Everything about the Danish-German actress Christiane Seidel—from her name to her beauty—is intriguing. The perfect casting choice to play Sigrid in HBO’s Prohibition-era show Boardwalk Empire, Seidel seems like she originated from another time and place. When she arrives at Soho House in West Hollywood for our interview, she glides through the sliding glass doors with the gait and physique of a Rodin ballerina. Indeed, her classical features, enticing emerald eyes, and tumbling red hair would have made her a Renaissance painter’s dream.
Passionate about her craft, Seidel is the consummate “actor’s actor”, possessing a unique blend of confidence—and humility. An indelible force, she has the effortless versatility to play anything from an ice maiden villainess to a cute and quirky girl-next-door with élan. But like a rare bird, Seidel is difficult to peg. At once, she is both amiable and unattainable. Imagine the graceful aloofness of Nicole Kidman combined with the endearing vulnerability of Audrey Hepburn—and a lick of a badass rock chick. When she smiles, she sparkles with the same sense of mischief as a young Leslie Caron.
To be sure, Seidel would have made a great Gigi.
Soon enough, we are curled up on the sofa chatting like old friends. I could have spent hours listening to that mellifluous, honey-coated voice, offset by a subtle Texas twang. The topics we span cover the delirious highs and crushing lows of her life. A survivor so beautiful and timeless, I am sure as I listen to her that we will see her face and name for a long time to come.
Following interview by Michael Williams
Where are you currently based?
NYC, but I’m often in LA for a castings. I’m shooting season four of Boardwalk Empire this summer. Basically I go back and forth between LA & NYC.
How did you first get into acting?
I got into acting when I was a kid at school. I’d do all the school plays and (laughs) probably took it more seriously than everyone else. I even knew then that I wanted to be an actor but I waited until my 20’s before I really decided to pursue acting and nothing else.
You have an interesting background. Can you tell us about your upbringing?
Yes, I have a Danish mother and a German father. My parents met on the Danish-German boarder at a party; my Dad was in his Navy uniform. Mom was not at all impressed at first, but eventually they in love and luckily it worked out. Shortly after, my Dad got stationed in Texas where I was born. My dad was flying fighter jets, so I was born in Wichita Falls, Texas of all places. I lived the life of a typical army brat. We lived in Texas for a time, then Germany, then Denmark—where most of my family is from. Then I went to film school in Capetown South Africa for a semester, so I’ve been all over.
What kind of influence do you feel that moving around so much played in your acting?
I was always interested in acting, but moving around so much definitely made me more independent and made me discover myself more. Each place I’d move to would offer slightly different experiences as far as acting and studying acting was concerned. In Denmark, there is a real tradition of acting within the school system but in Germany, it’s very separate from school. And any time I’d move, I’d have people to connect to through acting. It’s universal. Regardless of where I’d go, and I’m still this way today, I’d always go and see plays and find theatre people.
What do you love most about being an actor?
I really love to be something else, to immerse myself in a role. There’s always part of you in role. You can’t just make shit up. You have to find something that makes the character real to you. What I really enjoy is not having to worry about who I am or having to be a certain way, or look a certain way in order to be liked. All it is is a different character and that’s what’s so cool about it. You get to become someone different—someone else to escape into. Not that I’m running away from myself. It’s just so much fun to play these roles. For example at the Imagista shoot it was so much amazing to have all this makeup and hair and being something that I’m usually not. I didn’t worry though because I knew that I was surrounded by all these great people who wanted to get a certain thing and I was the vessel for that, which I love.
Is there any other type of performance that you do? Do you sing or dance?
You really do not want to hear me sing! (laughs). I am however trained in dance and I danced a fair amount growing up. And I’ve just started writing. I really write for myself though. Running around doing auditions all day isn’t very fulfilling so I just felt I needed another outlet while I’m in LA. Whereas, when I’m in NYC, I’m always doing classes. Being here in LA it’s just the business.
What is the most difficult part of your job?
It’s definitely the auditions. Doing auditions can be draining. You try hard. You want the job. You want them to like you. It can be very unhealthy in a way. You never really know what the result of a casting is and you don’t really have any control of the outcome. So the writing helps fill me up. It’s all about being judged. It’s funny too because sometimes I’ll think I’ve done the worst audition ever and then I get the job; or, other times, I’ll think I’ve nailed it then I never hear back from them. (laughs).
Did you study acting in college?
