Source: Vivanty. Interview translated by Eli.
Date: November 2014
Wow, that’s nowadays rare to see: an actor who smokes in his hotel room.
Yes, I enjoy it, that you can smoke anywhere here in Marrakech. I’ve been thinking if I should not to move here.
Where do you live currently? In Los Angeles?
No, I’m just in LA from time to time in order to shake any hands. To live there would bring nothing to me because my American films were all not shot in the USA but in Canada, the Czech Republic or elsewhere. Since 2012 I live six months a year in Toronto, where the television series “Hannibal” is produced and the rest of the year in Copenhagen – unless I’m shooting a movie somewhere.
Can your family go with you?
That’s our goal. However, this doesn’t always work. During the filming of the first “Hannibal” season my family was with me in Toronto, but for the second season there were problems with the school – so I had to jet back and forth instead when I had free time for a few days. Everything is not so simple. But slowly my wife and me become more professionals in juggling with dates.
How does your wife deal with the fact that she is married to a sex symbol?
She doesn’t care at all. When she heard some years ago that a Danish gossip magazine chose me for world’s sexiest man, she yawned heartily at first. We can both laugh about it that this label has since stuck to me – we know that it does not mean a thing. Repeatedly some new “sexiest man” is proclaimed again. It is of course more pleasant than when you are chosen as the ugliest man in the world. But I have deliberately played many roles that run completely counter to the sex symbol image.
Have you ever been suggested to do romantic love films instead of hard action dramas? No. That would not help me. When selecting my film projects I don’t let anyone influence me. And I am into action finally – I am not one of those people who have already watched artistically valuable French films at the age of eight. I come from a working class family and grew up with action films. The heroes of my childhood were Bruce Lee, Charles Bronson and the Crimson Pirate. At that time I had no acting ambitions – I just wanted to be a cool pirate, a knight, a sword fighter. And now, in my old age, I can actually achieve these childhood dreams.
Before moving to acting you have studied modern dance and worked for eight years as a professional dancer. Have you been raging on the dance floors of Danish clubs?
I have never danced just for fun. In clubs you always find me at the pool table, usually with a beer in hand.
Does the dance training help you today for the physical challenges of some roles?
For sure. I know my body very well and can control it easily. I consider for every movie character exactly how he moves: slow and dull? Or hectic and impatient? My experience as dancer allows me also to do my own stunts, of which I am very proud.
Have you never been injured?
Several times even. That is kind of usual doing action movies. But my worst injury I do not owe to a dangerous stunt, but to my own stupidity. During the filming of the Western “Salvation” in South Africa, I’ve dropped a large, heavy knife on my hand. The wound became infected and they nearly had to amputate the finger.
Do you practice the dance moves of the past today yet?
I might just manage a somersault or a back handspring. But I think I could get back the most important figures in a week. Well, we might say in a month.
Would you like to do a musical once?
It would be a lot of fun to dance in a movie – but not necessarily in a musical. I’m afraid, someone else would have to dub my vocals at least. Although I can sing, but I doubt that you can pay me for that. Also I would not like to play in a tacky musical, but rather in a rougher, modern version.
How do you select your film projects?
According to my mood. At that, the variety is very important. If I would portray nothing but similar figures my job would soon make me sick. Some time ago, I made the mistake of doing three exhausting emotional dramas one behind the other – then I was really ready for a harmless Disney-summer comedy. And no later than four weeks in a neat conversation banter in elegant costumes I feel the overwhelming urge to throw myself with a sword in a wild viking battle or give the hell to James Bond!
Would you be in the mood for another Bond adventure?
Of course! Wouldn’t it be great, to ally with Javier Bardem? We were both so close to finish Daniel Craig! I think as a super villain duo we had a chance, right? Seriously. I love to play roles that challenge me physically – and I want to take advantage of the possibility as long as I’m not too old for it.
Are you concerned about getting older?
No. The cruel film business does mean it still relatively well with us men. While actresses may have to wait after their 30th birthday until they are 80 to play Miss Daisy-figures, there are for mature men quite interesting roles. And if no more offers flap into the house, then I can not change it. I always take things as they come.
You never actively seeked for jobs?
Bell ringing is not my thing. Unlike many colleagues, however, I was so lucky that I never had to struggle to get deals. Also, I would be much too proud to beg someone for a role, even though I would love to play it. I want to have the feeling that people necessarily want me and do not hire me only because of mercy.
In recent years, you have barely worked in Denmark, but more in international productions – because of the variety?
