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Chuck Hodes/lionsgate television

Connie Nielsen talks about balancing work, family and philanthropy.

After 15 years in movies, Connie Nielsen is headed to the small screen to play the wife of a politician on the new Starz series Boss, opposite Kelsey Grammer. So what’s behind the move? “The fact that Gus Van Sant was directing and producing has a lot to do with it for sure,” Nielsen says. “TV is a different animal these days. You can bring together really smart writing and directing, in-depth character development and really meaty political and emotional stories.”

Exactly the kind of fare the Danish actress likes to tackle — on-screen and in real life. While working in Nairobi on the Danish film Lost in Africa, the actress was so touched by life in the slums that she was inspired to do something to improve it. “It really, really made me think,” says Nielsen, who co-founded the Human Needs Project to provide sustainable infrastructure in the slums. The project has given her perspective — and a sense of balance. “I say no to a lot of things that just don’t fit my life,” says Nielsen, who has four kids, including three with her boyfriend, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. “I involve my kids in what I’m struggling with so they don’t compete with it.”

So are she and Ulrich raising musicians or actors? Turns out, a little bit of both. “I have two confirmed rockers, one is doing an acting camp right now and one might be a doctor,” she says. “Wonder where he gets that?”