Connie Nielsen on Breaking Down Women's Stigmas With AMC+ Psychological Thriller 'Close to Me' (Exclusive)

A century after women fought for the right to vote, half the planet's total population still faces extremely outdated taboos on a daily basis. From sexism to aging and menopause, women have had to walk on eggshells when it comes to their own everyday realities. These realities are accented most acutely in the new suspense mini-series Close to Me starring Connie Nielsen. Premiering on Sundance NOW and AMC+ on Dec. 16, the show follows Jo Harding, a woman who has the perfect life with her husband (Christopher Eccleston), until a nasty fall erases an entire year from her memory. As she struggles to piece the events together and comes across some dark secrets, Jo discovers her life is in fact, far from perfect. 

The series, based on Amanda Reynolds' magnetic and unsettling novel of the same name, is one Nielsen tells PopCulture.com in an exclusive interview is a "really good psychological thriller" with "real meaning" often left out in other stories. Touching on various themes like the aspects of aging and maintaining a healthy sex life well into your 50s, Nielsen says the show has a strong, empowering message to it. 

"I think that it's a really good message and that is that women when they age don't lose anything, they gain stuff. They gain themselves, they gain understanding, and they gain power. That's important. To continue to sit inside of a sexist or a patriarchal version of what women's menopause and that second coming of age is, is to allow a negative rule over us. I think we need to really emphasize the empowerment that comes from menopause as well."

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(Photo: AMC+ / AMC Networks)

While Jo has her battles between trying to understand what happened in the last year of her life following the mysterious accident, Nielsen says portraying the complex character was a role she had a "lot of fun" with, especially while delving into a woman almost left fragmented. "One of the side effects of brain damage is this disinhibition and it just speaks to my a little bit warped sense of humor, to go into those scenes where she is disinhibited and says horrible things," she laughed, sharing there's a scene that was actually cut out due to the nature of her dialogue. Nevertheless, it was a humbling experience bringing to light scenes that were distressing. "It was also obviously incredibly painful because what you realize is that this trauma and the fact that she now has to play a detective in her own life, even though she's obviously rather defective in her brain, which is where she needs that brain to function."

In a scene with Nielsen's Jo and her daughter Sash (played by Rosy McEwen), the two argue with her daughter lashing out, "Stick to people your own age!" While the statement comes as a shock to Jo, Nielsen says it's a proclamation proving women's liberation is far from complete. The Danish actress adds how women are not really equal "until it's just as cool to give a boy a woman's name as it is to give a girl, a boy's name" in this day and age. "Everybody's happy to call a girl, Jo or Chris or whatever. But if you call a boy Maria or Louisa — that's just not even considered cool. It's funny how it's cool for a girl to behave like a boy, but it's still so hard for trans men to be allowed to behave or be women. So, I think that says a lot about where we are and I think that really, the fact that we don't apply 'Stick to your own age' to men at all is just another aspect of that. But the thing is we don't have to take it anymore. We don't have to agree to that. We don't have to acknowledge that as a rule at all. In fact, break it, go out there and do as you please."

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(Photo: AMC+ / AMC Networks)

With Jo trying to piece her life together after the horrible accident, Nielsen — who is also the executive producer of the mini-series — says the accents of women's issues, like menopause, give a welcoming dialogue to how these stigmas are still perceived today and received by others, not understanding the issue first-hand. "The fact that no one talks about menopause — I don't think there's any piece of entertainment out there that has ever spoken about it and I just find that so offensive to women. But also painful because they basically go through almost unimaginable physical and emotional and psychological changes, but alone," she said. "When my mom went through it, I just didn't really understand how shocking it was. I was just like, 'Oh, you're a little hot. It's okay. Why are you making such a big deal out of it?' And now I just feel so sad that I couldn't share this with her, that I couldn't come at that with more understanding and empathy. So it was very important to me [as executive producer] that I really speak to that as well."

Sharing how she is "so happy" that Close to Me includes such an empowering message at its core, she hopes the series confronts the stigmas over women's issues most positively for audiences. "You've had that chapter with raising those kids and making that family and doing all of these amazing things — and now it's time for you. It's time for your life, your thoughts, your imagination, your talents to really, really become unhindered or unfettered by anything," she said later adding how the dialogue around women's health concerns like menopause are laughed at and approached more comically in popular culture. "It's really insane. There's no empathy around it — there's more empathy when we look at the men's side and there's certainly more medical support than there is for women. And again, it's part of that same issue though and that's why I wanted to talk about it. I want to raise that conversation."

Close to Me premieres Dec. 16 on Sundance NOW and will be available to stream on AMC+. For more on the series and all your favorite streaming shows, keep it locked to PopCulture.com for the latest.