This is due more to the fact that in my home, very few films are produced. As soon as I am to see again in a Danish film, people grumble: “No, not him again! Does the guy really have to hold his stupid face in each camera?” The blame bears the gossip press that obsessively pounces on me – I am constantly in the danish media due to some crap. I can understand it well that the hype surrounding some stars gets on peoples nerves. So in order to work more than two months per year, I had to look beyond the national borders.
Does it not upset you, that you are casted in Hollywood nearly only as a villain?
I see my film characters not as villains – I think these are actually quite nice guys that are just misunderstood. But it’s true that Hollywood bosses have a tendency to say to us Europeans: “Do I hear a small accent there? Alright – you play the villain!” However, this stereotype thinking seems gradually to convert. I was already offered other roles. They were just unfortunately quite boring. It does not attract me to play fruit munching idealists. I find contradictory figures far more interesting , which act unappealing at first glance and make many errors. I can identify myself more with them.
Since a few years you can be seen in various commercials, although you have announced at the start of your career, that you would hate advertising and never do scrap like that?
Yes, I know. At that time I was a great idealist. Well, what can I say? It sure is not hard to guess for you why I got weak ten years later.
Hmm … does the word begin with “M”?
Exactly. The sums that I can earn with advertising, allows me to reject unpopular film projects that I otherwise would possibly have to do to feed my family. So I buy me the freedom to stay for months at home with my children and be able to wait for reasonable film offers. I prefer to do a nice spot than a lousy movie, for which I am ashamed afterwards.
A few years ago you told me, it would not excite you at all, to star in a TV series again…?
Yes, because I had once a bad experience with the Danish TV-series “Unit One”. Previously, I had discovered with films like “Pusher” that cinema offered the opportunity to cross borders and do radical things. But while watching TV everything had to be smoothing, because the network did not want to scare any potential viewers. I had to puke every time when the TV directors said to me. “Yes, true, you should be angry in this scene but please do not be too angry” or “Yes, bleed, but just not too much!” Today it is different. As the responsible people on the television channels often have even more balls than the Hollywood bosses. In “Hannibal” at least nothing is smoothed – we may make some noise.
How did you prepare for the infamous Hannibal Lecter role? Did you do a lot of research? Did you have a chat with Anthony Hopkins? Eat a human heart?
Unfortunately I never met Mr. Hopkins. As well I could not get hold of a human heart – for this I would have had better chances if I would also be surgeon, serial killer and cannibal like Hannibal. But I’m just a small actor – and, incidentally, not a big fan of research. I do not think I would have found anything about Hannibal in books because he is not a classic psychopath. There is absolutely nothing in his past unresolved. He is completely at peace with himself – probably the happiest person I’ve ever embodied. He just has only a slightly different view of the world than we do.
Do you like him?
I like to play him, this gourmet and fine spirit. I like the way he dresses – I myself would never wear something like that privately. Normally I am not interested in fashion but I find it exciting to peel me out of my Adidas clothes in the morning and put on Hannibal’s suits. I slip into the role literally and that helps me a lot when playing.
Can you cook as well as he?
Nah! I know only a few simple Thai recipes. Cut stuff small, pure into the wok, finish the thing! I can also prepare a sharp, spicy soup with coconut milk and shrimp – but for that I need about five hours.
Is it hard for you to leave the role of Hannibal after six months shooting?
No, I’ve always tried to get as quickly as possible in a character and then as soon as possible to get out again. I actually always manage that quite well. I do not belong to the actors who drag their character home in the evening and insist that their children respond with their role names. I think that is, with all due respect, rather perverse and pretentious.
Do you have a special advice for young colleagues?
Yes. As an actor, you should definitely make sure that you can make yourself understood with the director. You do not always have to have the same opinion as he but you have somehow to be able to communicate with him – otherwise you can forget the whole project. And one more thing! Don’t let yourself be intimidated by the director or by a famous fellow actor. Dare yourself in every scene and take the time and the free space that your movie character needs.
How do you do that?
There is no recipe. Each filmmaker is different. In an ideal world, the director would be a kind of psychologist who reacts individually on different actors, shape them and encourages and supports. The reality is different. The most directors are very odd birds with a huge ego often also extremely introverted – and as an actor, you must play psychologist and find out laboriously how to get to these guys.
Do you think directors consider you as difficult?
No. Sure, I demand a lot and always say clearly my opinion. But I’m pretty good at it to read screenplays very carefully, to ask the right questions and put my finger into the wounds. And I think that most filmmakers are grateful.
What do you do in your spare time?
I am a total sports freak, always in motion, always with a ball nearby. Among other things, I play handball, soccer and tennis. I ride as much as possible with the bike and try else to keep me fit.
And how does that get along with smoking?
Ha! You caught me! As you see: We humans are full of errors and contradictions. I am the best example!