Mads for it

Back home, he’s been a movie star for years; he made a wider im­pact in Casino Royale and Clash of the Ti­tans, then won best ac­tor at Cannes. Now, the rest of the world is wak­ing up to Mads Mikkelsen. Don­ald Clarke meets the great Dane

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - COVER STORY -

M ADS MIKKELSEN has been creep­ing up on us for a few years. Now 47, the Dan­ish ac­tor – pos­ses­sor of the thinnest, most slyly pen­e­trat­ing eyes in Euro­pean cin­ema – threat­ened to go global with his very first film. Ni­co­las Wind­ing Rein’s Pusher was a hit in 1996, but Mikkelsen didn’t quite burst through onto the in­ter­na­tional stage. He did man­age to travel to Ire­land for An­toine Fuqua’s ill-starred King Arthur. That film did not, how­ever, cre­ate any ma­jor stars.

“I was there for half a year,” he chuck­les. “That was my first shoot out­side of Den­mark. I was sit­ting on a horse and en­joy­ing all this beau­ti­ful coun­try and your beau­ti­ful beer. I really had a very good time.”

Mikkelsen went on to play a key Bond vil­lain in Casino Royale. He did his best in the loud Clash of the Ti­tans. His break­out moment seems to have come, how­ever, with a film made in his home­land. Re­turn­ing from a spell in the near wilder­ness, Thomas Vin­ter­berg, di­rec­tor of Festen, ex­ploits ev­ery ounce of Mikkelsen’s tal­ent in the thrilling The Hunt. The ac­tor plays a teacher who, wrongly ac­cused of child mo­lesta­tion, be­comes a hated out­cast in his hith­erto cosy com­mu­nity. Mikkelsen won best ac­tor at Cannes for the role. In fur­ther recog­ni­tion of his as­cent, he was then cast as Han­ni­bal Lecter in an up­com­ing TV ver­sion of the Thomas Har­ris saga.

He looks ut­terly fagged out at the end of The Hunt. Bags form be­neath his eyes. The en­tire body sags. It looks to have been a drain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing thing,” he tells me. “The sit­u­a­tions where you find your­self most drained are when the film is just not work­ing. If you don’t have the right com­mu­ni­ca­tion, if some­thing is con­stantly wrong, then you really feel drained. If the char­ac­ter is work­ing out, you go home and you are en­er­gised. It is drain­ing, yes. But on the other hand, you feel strong be­cause the script is work­ing.”

Mikkelsen turns out to be a very amus­ing bloke. He en­joys teas­ing as­pects of his work down to their raw threads. But there is noth­ing aus­tere or for­bid­ding about his man­ner. The Dane proves to be very much at home with self­dep­re­ca­tion. He even en­joys hav­ing his fore­name mis­pro­nounced.

“The ‘d’ is ac­tu­ally silent,” he says. “Or it’s like a sec­ond ‘s’. So it should be like ‘Mass’. You know what? I don’t mind the other ver­sion, though.”

Both he and his older brother, Lars, are now es­tab­lished ac­tors. The se­nior Mikkelsen re­cently ap­peared to ac­claim as the ti­tle char­ac­ter’s dad in What Richard Did. But there doesn’t seem to have been any tra­di­tion of act­ing in the fam­ily. Lars and Mads’s fa­ther, a taxi driver, was, how­ever, a great en­thu­si­ast for ra­dio drama and greatly ap­pre­ci­ated his boys’ cre­ative jour­neys.

“I was a gym­nast and a dancer. But I al­ways was more in­ter­ested in the dra­matic side of danc­ing rather than the tech­ni­cal side. So, it was a nat­u­ral jump. My brother was in love with this girl, so he started jug­gling in the street to im­press her. We both had dif­fer­ent routes into act­ing. If I hadn’t be­come an ac­tor, I would have been a dancer or a stunt­man. I en­joy do­ing the stunts.”

Oh, really. Do they still let him do stunts now that he is fa­mous?

“Yeah, I do all the stuff I can. Let’s be frank, if you are in an ac­tion film, you are not in it for the characters, you are in it for the ac­tion – the stunts. If they take that away from you, it’s a sad story. Ha ha! I have dam­aged ev­ery­thing: knees, el­bows, ribs. But I’m an old gym­nast. I know how to sur­vive.”

He was sus­pended from drama school for ap­pear­ing in Pusher – many such in­sti­tu­tions for­bid stu­dents from tak­ing work while train­ing – but even­tu­ally re­turned to take his de­gree and went on to ap­pear in such prom­i­nent Dan­ish films as Open Hearts and Af­ter the Wed­ding. The Dan­ish film in­dus­try re­mains a puz­zle to cin­ema ob­servers from out­side that coun­try. How has such a small coun­try de­liv­ered such tal­ents as Wind­ing Refn, Lars von Trier, Su­sanne Bier and the rest of the Dogme mob?

“At one stage, we all thought it was im­pos­si­ble,” he says. “A lot of what was be­ing made was shit. A lot of us ob­served that we seemed un­able to make any­thing that looked like what, say, Scors­ese was do­ing. Ni­co­las [Wind­ing Refn] saw that too and tried to change it. There was just a gen­er­a­tion that wanted to change things.”

Mikkelsen goes on to ex­plain that he has never had any sort of plan in life. He’ll flick through what­ever script thumps on the door­mat and run the rel­e­vant char­ac­ter round in his head. Play­ing Le Chiffre, sadis­tic card shark, in Casino Royale seemed like a nice idea, so he gave it a bash. Still, it must ran­kle a lit­tle that, even now, so many An­glo­phone film­mak­ers ex­pect Euro­pean ac­tors to play the vil­lain. We have surely got past the stereo­type of the un­trust­wor­thy, slip­pery con­ti­nen­tal.

