The Alumnus from Odense, that ended up in Hollywood
During her studies at Odense University, English student Tina Jøhnk Christensen was offered the chance to go out and travel with her subject of choice. She took so literally she has been working as a Hollywood journalist from her home Los Angeles.
In 2005, Anders Fogh Rasmussen was visiting the sitting President George W. Bush. Tina Jøhnk Christensen was asked if would like the position as the official photographer for the Danish Embassy. At the time, she had already been working and living in Los Angeles for four years, so she took her camera and flew to Washington.
“I ended up in the Oval Office, where I took pictures of the two heads of state, and to see Bush ’in operation’ was one of my great experiences. Afterwards, I sat on the steps at the front on the White House to collect my thoughts. A French journalist sat down as well and went through some papers. He was about to do a one-on-one interview with the President and he was going through his questions one last time. So, I offered to look through the questions and tried to reassure him, by saying that Bush was just a goofy little guy and that he should treat him just like anybody else,” says Tina Jøhnk Christensen, laughing with a smile that lights up her face and eyes and then adds:
“I have no fear of authority”
In the last 16 years, she has cemented herself in Los Angeles, as primarily a Hollywood Journalist and has interviewed some of the most renowned American actors and directors. Those, that the rest of us only get a glimpse of, when we go to the cinema. For Tina, it has become an everyday occurrence. First, she is out to the studio’s screenings of the latest films, then off to one of the best hotels in West Hollywood, with palm trees, marble columns and a waterfall in the foyer, where she interviews the stars. From there she then goes back to her bungalow to prepare, over the years her articles and interviews have been featured in numerous Danish publications such as Jyllands-Posten, Børsen, Berlingske Tidende, BT, ELLE, IN, Psykologi, Soundvenue, Samvirke, Her & Nu, ALT for Damerne, Euroman, and Gaffa. Also in Swedish magazines King, Plaza Kvinna, Allt om film and the Italian magazine Vogue Italia. Four years ago, Tina became a member of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which since 1944 held the annual award gala, The Golden Globe Award.
“I have never been star-struck, but of course there are people who I have great admiration for and extremely grateful to be given the opportunity to interview, for example Quentin Tarantino, Martin Scorsese and Emma Thompson. I always try to create a relaxed atmosphere, so the interview doesn’t become too formal. Often when they come out of that formal situation, the best answers reveal themselves.” Says Tina.
And the larger the stars are, the less self-important they are, in Tina’s experience.
“Viggo Mortensen, for example, is as a lovely man, who will always look out for other people’s feelings. When I meet him outside the context of an interview, he always comes over to say hello, gives a kiss and exchange a few pleasantries.”
Teachers, who set the path…
Viggo Mortensen and Tina Jøhnk Christensen have in common, that they both have roots in Denmark. Tina, more significantly so and specifically to Odense, where she grew up and began to learn English, at what at the time was called Odense University. She had attended a language school on the Isle of Wight and became enchanted by the language. Everything in her life had to be British. Tina listened to Duran Duran, a British flag on her teacup and spoke English with a strong British accent, that’s until she went to the USA, where her accent has now blended in well in the U.S.
“I always knew that I wanted to be a journalist and I had an internship at Fyens Stiftstidene in the 8th grade. But I knew that I didn’t want to be an ordinary news reporter. I had never been the news-hungry type, with a nose for the latest big story. I was interested in culture and fiction as literature and film, and in the human stories.
Tina studied a MA in English, spending four years at Odense University, with a period at Johann Wolfgang Göethe Universität in Frankfurt am Main to improve her German language skills. The urge to travel was so strong, that it gave her the courage to go to London to write her thesis ‘Rastifari in Britain: Recreating Cultural Identity: From Youth Subculture to Religious Consciousness.’ Before ending her studies at the University of Copenhagen, where she studied Film and Media Sciences.
But it was her years at Odense University, that were the most formative.
“First and foremost, it was because of my lecturers. They were all fantastic, and during the four years I was there I developed strong relationships with many of them. Especially the Brit Thomas Pettit, who was very engaging, talented and entertaining lecturer who hooked us in as soon as we walked through the door teaching Shakespeare and Medieval Literature. He was fantastically supportive for me as a thesis supervisor and helped me with my career, as I when myself became a teaching assistant in two courses in British Literary History at the University of Southern Denmark in 1999. But the most important was that the University strengthened my ability to work independently. I learnt how to collect a lot of material, cut it down to was is important, how to look at the world analytically and how to find different angles from which to work” says Tina.
On the other hand, there were also other journalistic skills, that Tina had to learn after a few years on the job.
“It’s very different to write an academic text in comparison to journalism. And I had to learn the hard way. I also had to learn how to sell my text, which was completely new for me. You’ve also got to be a salesperson when you’re a freelance journalist. I got my thesis grade in 1997, so much has changed since then, but I think there should have been more done to prepare us for life within the industry. It was incredible subject oriented in the humanities faculty, and it is what I also loved about the course. It really allowed to bury myself in what I love”
Over the Atlantic
When Tina finished her studies, she began to translate English novels to Danish and teach at the University of Southern Denmark. She briefly had a job as a press coordinator for a business conference, NEPIX, and also learnt Italian. A language she then used when she then went to live in Italy for 11 months. During her time in Italy, she taught English at the British Institute in Perugia and began to work with a Italian photographer Giulio Marcocchi, who later became her partner. Together they created articles from both Denmark and Italy for an Italian press agency, who were so enthusiastic about the Danish-Italian couple’s work, they sent them to Los Angeles in 2001
As Tina has only been in Denmark her friends, family and the Danish media she writes for. She has slowly had her belongings shipped to Los Angeles and has lived in various parts of the city – Studio City, Korea Town and Los Feliz – with other Europeans to try and get a handle on the city of angels.
