WORLDS APART (2008)
Pilou Asbæk started out in the modest character type you might call Likeable Young Man of Today. But he immediately made a name for himself for his spontaneous freshness and powerful presence. In Niels Arden Oplev’s drama, about a 17-year-old Jehovah’s Witnesses girl struggling to break free from her sect, his character slowly comes to see the strength of his girlfriend’s ties to her freedom-crushing family. His love is sincere, but he lacks the power to truly help his girlfriend in her emancipation project.
In a film like this, brimming with impeccably true-to-type amateur actors who make every scene shine with credibility, it can be hard for a traditionally trained actor to come in as an outsider and deliver the same degree of authenticity. But Asbæk does. In Tobias Lindholm and Michael Noer’s relentless prison drama, Asbæk’s protagonist, serving two years in Denmark’s toughest prison, has to fight every inch of the way to assert himself in the prison’s brutal pecking order. As his criminality grows, Asbæk unsentimentally keeps us focused on the remaining shreds of his character’s humanity.
A HIJACKING (2012)
Asbæk cemented his name playing a cook on a freighter hijacked by Somali pirates, in Tobias Lindholm’s intense, underplayed hostage drama. The character’s profound love for his wife back home in faraway Denmark lends the drama emotional resonance, as Asbæk masterfully brings to life the gradual mental breakdown of a hostage clinging to the least glimmer of hope followed by ultimate desperation. The performance owes much of its effectiveness to his light, warm humanity, which forges an instant link of sympathy: this is a man who has a lot to lose, and we feel with him from start to finish.
SEX, DRUGS & TAXATION (2013)
The film marks a new departure for Asbæk in his development as an actor. The lead, as the late travel magnate Simon Spies, who made his fortune in the 1960s and ’70s, poses a demanding challenge, because the character – a self-centred, whip-smart tycoon, known to most Danes – is as far as one can imagine from Asbæk’s past screen credits. The result is a triumph: an intimate portrait of an uninhibited power monger, dangerous in his utter unpredictability, but helpless as a human being when he learns how little happiness money can really buy him.
TV: BORGEN (2010-13) & THE BORGIAS (2011-13)
In the international hit TV series Borgen, Asbæk plays Kasper Juul, a cynical spin doctor working for the show’s central politician character, Birgitte Nyborg (Sidse Babett Knudsen). The series gave Asbæk his popular Danish breakthrough in a new kind of role, as gentility yields to ruthlessness in the political game. A desperado lurks in his character, the victim of a terrible past. As the third season of the series opens, he is happily out of politics.
In Neil Jordan’s drama series (2011-13), about Rome in the late 1490s, Asbæk plays a power broker in a minor but recurring role as one of the Romans plotting to assassinate the corrupt, murderous Rodrigo Borgia aka Pope Alexander VI (Jeremy Irons).