In college I actually studied media and management (laughs) but then I did a two-year conservatory training at Strasberg in New York. It’s a bit of legendary school of course with it’s legacy of actors like Marilyn Monroe and all those great actors coming out of there. It was an exciting time in my life to be in New York and have access to the best teachers in the world. In NYC you can pretty much cherry pick teachers for what you need as a performer. So I went to Strasberg for two years so that I could study with all of their great teachers. I’ve studied with Susan Batson for a year and that was very intense. I’d go to class from 7:00 P.M. until 8:00 A.M.
And as far as mentors and/or coaches?
Once, I started working with Larry Moss, who is a fantastic acting teacher, that’s when things began to really change for me. He’s an unbelievable teacher. Shortly after working with him I got cast in this amazing play and what I learned there I carried with me into the casting process on Boardwalk and I doubt I would have gotten the role without that experience. So things changed entirely once I started working Larry. And then I started working with Karl Bury as my regular scene teacher. He studied with Larry Moss forever and teaches a weekly class that I’ve been in for a long time. Karl is always there to ask for advice.
My husband Eddie has also always been an amazing support system. He understands the business too and he keeps me grounded.
Why do you think it is it that NYC has most of the great acting coaches when the business is really in LA?
I think it’s because NYC has such a big and amazing theatre scene. Theatre is often regarded more as an art, a craft.; in LA it’s mainly TV shows and films. To work in the theatre an actor needs a strong instrument, the voice has to be heard til the last row, etc. There are certain technical aspects to it that aren’t usually needed as much for for on-camera work.. Many come to LA to become famous and they often go there without any training but if you come from NYC and you’ve done theatre and done training then you’re sometimes more respected. But you really need to live in LA to make it and once you’ve made it you can go back to NYC or live anywhere really.
Who inspires you most in your work life?
Cate Blanchett is one of my favorite actors. I love what she does. And of course Meryl Streep. Everyone sites her as their favorite but she’s one of mine too. You almost can’t answer the question without saying Meryl. Daniel Day-Lewis, Joaquin Phoenix, they’re incredibly inspiring as well, but Meryl is incredible in terms of how she disappears into a role and becomes that person.
I also really love and relate to Amy Adams, Jessica Chastain and Nicole Kidman. They all have red hair too but I don’t like them for that. It’s sort of funny because having red hair does in fact separate you from a lot of other actors because we’re less common. Growing up as a redhead you kind of get teased more. We stand out. But it also makes us who we are. I also like Amy and Jessica because they’re actors who made it a little bit latter in their careers. There’s just something about those women that I admire a lot. They have a certain gravitas to them.
What projects are you currently working on?
In 2011, I got the audition for Boardwalk. I was really excited, happy and grateful for that. I was told the character was possibly recurring. I thought maybe I’d get two episodes max. Then they started writing more and more for my character. I came onboard toward the end of Season 2 and then I did Season 3 and I thought I might never survive. You know people get killed left and right (laughs). The writers have given me this amazing character arc that I am so grateful for and now I’m back for Season 4 so we’ll see where that takes us. I love playing the role of Sigrid onBoardwalk. I love that she came in as this doe-eyed, very naive and sweet immigrant young woman who turns around and becomes this feisty killer. I like that she has her husband’s back and that he has her back. I love that she came in and became this really cool and unpredictable, but strong, woman. I really love playing her.
So how much of you is in Sigrid?
Well I can relate a lot to Sigrid because I know what it’s like to move to a different country and not know anyone or have much in the way of material possessions. Sigrid came straight off the boat from Norway and started a new life. That’s something I can totally relate to. I came back to the US a few short years ago, literally, with two suitcases. So I feel very connected to Sigrid that way. I too can be perceived as being very sweet but I am an Aries so I have a lot of feistiness in me too! (laughs).
How would you like to be remembered or thought of?
To be respected by peers is one of the biggest things for me. It’s certainly much more important than being famous.
What do you do when you’re not working?
I actually read a lot of plays. I love reading plays. I like to work on my monologues too. Lately I’ve been obsessed with the whole instrument part of being an actor: voice, breathing. The idea that your body is your instrument and developing that is something Larry Moss and Karl introduced me to. Karl monitors me and keeps pushing me to develop in that direction, too, so I’ve been taking a ton of classes and the more I get into it the more I realize how much more there is to learn. It’s just never ending. It’s just like a violin player needs to play the violin every day. But it’s not all I do. I like to be social. I like to have a life. That’s important too. You can’t be a hermit then go out and try and depict life. I still see a lot of plays. And I play a lot of sports.
If you weren’t an actor what do you think you would do?
I couldn’t imagine doing anything else but be an actor. I guess I’d work in production or behind the scenes somehow but I really can’t imagine not acting.