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 CLARKEmeets the great Dane
MADS 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.”