An Interview with ‘Boardwalk Empire’ Star Christiane Seidel

Christiane Seidel (Image Credit: Matt Sayles)

Christiane Seidel (Image Credit: Matt Sayles)

Christiane Seidel loves her job, and I don’t blame her. Currently starring as Sigrid in Boardwalk Empire, Seidel gets to showcase her expansive acting talents playing the wife of disgraced Agent Nelson Van Alden (now going by the name George Mueller and played by Michael Shannon), using an amazingly convincing Norwegian accent and showing off her character’s unexpected willingness to do very bad things to help her husband. It’s one juicy good role and Seidel’s on-screen chemistry with co-star Shannon has this Boardwalk Empire fan, and many others out there, wanting the show to visit the Muellers more often.

When I spoke to Seidel for this interview, I was genuinely taken by her enthusiasm for the role of Sigrid, and acting in general, both on screen and stage. She was a wonderful sport, discussing everything from what first attracted her to the Boardwalk Empire role and what we can expect in Season Four’s final episodes, to working as a Sex and the City tour guide early in her career. Read on for the full interview with everyone’s favorite murderous Norwegian nursemaid, Boardwalk Empire’s very own Sigrid, actress Christiane Seidel.

The Daily Quirk: Let’s start at the beginning. When did you first realize acting was the career for you?

Christiane Seidel: For me, there’s never been anything else, really. I was one of those kids that started performing for my parents and for their friends. I was making up plays and playbills and costumes. I started in school. When I was six, I was asked to be part of the Christmas story. I just never looked back and was always involved with theater whenever I could be. When I decided to move to New York, that was really the moment where I decided this was my career, this was for real and what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life. There’s nothing really else I could imagine myself doing.

TDQ: What was the first role you received that gave you that ‘Wow, I’m a professional actress’ moment?

CS: Definitely when I booked my first professional job and I got paid. That was incredible because for the first time it’s like ‘Oh, these people actually chose me to do this job and I’m actually getting paid.’ The first job I had was on Law and Order, I played sort of like a prostitute in a massage parlor, you know the ‘happy endings’ kind of thing. It was really fun because it was so different. I had tattoos and I was rough. It was an especially big moment for me in time because I was playing off of something that was so different from me, which is what we love to do as actors. We want to play something else and not us. So, that really confirmed it and was really a big moment for me to book that role. And then of course there’s the first play I did in New York. That moment when you have the instant feedback from the audience, the first time they come to see this play, and you’re part of it. That is such a rush. I remember very well the first time when I did that. And from there you can’t ever go back after you’ve felt that. Or at least, I can’t. That was a big turning point.

TDQ: Besides on screen experience, you’re also a stage performer. Do you have any plans to return to theater in the future?

CS: Absolutely. I’m actually doing something as of this month, November. For a couple of nights, I’m going back to the theater. I love to do theater as much as I can because it keeps you on your toes and, like I said before, it’s so instant and the audience is a part of it. So now that we’re done with Boardwalk Empire, I’m doing a couple of nights of some very radical short plays here in New York [Shots: A Happening], and it’s really exciting because I play something entirely different from my role on Boardwalk. I play someone who’s on coke and it’s really fun and out there.

Christiane Seidel as Sigrid in BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Image Credit: Macall B. Polay / HBO

Christiane Seidel as Sigrid in BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Image Credit: Macall B. Polay / HBO

TDQ: Fans can currently catch you as Sigrid on HBO’s hit drama Boardwalk Empire which is currently half way through its fourth season. How did the role come about it?

CS: I was actually travelling at that point. I was out of the country when I got my audition, and I had to come back early to New York, but I knew that it was something special because I was already a fan of Boardwalk Empire. One of my friends was already on the show, so I had watched it, and it was really exciting because the role required someone with a Norwegian accent. I started preparing a Norwegian accent and I had just also gotten off a play called Summer, which was an adaption of Edith Wharton’s novel called Summer, and is set in 1910. It was a really intense experience. I was already in that time period sort of, you know, the early 20th Century, so when I auditioned for Boardwalk, at that point I think it was sent in 1922, I used a lot of my knowledge and research from this play. I didn’t go into the audition with a costume, but I used certain things from the play that I used. And one really fun thing that happened was I did my hair the exact way I had learned to do hair based on how they did hair in the 1910s. For me, to wear certain clothes and have your hair a certain way is a big part of what informs a character. It helps as an actor very much. And so I walked in like that, in that mindset, and it was funny because after I got the call that I booked the role, they asked me, ‘Can you tell the hairstylist what you did with your hair in your audition because they really liked it.’ Which was really funny because I never even thought that they would take anything from that.

TDQ: Did you originally sign-on knowing how Sigrid’s character would grow or was that surprise as the series progressed?

CS: It was a great experience because when I auditioned they said it was a possibly recurring role, which means I thought if I’m lucky I’ll get one or two episodes. They ended up writing more and more for Michael’s and my story line, and we had this huge fun arc last season, and this season has been a really, really fun season as well. It’s just amazing. I’m still pinching myself that I’m actually still around, that the character is still alive. It was something that I never expected to turn into such a long-term engagement.

