Mads Mikkelsen Source
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Slant Magazine – Mads Mikkelsen Interview

Source: Slant
Date: July 12, 2013

Mads Mikkelsen looks like the Scandinavian version of the Marlboro Man, and that really has nothing to do with the half-squashed pack of Marlboro Lights sticking out of his front pocket. Greeting me for our interview, the six-foot Danish star is wearing a brown leather jacket, a rugged plaid shirt, worn-in jeans, and all-terrain boots—the kind of footwear a cowboy might adopt if he were to trade America’s heartland for Denmark’s cooler, woodsier environment. The actor is also chatting, in Danish, with a soon-to-exit Thomas Vinterberg, director of The Hunt, Mikkelsen’s tense and intimate new drama. I pry and ask what was discussed. “We were actually talking about drinking our brains out tonight,” Mikkelsen says. “But then we realized we had another Q&A, so…”

Surely this can’t be the same slick-haired, impeccably suited, haute-cuisine-loving man who devilishly enticed viewers for 12 terrific hours on NBC’s Hannibal. A gruffly dressed smoker who’s ready to drink his brains out? As opposed to delicately sautéing someone else’s and serving them with salmon mousse and a red wine reduction? Naturally, this is all one big testament to Mikkelsen’s tremendous, transformative range, which is now, finally, blowing up stateside in a big way, with diverse leading roles that are either award-winning or award-worthy. To American viewers, Mikkelsen has largely been known as a muscular side player (King Arthur, Clash of the Titans), an enigmatic villain (Casino Royale), or the co-star of foreign art-house films that have caught Oscar’s eye (After the Wedding, A Royal Affair). But with Hannibal and The Hunt, he delivers two of 2013’s finest performances, clinching a bona fide breakthrough at the age of 47.

In The Hunt, Mikkelsen plays Lucas, a mild-mannered kindergarten teacher in a small Danish hunting town, who’s abruptly accused of sexual misconduct by a young student, Klara (Annika Wedderkopp). The charge spreads like wildfire and turns the whole town on one of its own, and Mikkelsen’s handling of the material is truly something to marvel at. The performance won him the Best Actor prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and while it may be a departure from playing a cannibalistic mastermind, Mikkelsen’s new film and new series aren’t as unrelated as you might think. We talked about those connections, about Cannes, about Hannibal’s uniquely romantic relationship with Hugh Dancy’s Will Graham, and about how this on-fire star went from “hippie kid” to dancer to Denmark’s biggest sensation.

In the beginning of The Hunt, Klara asks Lucas what his favorite food is, and since we’re right on the heels of the first season of Hannibal, which is, ironically, very much a foodie show, I’m going to ask you the same question.
Well, my favorite food would be anything Thai. I’m definitely connected to Asian cuisine. So anything Thai, anything spicy—a spicy soup, or a crispy pork. Simple Thai food is definitely my favorite food.

From what I’ve seen of your work, the overarching link certainly seems to be a great deal of composure, but also a whole lot brewing underneath that. Do you consider yourself a very cerebral guy?
I do like to use my brain a lot when I prepare. When I sit down with [a director] and discuss things, I try to be the devil’s advocate, I try to be the scriptwriter, and I try to ask all the questions that I have inside. I try to be fairly intellectual about what we’re doing. But once we start shooting, we’ve been there, and we’ve done that, and I try to shut that out and go instinctively with the character, and see where it takes us. But that kind of fore-work is necessary for us both to be on the same page, and then we can start being creative, and fluid, and airy later on. And it depends on the character, of course. I mean, obviously, with [Lucas], there are a lot of things brewing underneath. A lot of it is private moments. I’ve done some more explicit characters, but when I’m doing private moments, I do insist on those moments remaining private, in the sense that there’s no reason for me to be aware that there’s an audience. That would ruin the whole experience for me.

