Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, <EM>New Amsterdam</EM> Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, New Amsterdam
New Amsterdam star Nikolaj Coster-Waldau

hasn't taken a sip of the Brooklyn Brown Ale offered to him on the show's Queens set. Perhaps it's because, despite play­ing John Amsterdam, an immortal cop who's lived in the New York area for 366 years, the Copenhagen native is more at home with a Carlsberg than a Big Apple beer. "I haven't tasted it," he says, eyeing the drink. "But I will."

Fox's New Amsterdam — premiering tonight at 9 pm/ET, then airing Thursday at 9 before settling into a Mondays-at-9 slot — is the first TV series for the 37-year-old, who played Liam Neeson's nephew in Kingdom of Heaven and is a full-fledged star back home in Denmark. He auditioned in London, where his rangy good looks and "whisper of an accent" charmed the room. "We call him the Great Dane," executive producer David Manson jokes. "It's not like we were out there saying what we really need here is a Danish actor. But then Nikolaj came in and Alexa Fogel, who cast the pilot, said, 'This is the guy.'"

That guy could turn Fox's police procedural into a hit. The show follows Amsterdam, who, as a Dutch soldier, was nearly killed in 1642 while defending a Native American shaman. In thanks, she healed him and gave him an eternal life that will end only after he finds his one true love. Much like in the cult phenomenon Highlander and the short-lived Journeyman, each episode flashes back to Amsterdam's past.

One such flashback finds the immortal — who has also been a coachman, lawyer and artist — working as a field surgeon during the Civil War's Battle of Antietam. Coster-Waldau already knew all about it. "In Denmark, we learned a lot about American history in school because it's the engine that drives the Western world," he explains, adding, "I did have to read up on New York history, though. I am fascinated with that city."

The series is as much a story about New York as it is about one man's search for love. Over the years, Amsterdam has seemingly had enough wives and off­spring (including his 65-year-old son and sole confidante, Omar, played by Stephen McKinley Henderson) to populate half of Manhattan. But as his relatives aged, Amsterdam did not, always surviving to see another chapter in the town's history. "I like that this is a guy who has no special powers other than the fact that he's lived through so many eras," says Coster-Waldau, who has been married to Nukaka, an actress from Greenland, for almost 10 years, and has two daughters. "But he's still struggling with the fundamentals. What is the core of true love?"

Coster-Waldau's alter ego may soon find the answer to that question. While confronting a perp in the first episode, Amsterdam suffers a "fatal" heart attack he believes is caused by the presence of his unseen soul mate. Next week's episode finds the detective enmeshed in a case that forces him to cross paths with Sara Dillane (Alexie Gilmore), the very same ER doctor who called his time of death. She's understandably shocked to see him alive. "Sara has a lot of questions and does [all kinds of] tests on him," Gilmore says. "But he talks his way out of everything, and she manages to fall for him."

So is Sara the one to break the spell? "The romance is key," teases Coster-Waldau, who never did, by the way, touch his Yankee-brewed beverage. "Amsterdam's dream is that he will meet that one person, regain his mortality and grow old with her." But finding the one means cer­tain death. Would Coster-Waldau search for his soul mate if it meant the end? "Well, I've found her already in my wife," he says. Spoken like a true romantic.

Check out clips of New Amsterdam in our Online Video Guide.

Sign up now for our free Daily Scoop e-mail newsletter to get the inside scoop.

Send your comments on this feature to letters@tvguide.com.