“I think there is some­thing ex­otic about the ac­cent,” he says with good hu­mour. “Even the Bri­tish ac­cent is ex­otic to many Amer­i­cans. But those parts are of­ten more in­ter­est­ing. I am now play­ing Han­ni­bal and I hope that you will also like him a bit.”

Co-star­ring Hugh Dancy, the NBC se­ries, cur­rently shoot­ing in Toronto, fo­cuses on the de­vel­op­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween the well-bred can­ni­bal and FBI agent Will Gra­ham. It must be dif­fi­cult to set aside the ear­lier per­for­mance by An­thony Hop­kins (not to men­tion that of Brian Cox in Man­hunter). This is a real

irish­time­sirish­times. com/ cul­ture

Mads Mikkelsen. Be­low: With Thomas Bo Larsen in chal­lenge. Be­ing asked to play Han­ni­bal Lecter is akin to be­ing asked to play Sher­lock Holmes. Lecter is an icon of re­fined mal­ice.

“I re­mem­ber when I did the Bond film, Casino Royale, Le Chiffre was a role that had been played by Peter Lorre be­fore,” he says. “You just can’t think about that. You have to own the script. You have to free your mind and start over. It’s never an idea to have that in your mind. Trust the script.”

I sense from his ear­lier com­ment that the se­ries is aim­ing to sell us a slightly more lik­able ver­sion of Han­ni­bal Lecter. They’re not try­ing to make the good Doc­tor cud­dly, are they?

“You’ll have to see how it works out,” he says cau­tiously. “But I liked the guy An­thony Hop­kins played. I really did. Didn’t you? We are not do­ing the same thing any­way. That would be sui­cide. He has sim­i­lar qual­i­ties. But he is a man who is liv­ing in the real world.”

We will have to wait un­til next year to see Han­ni­bal. Un­til then Mikkelsen ad­dicts can sate their de­sires with The Hunt. It’s an un­stop­pably ex­cit­ing film. But it also has

“It’s nice to be the sex­i­est man, rather than the op­po­site of that. But it’s hard to see what use that is. It’s a lit­tle like be­ing called the dumb blonde”

se­ri­ous things to say. By co­in­ci­dence, Vin­ter­berg’s film ar­rives at a very op­por­tune time. Across the Ir­ish Sea, in an un­ex­pected af­ter­math of the Jimmy Sav­ile dis­as­ter, Lord McAlpine, falsely ac­cused of pae­dophilia, is pur­su­ing a thou­sand thumb-happy Twit­ter users. The Hunt tells a more old-fash­ioned tale: fol­low­ing a gen­uine mis­un­der­stand­ing, teach­ers and so­cial work­ers bully a kinder­garten pupil into ac­cus­ing Mikkelsen’s char­ac­ter of mo­lesta­tion.

Is Vin­ter­berg work­ing through a po­lit­i­cal or so­cial agenda here?

“No. I don’t think so,” Mads says. “We ob­vi­ously built the plot on real cases. But we made it into our own story. There is an in­ter­view where the so­cial worker ba­si­cally puts words in the kids’ mouth. That is a near word-by-word ver­sion of a real case in Nor­way. But we are not try­ing to shove any­thing down peo­ple’s throats. It’s much more about how frag­ile life is and about how frag­ile friend­ship is.”

The film man­ages to be im­pres­sively even handed to its an­tag­o­nists. The young girl is never seen as any­thing other than an un­fairly ma­nip­u­lated vic­tim. The hero’s friends seem painted into a mo­ral cor­ner.

“I think ev­ery­body is al­lowed to be hu­man,” he says. “They be­lieve what they be­lieve. But when the snow­ball starts rolling, they can’t stop it. And what’s in­ter­est­ing is, my char­ac­ter does all the right things. But it’s no good. If you scream out loud, you are guilty. If you run away, you are guilty. If you stay, you are guilty. There really is noth­ing you can do.”

De­spite a ca­reer play­ing var­i­ous wounded crea­tures and un­re­con­structed vil­lains, Mikkelsen has ac­cu­mu­lated some­thing a lit­tle more sub­stan­tial than a cult fol­low­ing. He has be­come an im­mov­able face of in­ter­na­tional cin­ema. Mean­while, at home, he reg­is­ters as a proper movie star. Per­haps in­evitably (points are awarded for nam­ing the chas­ing pack), he has fre­quently been voted Den­mark’s sex­i­est man. Born in New York, Viggo Mortensen prob­a­bly doesn’t count. But that’s still some­thing to be proud of. Is it not?

“That line is rather old now, I think. That was a while ago,” he says with a broad smile. “I am not sure that’s me any­more. Mind you, it’s nice to be the sex­i­est man, rather than the op­po­site of that. But it’s hard to see what use that is. It’s a lit­tle like be­ing called the dumb blonde. I do have some kind of tal­ent. Don’t I? I’m not com­plain­ing. If they want to write that, then that’s fine.” There are worse ways of earn­ing a liv­ing. “Yes, yes. I some­times think I might be a car­pen­ter or some­thing. But for now I am an ac­tor. Who knows what I’ll be do­ing in 10 years’ time.” ❙❙❙ The Hunt is out now and is re­viewed on page 11

The Hunt

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.