Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen reveals how he traverses low-budget and blockbuster projects—and why a serious actor never shies away from a good story.
The elegant surroundings of London’s Hotel Cafe Royal seems like an appropriately stylish venue to be interviewing Mads Mikkelsen. In fact, as I’m ushered into a conference room and shake hands with this neatly tailored individual, I start to feel a little scruffy.
The feeling is magnified by the ad playing on a big screen at the other end of the room. This announces Mads as the new brand ambassador for XTB, a top European brokerage company. How do I confess to him that I know nothing about the world of derivatives or trading? Thankfully, Mads reassures me.
With Casino Royale co-stars Caterina Murino and Daniel Craig
“If you asked me about this a couple of months ago, I would have been blank,” he says, flashing a smile. “A bit like Homer Simpson, with a monkey running around inside my head. But I’m a poker player, and I love the idea that if you’re skilful enough there’s something to be gained from this. If you’re not, you’ll lose something."
"The good thing is, you’re not playing for other people’s money, you’re playing for your own money. It’s not one of those ‘the world will come down’ things. It’s just you and your intelligence.”
He waves his hand at the advert, which depicts Mads as a retail investor moving smoothly between glamorous locations while punching out deals on his laptop.
“I liked the product and I liked the iconic, stylish way of shooting a commercial. This is a man who’s in charge of his emotions, a man who’s in control. He can lose it, but he’ll be back in the saddle. That’s quite similar to Le Chiffre, of course.”
"A serious actor would never hesitate if it was a good story”
This is a reference to the role that, after a decade of acting, pushed Mads into the mainstream: the villainous, poker-playing Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, the 2006 film that rebooted the James Bond franchise. Indeed, even those who don’t know the name will recognise the face, which has become an increasingly familiar presence on our screens. And much like fellow Scandinavian Alicia Vikander—who Mads starred alongside in A Royal Affair—he’s someone equally at home in low-budget art-house projects and big Hollywood blockbusters.
“Yes, pretty much so,” says Mads, with a thoughtful pause. “It’s always a balance. Certain things that pay you a lot don’t interest you, but certain things that pay you a lot do interest you. And, of course, certain things that don’t pay much also interest you, and vice versa. So I do what I like, which is lucky because not everybody can do that. But so far I haven’t done anything that I didn’t like doing.”
I slightly raise my eyebrow, momentarily thinking of the big-budget clunker Clash of the Titans, but Mads adds a small proviso: “Of course, some things haven’t turned out exactly how I wanted them, but the start of everything has to be, ‘I like this.’”
Mads with Alicia Vikander in 2012's A Royal Affair
A key factor in Mads’ success is undoubtedly his great screen presence. I mention a previous interview I did with Danish director Kristian Levring, in which he praised Mikkelsen’s ability to “communicate a lot without saying much”.
“Well, I’m very happy he says that,” says Mads, grinning. “I think there’s been a trend in the world of motion pictures for characters to talk and talk and talk. You end up forgetting what it’s all about, which is the image. A small character in a big background can say a lot, a close-up can say a lot. Instead, we tend to have everyone explaining what they think and feel. This can be really interesting and funny if you’re Woody Allen, but some people can tell stories without doing much. The camera can do the work instead.”
Indeed, one thinks of Le Chiffre’s long, malevolent stares, or Mads’ chilling portrayal of Dr Hannibal Lecter in NBC’s recent series. This silent and inscrutable quality also informed one of his most acclaimed performances, as the suspected paedophile Lucas in The Hunt, which netted Mads the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. Does he ever worry about playing such controversial characters?
“Not really,” he replies. “What’s to be afraid of? Everyone loves the dark side of the coin. It’s true that certain Americans said [of his character in The Hunt], ‘Oh, you should stay away from that one. You’re accused of being a paedophile—it might ruin your career.’ I was like, ‘Seriously?’ I’d play a paedophile tomorrow if it was a good story. Frankly, a serious actor would never hesitate if it was a good story.”
Feature images via Comic Book Movie and Pinterest