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The Arrival Of A Danish Import

August 16, 1986|RODERICK MANN

"Not many of us ever get known outside Denmark," said Camilla Soeberg. "Just one or two--like Brigitte Nielsen, who married Sylvester Stallone. So if I do, it will be quite special."

Soeberg, 20, is one of the stars of "Twist and Shout," the biggest-grossing movie in Denmark's history. And if that doesn't seem much from where you're sitting, it's a big deal in a small country more famous for its pastries than its pictures.

The movie, opening at Beverly Center Cineplex on Friday, comes laden with plaudits from foreign critics who have long admired the work of its director, Bille August. Few Danish movies have been seen here outside the festival circuit and so "Twist and Shout" is something of a rarity.

It marks Soeberg's debut as an actress. This fresh-faced young performer, who came here at 15 as an exchange student from Copenhagen, was still a schoolgirl when August picked her for his movie.

"I'd been attending South Pasadena High School," said Soeberg, in town this week, "and two months after I returned home to Denmark I saw an advertisement in a newspaper saying they were looking for a girl for this movie. So I wrote in--I was just 17--and next day they called me for a screen test. There was a lot of competition but after doing another test I got the role.

"They gave me time off from school in Copenhagen, but they weren't at all happy about it. But my grades were OK so they couldn't throw me out. But it wasn't easy, acting and going to school--my mind wasn't on my studies, I'm afraid."

When the movie opened with a splash premiere at Copenhagen's largest theater, it was an immediate hit. And Soeberg went with it to the Cannes and the Moscow film festivals. And last year she was nominated as best actress in Denmark.

"I didn't win," she said with a small smile, "but it was flattering to be nominated. The actress who did win had 50 years' experience. I had none."

Until she landed the role in "Twist and Shout," Soeberg had told no one that she wanted to be anactress.

"I did that in case I didn't make it," she said. "But really that's the reason I wanted to come here as an exchange student. I knew they had drama classes here--that's unheard of in Danish schools. And when I was here, I did a lot of plays."

Denmark produces around 12 films a year, few of which are seen outside the country, though a film like August's earlier hit, "Zappa," has been shown at many festivals. And there's no equivalent to the William Morris or ICM agencies there.

"We don't have agents," said Soeberg. "If a director wants you for his film, he calls you direct.

"Of course we don't make anything like the money that American actresses do. But then our films--all of which are part government funded--don't cost much. 'Twist and Shout' cost just $1 million. To me it's extraordinary that a film could cost as much as $12 million, or more."

Brought over for the movie's U.S. opening, Soeberg says she was surprised at the sorts of questions she was asked in interviews.

"A lot of people seem to think all Danish movies are pornographic," she said. "It seems to be the general impression. At first I was startled. Because our film isn't like that at all."

"Twist and Shout"--called "Faith, Hope and Love" in Denmark--is actually a serious study of young people struggling to deal with painful emotional decisions, set against a background of the '60s youth rebellion and the rise of the Beatles. Most critics have called it fresh, original and uncliched.

Camilla Soeberg has made another movie since finishing this one--"Yellow Pages," an Anglo-American co-production--and had planned to go to live and work in Paris this fall.

But the sight of all those palm trees waving gently in the smog-ridden air revived memories of how happy she had been here as a student.

"As soon as I saw them, I felt at home again," she said, glancing out of the window of her hotel room, "so now I think I'll forget about Paris. What I'd really like to do is get a film here. So next week I'm going to find an agent. . . . "

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