Lucas, specifically, remains frustratingly calm and minimally defensive through a lot of the film’s accusation process, leaving the viewer wondering if this is all just beyond belief for him, if he’s harboring guilt for something else and feels he deserves punishment, or if, just maybe, he is guilty. Was it frustrating for you to keep his emotions contained?
No. Not when we did it. It was quite logical, everything that happened. It was frustrating and provoking to read it, because I had the same feeling as you had: “Don’t do that,” “Just do that,” “Go do that.” And then Thomas said, “Read it again. What is it you want him to do?” And I read it again, and I realized, “Why doesn’t he just…what?” He’s doing it. He’s confronting people right away. He’s just doing it in a civilized manner. When he gets the information that somebody has said something, he’s just shell-shocked. Someone else might have said, “I don’t give a shit! I want to know who the fuck it is!” But a lot of people would not. So he goes home. And when he does confront the school principal, I would say he’s actually crossing a limit of his own character there already. It’s not passive; it’s pretty active. And when he realizes it’s Klara, he goes straight to confront his friend [her father]. So I think he’s reacting a lot, but we don’t feel it because what feel is that it’s all so unjust.

I imagine you learned a lot about psychology while working on Hannibal, as it’s a show that’s uncommonly astute when it comes to mental health. If you were to play the role of shrink and psychoanalyze Lucas, what conclusions would you draw?
Well, he’s a loner in many ways. He’s part of this community, but he’s probably been the kid who was doing all the other guys’ homework, and they helped him out with the bullies in school. And they like him now; he can drink and he can hunt, but he’s still a loner. He doesn’t go for the girl, and he’s a bit of a slow starter. But he’s a very lovable man, and he has a way with kids, because he’s a teacher and he has a kid inside of himself to a certain degree. But he’s also an extremely stubborn man. He insists on staying; he’s not leaving. “I can shop at this store, I can go to this church. They cannot get me down.” And that stubbornness, I don’t know where it comes from, but it’s definitely a characteristic.

I was wondering if you noticed any other parallels between Hannibal and The Hunt. There’s the imagery of the stag, and the theme of the hunter eventually becoming the hunted.
Yeah, you’re right. It’s not the kind of thing I think about when I’m doing the work, but…I can see your angle. [Smiles] I mean, Hannibal, he’s the hunter, but nobody knows it. And the prey, which is obviously Will Graham, doesn’t know it’s the prey. And that is interesting.

A lot of people have pointed out that there are some gay undertones to the chemistry between Hannibal and Will. What do you think about that?
Oh, I definitely recognize it. But I’m not sure that Hannibal has any sexuality, and I’m pretty sure that Will Graham is straight as a nail. For Hannibal, there’s a lot of romance in life. He can fall in love with a piece of music and he can also fall in love with [Caroline Dhavernas’s character] Alana Bloom. That is, until he’s creating all these beautiful little roses out of tomatoes, and she, the dinner guest, just puts evil carrots on top of it. She’s this close to getting eaten at that point. [Smiles] But, it’s like, he could have a romance with a lot of things, and one of them could be Will. But I’m not sure it would be a physical romance so much as a mental one. And he could have it with [Laurence Fishburne’s character] Jack Crawford. But he definitely, definitely loves Will Graham. As pure as love can get.

One of the most powerful moments of the season, for me, was when Hannibal subtly teared up while discussing Abigail Hobbs’s death, and Will Graham’s supposed guilt, to his psychiatrist, played by Gillian Anderson.
If you ask me, Hannibal is a master of empathy. He definitely misses Abigail. Whether or not he killed her doesn’t matter. He can put himself in that situation and tear up because it’s a sad story. She’s not here. So it’s genuine feelings. But he’s definitely in charge of them. It’s not overwhelming him. He’s deciding that those feelings are coming, as opposed to Will Graham, who would not be able to control it. It’s very interesting, and I think Hannibal’s very honest with what he’s doing. But obviously, there’s something wrong, because…he killed her [laughs].

The Hunt eventually takes the form of a witch hunt, with the whole town wanting to believe in Lucas’s guilt as a matter of unifying groupthink, much like children with peer pressure. What do you think is more dangerous: That kind of collective anger and ignorance or a singular threat like Hannibal?
Well the singular killer is hard to catch, and he’s hard to find. He’s hard to pinpoint. The other thing, we see it daily. We constantly see it on different scales. People group up because they need to group up—cheering for one soccer team or wanting to put somebody down so they feel on top. In this case, I think it’s a little different because they’re genuinely worried about their kids. But, in general, a single wolf is much more difficult to spot than a group of wolves.