TDQ: Are there any challenges to working on a time period show?

CS: I absolutely love it. There’s something about doing a period piece that is so special and different, because we really get to do something that has nothing to do with our lives nowadays. Also, I love doing research. I’m a big nerd that way. I love to read about history and especially that time, and where she [Sigrid] comes from is such a big part of why she’s acting the way she is. She’s from Norway, and, back in those days, Norway was extremely poor and they had nothing. For her to go travel overseas and start a new life in the US is a huge step which a lot of people from Norway used to do back then. She’s such a big fighter, and that’s why she’s pushing for this ‘American dream’ she’s trying to make happen with this family. Also, like I said before, the way they dressed back then and the way they didn’t have cell phones and computers and none of that requires a whole different mindset that we have to get into to understand these people. Communication was different. She might never be able to talk to her family anymore, they might just have to write letters to each other. And then in terms of costume, for example, and hair on this show, the costume people and hair and makeup artists and the set designers, everyone is just so informed and has so much knowledge. It’s almost like stepping into a history book. They’re just so specific. For example, I always wear long skirts, but we wear the original tights with the stripe in the back. We wear those even though you don’t see them on camera because my skirt is long and I’m wearing boots. And if there’s a rip there I will have to change the tights. So it’s so specific. It’s not like I feel like I’m wearing my own stuff and then putting something over it, it’s all down to the underwear, almost, where we wear these costumes, and it’s so much fun. I would always love to do costume dramas and period pieces. It’s really fun. It doesn’t feel like a problem at all to me, and it wouldn’t even cross my mind as being an issue.

Christiane Seidel as Sigrid in BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Image Credit: Macall B. Polay / HBO

Christiane Seidel as Sigrid in BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Image Credit: Macall B. Polay / HBO

TDQ: The attention to detail on the show really is amazing.

CS: It really is amazing. Every detail. They know exactly why that lipstick is the color it is and why someone else, a showgirl, might have a completely different style of makeup which is so, so fun and exciting.

TDQ: What was it that first attracted you to the role of Sigrid?

CS: I sort of felt connected to person right away, because I traveled around a lot in my life and I lived in a lot of different countries. So I understand what it means to start over, start a new life, to grow a whole new set of friends, even your own little family. That’s something that drew me to the role because I knew she just came pretty much off the boat from Norway. And also I’m Scandinavian, half Danish, so there’s something in that blood memory, almost, that connects me to that. I speak Danish, and the languages are close, they’re not the same at all, but they are related, and I instantly felt like I kind of connected to this person, this character. I don’t think I knew that she was going to be playing opposite Michael Shannon at that point. So that added to the excitement later on, knowing I was going to be playing opposite Michael Shannon, who’s absolutely incredible and one of my favorite actors. Those were certain things that attracted me to her. And also because it was a challenge. It was scary to come in with this accent, and I had to sing some lullaby in my audition. That’s all really scary stuff. You don’t know if you’re completely off and if they’re thinking ‘What the hell is she doing?’ So you just throw yourself into that.

TDQ: Speaking of the singing, is that something you’d done previously? 

CS: [Laughing] I don’t really sing unless I’m in the shower or just by myself. You don’t really want to hear me sing. But I also knew, and this was really what I loved about this kind of character, she is just a nanny. She’s not supposed to be a professional singer anyway. So whatever she sings to these children is because that’s her job. It might even be weird if she sounded perfect, if she did sound like she could be on Broadway. It was really exciting because I came in with a – for my call back at least – I came in with a song I remember from when I was little that is Danish. I used that in my audition even though it wasn’t Norwegian, but it gave me some sense of that character because I remember having that song sung to me. So that kind of was comforting to go in with, that feeling that I didn’t need to be perfect, she’s just a nanny.

TDQ: The interaction between you and your on-screen husband, Van Alden/George Mueller, played by Michael Shannon is just fabulous. What’s it like working together?

CS: Thank you so much, that’s so sweet! I have nothing but good things to say. He is absolutely incredible. When I first met him, I pinched myself because I knew, of course, who he was, and he is just incredibly humble. He was just so sweet right from the start. He is so focused and so concentrated and ‘in it’ that it is just such a joy that I can be there with him and in the moment with him. He is so good and so ‘in it’ and so focused that I have no other choice than just to react to what he is giving me and try to give him something back. That’s why I guess we, on a personal level, get along really well, because we both have a love for this art and he is such an artist. He’s also really fun. People always get so intimidated by him because he always plays those kind of roles and has this very strong face, and he’s so tall and imposing. But he’s very funny and has a good sense of humor. Sometimes people don’t even know if he’s joking or being real and then they’re like, ‘Should I laugh, should I not laugh?’ He’s really sweet. Also, when we have intimate scenes, you know, it’s always really weird to do those kinds of scenes on camera because there are all these people standing around you, and it’s not very intimate anyways. So he’s just always caring, and he’s always asking, ‘Are you okay? Do you need something?’ He’s just a sweetheart. Plus, I learn from him. I just learn from him so much. The way he works is just incredible.

TDQ: Sigrid has really become a driving force behind Van Alden picking up the pieces and trying to make a new life. Were you surprised by how much her character has evolved?