Today, she lives in a pink bungalow complex, with palm trees in the front garden and a skunk who occasionally walks past, in Glendale, which has the same population as Odense and lies northeast from Griffith Park.
“I guess you could call me a Hollywood reporter. It sounds very glamorous, but I’m only with these people for a couple of hours. They are definitely very interesting people, but the situation itself isn’t very glamorous. Both parties are aware of how the situation work,” she says.
In the beginning, she was more impressed and remembers back to the first time she went to one of the world-famous Hollywood film studios to go to a screening of a film. She walked around breathless around the rows of sound stages, that she had read so much about during her time in University and it began to dawn on her how much of machine, Hollywood is.
“We were of course flown to Hawaii and Mexico City to conduct interviews with actors on the sets of James Bond films and many others. I was in my early 30’s and hadn’t started a family. So, it was just fun, and if there wasn’t any more work, I just went home.”
Over the years, and especially after she became part of the HFPA, her focus on Hollywood became more serious and intense.
“I got offered a wealth of interviews and set visits across the world, which then became articles which were used in European media outlets. And I also must go through the enormous pile of films and TV series, that get their American premiere in the course of the year. Which we then sort and nominate for the Golden Globes. So that’s where I put my energy today.” She says.
Tina Jøhnk Christensen is the only Dane in the HFPA and today sits at one of the famous rounds tables in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the awards are presented, and is one of the 90 members of the jury, that who have real influence on who will be walking away with a Golden Globe. This year, Meryl Streep won an award and memorably gave a political acceptance speech which then proceeded to do the rounds on Facebook and social media. The Dane Susanne Bier’s The Night Manager’ took home three Golden Globes. ‘Moonlight, which was Tina’s favourite film won the main prize of the evening. While the modern musical ‘La La Land’, which was also high on Tina’s favourites list took home seven awards.
“It’s a great honour to be able to vote for the Golden Globes. I take it very seriously would not want to overlook a fantastic achievement – especially from a new young talent, because we can really help to make a breakthrough for some people.” Says Tina.
In the beginning, it was the contact to the film distributors back home in Denmark, which was crucial. As it was them, who would organise the journalists to interview for Hollywood films, and could the see the advantage of using Tina, who was already living in Los Angeles, over a journalist living in Denmark who would need to be flown out and put up in a hotel. Today, as a member of HFPA, most of her interviews come through the association, or by contacting directly the studios or the agents of the actors. Tina has long had a good grip on how the industry in Hollywood works through her hard work, and it’s her hard work that Tina says is the best explanation to how she ended up in Los Angeles. A Career doesn’t happen with just a click of the fingers.
“9/11 was honestly quite fortuitous in my career, as Danish journalists couldn’t be flown over. So, when Mike Tyson was going to Denmark to fight Brian Nielsen, I got 15 minutes alone with the boxer. New of this got back to the higher ups at Ekstra Bladet, and the editorial staff caught on that I was over here and could be used to cover stories, and from there I slowly gained ground with other Danish magazines and newspapers.
A large proportion of the interviews are conducted in groups, where Tina is with other foreign journalists in round table interviews or dedicated press conferences. They know each other well and consider each other colleagues rather than competitors.
“I know journalists from countries including Australia, Japan, Brazil and Spain. In that way, I’m not really integrated into American society, as my colleagues are also my friends. I feel very much like a correspondent, as I stand outside and look into American society. I have never actually worked in an American company.”
Everyday life in the city
Nevertheless, Tina’s life continues in one of the cities in the world, where many people would dream to have a career.
“It’s obviously fantastic to live in a city, where the weather is so great, and there is so much to do. I can go and hike in Griffiths Park, swim in the Pacific Ocean or go skiing in Big Bear. It’s also great to meet people who are really doing what I love so much – making films! – especially the directors and writers, who are the creative minds behind the films”
But her everyday life is far from as being as glamorous as that of the actors and directors that she writes about. She doesn’t sit in a Beverly Hills villa and drink cocktails with Nicole Kidman when she’s finished with work, and it comes at a large price of being so far away from her family and her partner, Allan, who lives in Denmark. In turn, it is also her experience in Los Angeles that has also taught her to stand firmly on her own two feet so far away from home.
“Over here, you have to be sure to get up and stand on your own two feet. If something goes wrong, in the USA there isn’t the same social security as in Denmark, so I’ve learnt to look after myself. When I look at the Danish society from a distance, I think that people don’t realise how fantastic our social welfare system is. I am extremely proud of, that we Danes have a society where we take care of each other, and especially when I tell my American friends about it. It’s definitely not for the faint hearted to survive here!”
Nevertheless, she will be in LA a little while longer. Tina has spent the last two years on her green card application and has finally been approved. At the time of writing it’s a matter of waiting for it in the post.
Name: Tina Jøhnk Christensen
Date of Birth: 22. January 1971
Education: MA. in English from1991-1995 and Film and Media Sciences from 1995-1997.
Education Institutions: Odense Universitet, Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Frankfurt am Main (1994), Københavns Universitet
Profession: Hollywood Correspondent