happened on the fateful night of her accident and is desperate to stop her from uncovering a dark secret from her past. 

Connie, tells us more about the tense series based on a hit novel by Amanda Reynolds and how she hopes it will shine a light on female issues rarely seen on screen...

Connie Nielsen on 'Close To Me'...

"I loved this story from the beginning as the idea of identity — and how our memories affect that — fascinated me. Are we our memories? Jo loses some of her memories. But she also starts recovering other ones that she had repressed for many years, which indicates that she's not who she thought she was. It’s a conundrum about who we are and physically and mentally, makes us us!"

Connie on Jo Harding... 

"Jo is a woman who has everything. She’s independently wealthy, intellectually stimulated by her work as a translator, she is in a stable relationship with her solicitous and supportive husband, and her kids have just moved out of the house. She’s a woman in the blossom of her life, but then she has a fall. When she wakes up, she has lost just over a year of her memory. 

"As she struggles to regain that memory, she has this gnawing feeling that there's something that she needs to know, that her friends, her kids, her husband, are withholding information from her. Now she must find out the truth, whilst suffering from her brain injury and she’s not sure what or who she should trust. So she’s like a detective in her own life!

"Karen Blixen once said, "art is the truth about facts" and I just think that's a little bit where Jo is. Her dreams and her cascade of old memories are a little bit like that art and what they reveal about her life will reveal the larger truth about her."

Connie Nielsen

Connie Nielsen stars opposite Christopher Eccleston in the six-part series. (Image credit: Channel 4)

Connie on retaining the spirit of Amanda Reynolds' hit novel... 

"I was an executive producer on this and the long-form storytelling allows you to go deeper into the life of a middle-aged woman, which was a dream as an actor and a producer. The series came out in Denmark last month and it started a lot of conversations about intimacy in middle aged people and the sex scenes we depict in the show. A lot of women were saying 'Hooray! We need to talk about this! We need to talk about female sexuality and intimacy in a long-term relationship!'

"As an actor, you're always trying to seek out where it hurts, where's the wound that’s badly healed, so you can open it up and clean it out. We also wanted to be true to another part of the novel, which is the story of a woman going through mental and physical aspects of the menopause. It’s something we never see in TV or movies, it’s like it’s invisible!"

"Everybody is focusing when they do finally mention menopause in the series and we focus on devastating physical aspects of it. But what we're also focusing on is the mental awakening of a lot of women who find that their energies are all of sudden released from lunch boxes and football games. All of these things that fill our days, our work, our marriages, all of these things. All of a sudden there's a moment where you take power back. And I think taking that power back can have a lot of unintended consequences."

Connie on Jo's marriage... 

"Rob (who's played by Christopher Eccleston) seems very nice, but you get the feeling he’s relishing her enormous dependence on him and his ability to exert control over her life. He’s really enjoying being the Saviour! I think that that's a little bit indicative also of the state of their marriage. 

"He’s a thoroughly good person, but at the same time he’s holding things back from her, so there’s an uneasy balance. But she has flashes of memory that do not appear to be her husband, so there’s something else going on there!"

Connie on spending hours in the make-up... 

"Jo has bruises all over her body, which we see from time to time. The make-up team were amazing and it took them two hours to put those bruises on every morning. They had to make a bulletproof continuity book to make sure they looked exactly the same every time and even reduce them as the story goes on and she begins to heal. 

"Another interesting part of the series is that Jo wakes up as a blonde, but in many of her recollections she has dark hair and going back and forth during filming was a bit of a jarring experience!"

Connie on the most demanding scene... 

"There’s a moment where Jo has a complete and utter breakdown and it feels like something is eating away at her. When she realises that this moment, may or may not be only in her mind. She goes berserk and starts hitting herself, which was such a cathartic scene to film because Jo has to direct that violence at herself. It was such an intense scene and I enjoyed a large glass of wine that evening!" 

Sean Marland

Sean is a Senior Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV and TV & Satellite Week, who also writes for whattowatch.com. He's been covering the world of TV for over 15 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are I'm Alan Partridge, The Wire, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.