CS: Oh yes! Especially the last season, that was incredible. I was very surprised because they don’t tell us what happens. We don’t know anything. We get the script and then we’re shooting this in a week or two. I remember the exact moment and the exact place where I was. I was actually just in that the theater and I had just come back from the bathroom, and I saw, after the play, I saw this email with the script where I made this huge turn, where I end up hitting someone with a meat mallet in the head. And I was standing there, and I remember this moment, and I was like, ‘What?’ I kept reading it again and again because I was like, ‘What? Where is this coming from? This is unbelievable!’ That was just the most exciting moment, because I, you know, I just wanted to try to do this kind of scene. I mean, there was a stunt man on set and we had to learn how to hit someone in the head without actually hitting him. It was a surprise. I knew from the writers that they had made some comments where they said, ‘Oh, she’s actually kind of a tiger inside.’ So I kind of had a feeling something would happen, but I never had any idea it would be a big turn like that. Yeah, it was fun.

Christiane Seidel as Sigrid and Michael Shannon as Van Alden in BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Image Credit: HBO)

Christiane Seidel as Sigrid and Michael Shannon as Van Alden in BOARDWALK EMPIRE (Image Credit: HBO)

TDQ: Can you give us any hint on what to expect from Sigrid and Van Alden in the last few episodes?

CS: Okay, I’m trying to be vague. You see a little bit of the way they [Sigrid and Van Alden] are, the way they are married. They have two kids now and they have this day-to day-life that has them both on edge. You know? With what we’ve seen so far, he’s just caught in between all these people and he’s just trying to make his life work and just be normal, which doesn’t even remotely work out for him. And then Sigrid is at home and is really on edge because all she’s doing is sitting in these walls that aren’t finished and the house isn’t finished, and that’s all she’s doing. She wants him to step up and man up, and she’s been pushing his buttons a little bit. There’s been some bickering here and there, so I can definitely say that there are certain things that will escalate a little bit and turn around, and there are certain things that will reveal, show some interesting things about who Van Alden is and who she is and how they are as a family. I think that’s all I can say.

TDQ: How about one word to describe Sigrid and Van Alden’s relationship in those final episodes?

CS: Oh, one word is hard. Their relationship is…. The first thing I thought about was strong, but that’s not a very interesting word. They’re certainly tight or they’re in cahoots [laughing].

TDQ: How do you like to spend your time when you’re not acting?

CS: I love to go to the theater, a lot. And since I’m in New York, I can pretty much go to an amazing play almost every night, which also kind of informs my acting. One thing I like to do that doesn’t have to do with acting and I’m very excited about it, is that I go skiing a lot. That’s certainly something, at least, I can just go up for just a couple of hours north and go. That for me is that ultimate feeling of freedom. I’ve been doing that since I was little, since I was 3 years old I’ve been skiing, so that’s something I love to do. And I try to do something outdoors a lot during the summer. But those are the two big things I spend my time with. I bake actually too; I do vegan baking. Whenever I have a birthday or we’re going to see friends, I try to bring a vegan dessert or little goodies. I really enjoy doing those things. I guess that doesn’t have anything to do with acting, but I have to say I’m one of those boring people that loves their job and loves everything that has to do with it. So I read a lot of plays, or watch old movies and go to the theater a lot. I just can’t get away from it.

TDQ: Given your love of theater, is there one role that would be the epitome of your dream role to play?

CS: One of my favorite roles is Nora in A Doll’s House, and another one is Hedda in Hedda Gabler. She is probably the greatest female role I could imagine playing. Those two are, well you asked me for one so, Hedda. No! Yes [laughing]! One or the other, they are both awesome.

TDQ: You mentioned vegan baking, are you a practicing vegan?

CS: I’m just kind of a hobby vegan I guess. I really don’t like too much restriction, but I can’t really have dairy anyways and I don’t eat that much meat. So I just enjoy trying to make healthy choices. I’m just interested in it and, when I can, I try to eat vegan, but I’m not religious about it.

TDQ: We liked to end things on a fun note, so if we looked at your iPod right now, what would be the most played song?

CS: On my iPod? Hmm, my most played song… ‘Like A Virgin’. It has nothing to do with me [laughing]; I love the song, I love Madonna, the 80s and the 90s. So that’s probably the most played song, I think.

TDQ: And one more. Early in your career, you worked as a Sex and the City tour guide in New York City, so I have to ask: which character do you relate to most? Are you a Carrie, a Samantha, a Charlotte or a Miranda?

CS: Oh that’s a good question. I always think I am a mix, kind of. I’m a little bit of Carrie, and a little bit of Charlotte… Yeah, 50/50. And then of course Miranda has red hair, so she’s awesome. She’s underrated.

The Daily Quirk would like to thank the lovely Christiane Seidel for taking the time to chat with us. To find out more about Christiane, you can visit her Official Site, “Like” her on Facebook and Follow her on Twitter. Be sure to check out Christiane in Shorts: A Happening if you’re going to be in the New York City area November 15-20th and don’t forget to tune into Boardwalk Empire Sundays on HBO.

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