There’s a scene in the film with a picture of a you on a wall, from when you were younger. I was wondering when and where that picture was taken and what you were up to at the time.
I think I was around 19 or 20. I don’t remember what I was doing exactly. They needed some of those kinds of photos. I was such a hippie kid, full of earrings and fucking strange hair, so when they asked me to bring some average photos, it was very difficult to find them. I always had something strange on, just for the fun of it. I wasn’t really a hippie, I was just trying to impress all the girls. And it never worked [laughs].

You started out as a gymnast and a dancer, which makes sense given the physicality of a lot of your past roles. What made you ultimately choose acting?
The fact that I never wanted to be a dancer. I really liked and enjoyed it, but it was never a dream. I wasn’t that much in love with the aesthetic of dancing, but I liked the drama of dancing. And it just struck me: “Why don’t you just try to do drama full time if that’s what you’re really interested in?” So that was just a slow transition. And then I applied for drama school, and spent four years there, and then graduated, at the young age of 30.

You have a lot of ties to the Cannes Film Festival. You won the Best Actor prize there last year for The Hunt, you were back this year with Michael Kohlhaas, and you have a long history with new Cannes regular Nicolas Winding Refn. What do you love about the festival and what it does for the world of film?
All kinds of films are there. People always complain, “There’s no consensus with the films this year.” No, there isn’t. And there’s not supposed to be. There are films that the audience loves, but the critics don’t love. And then there are films that divide people totally. And then there are films that everybody likes. And there are films that are really weird. And they’re from all over the world. And I like that there’s no style to the festival. You can come with the blinds shut and win the fucking thing because that was just the flavor of the fucking month! What I like about it now is that, years ago, Nicolas and I went there with a film called Bleeder, his second film, and we were just trying to sell it. And then, 15 years later or so, he’s in the main competition, and so am I. Such a beautiful long journey. There’s nothing like Cannes.

The New York Times has called you “the face of the resurgent Danish cinema.” Do you feel any responsibility to represent or honor your homeland in your work?
Not at all [laughs]. No. I feel a responsibility on behalf of my craft, and filmmaking, but I don’t go around saying, “Oh, I should do this for Denmark! Where’s my red and white collar?” I don’t do that. I’m obviously tremendously proud when my country is proud of what I do, like I’m proud of a Danish sportsman. But I don’t feel the pressure of having to do something special because I’m Danish. I’ll just have to take my job extremely seriously every time I do something, and do my very best, and hopefully that’ll be enough.

At this point, you’ve worked with a lot of Dogme 95 veterans, like Vinterberg and Susanne Bier, but I read somewhere that you’re not interested in working with Lars von Trier. Is that true?
No, I would love to work with Lars, if he was interested in working with me. But we’d have to make some rules. And one of the rules is that we’d have to talk together, we’d have to listen to each other, work together, and cooperate. I’m not gonna be a little pawn in a big chess game, and he just tells me what to do. It’s not going to happen. But, I’m sure, if we can talk, and listen to each other, we might be able to do something interesting. He asked me once, and I couldn’t do it, but maybe one day. I think he’s done some brilliant work.

The Hunt leaves us uncertain of Lucas’s fate, but, assuming the show sticks to the trajectory of the books and films, we do know where Hannibal’s story is headed. Can you share some things we can expect in the meantime, in season two?
I would love to if I knew anything, but I can honestly say I have no idea. For me, there are three options, at least for Will and Hannibal’s relationship. One is that Will still doesn’t have a clue that I’m the guy, and I have a hard time seeing how that’s going to happen. The other one is that he does know, and I know that he knows, and we take it from there. And the third option is that he tricks me, and he pretends that he doesn’t know, but then he will play me. So the characters turn around. But I’m pretty sure I will have something up my sleeve.

Well let’s just hope Hannibal takes care of his left eye. You and that eye—weeping blood in Casino Royale, missing in Valhalla Rising…
[Laughs] No, I’m sure I can’t lose my left eye this time. Anthony Hopkins had both his eyes, so I think we’re safe.