Q: You seem so dangerous in your movies. What are you like in real life? (Mikkelsen began dating his wife in 1987; they married in 2000 and have two children.)
A: I go to the pub, hang out with my family — that’s pretty much it. I also do a lot of sports when I get the chance. I’m actually a pretty mellow guy. I can be intense in a lot of ways, but not the way you see the guy in “The Salvation.”
Q: You mention sports. You were a gymnast once, before you were an actor. Do you still do that recreationally?
A: Once in a while when I’m out on the lawn, I’ll jump around and do a couple of things. Here’s a secret: The older you get, the more difficult it gets (laughs). The smallest little injury stays with you for so long. But that’s how it goes, and it doesn’t stop me. I’m always ready to do something that hurts a little!
Q: “The Salvation” is a Western, but made by Danish people in South Africa. Is it a commentary on America and violence?
A: This is one of the stories of how America was created — by numerous crowds of Europeans who moved there — Italian, Spanish, Danish or French. A lot of people went there because it was the promised land. There was poverty and starvation in Europe, and people thought paradise might be over there. It obviously wasn’t as simple as that. It was a new nation trying to find its own feet. … It was an enormous country, and obviously you could not keep the law everywhere. Sometimes law was created in a different way.
Q: Speaking of violence, the recent shootings in Copenhagen (by a Muslim extremist at a free speech rally) must have rattled nerves there.
A: I wish I could say we were shocked, but we’re not. We didn’t wait for it, but we had a feeling it might happen, sooner rather than later. So I guess that’s the state of Denmark and the state of Europe right now, and it’s not the last we’ve seen of it, so we have some issues to deal with. It was horrifying; this is a peaceful little country, so we’ve a hard time grasping it, of course.
Q: OK, change of subject. “Hannibal” is so gross, but it looks like it could be fun to film.
A: It is actually. It’s dark in a very graphic way. It’s almost like a painting lifted out of the wall. There’s a certain style to the show that’s realism, but at the same time it’s not. So we can get away with a lot of things without being censored. We do have a lot of fun, even though we’re digging down into material in the darkest places of humanity.
Q: I know this is not that kind of film, but looking at some of your moves in “The Salvation,” I nominate you to take over Liam Neeson’s action niche when he retires.
A: That would be fun! I must say I like it. I really enjoyed it. I got a kick watching it myself. Being physical, and doing my own stunts — it is fun to do these kind of films once in a while, especially before you get too old.
Q: Do you have a favorite Western?
A: “Unforgiven” is a masterpiece. It’s not only a good Western, it’s a fantastic film. It blew me away … the constant rain, the arc of the characters — it’s just a fantastic film. In my 20s, I fell in love with the Sergio Leone universe as well — it’s hard not to. So probably my love affair (with Westerns) is Sergio Leone and “Unforgiven.”
Q: Is there a film that made you want to become an actor, or made you fall in love with movies?
A: “Taxi Driver.” It was the first film where I came out not having an answer, but a lot of questions. At first I like him (Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle), then I didn’t like him, then I like him again, and it kept on going back and forth, and I thought that was a powerful way to make a film.
G. Allen Johnson for sfgate.com