Mads Mikkelsen Source
mobile version
Arnaud des Pallières talks Michael Kohlhaas and Mads Mikkelsen

Source: Cinephilia
Date: September 4, 2013

On the choice of Mads Mikkelsen:

“I’ll tell you, Intimately I think Mads was meant to embody this character so I think the character of Michael Kohlhaas expected Mads Mikkelsen, I am absolutely convinced. This was for him. After that, my approach was to look for a French actor. At the time, when I was talking with my collaborators I was told: How do you imagine your Michael Kohlhaas? And I said there would have been a great actor for Kohlhaas 10 or 15 years ago, it was Jacques Dutronc when he did Van Gogh by Pialat. It was sublime, I picture him perfectly. And I said, oh there is another that would have been great, it’s Clint Eastwood 20 or 30 years ago. People told me we needed one from today. And I told them that at least it led them, they could help me look.

One day the casting director I worked with told me: do you know this actor? No. She sent me links to photos, he has an amazing face but it is a bad guy. This is a guy who must make genre films. And I look into his filmography. At the time, of course, he had not done The Hunt, he had not won the Best Actor Award at Cannes, he had not done A Royal Affair, Valhalla Rising: The Silent Warrior, was not yet released in Paris … When I asked the question around me, in France, nobody knew who he was. Sometimes moviegoers made the connection with the villain in James Bond.

I started with Pusher. Then I was interested in what he has done. I saw a lot of movies. I was very impressed by his courage, his power, his artistic courage in both Pusher. I think he showed, for one, that this man was not obsessed with his beauty, and two, he was able to make a fool of himself. Except that was in the field of extreme. I wanted to know if he could do more subtle things. I saw After The Wedding of Suzanne Bier and the film convinced me.

He can be subtle, tender, in love. Obviously he is very eclectic in the way he organize his career. We inquired, we translated the script in English, we send it and he was very responsive, he read it quickly. He made us call him by his agent who said I want to meet you, I love the script, he did not say, I love the character, he said, I love the script. We accompanied the scenario with a note on my intentions of directing. Why I wanted to do this film, how, … He said he loved the project. We went to meet him in Copenhagen and he did not speak of the character, he was talking about the script and the film project. It was very important for me because I realized that if this desire manifested he was the right person to materialize it, it would not be in a self-centered relationship with the character, the character is extremely rewarding for a character, but it was the whole operation, we felt in his desire that he was able to engage in a collective effort. This was the case. He married the work culture of the film and the team and I think it is someone who has a great flexibility and great humanity.”

On the language barrier:

“One of the challenges for Mads was to act in French, he obviously increased the opportunities to ease and deepen his French so I’d say he had two relations with the French language. The daily one where quickly he said… He knew very well how to order a beer for instance; it was something he would do very very well or ask for mayonnaise for his French fries, that it was incredibly easy. He never needed an interpreter. When we returned in the complexity of the work, sometimes, to make us feel a little bit more free, with me who’s not every good in english, his coach would served as interpreter . Otherwise we spoke French between us because from the moment at the beginning of the preparation and the end of filming he made a lot of progress. Moreover, the sooner we could, I recorded, he wished that it was my voice, my way of saying the text, or how I imagined the text was said. So I recorded all the text. He had it on his phone, mp3’s and he lived with the text in his ear permanently. He worked the text in a phonetic and musical way.

From the moment he said yes to the character, of course, I cleaned the text. I simplified. I had never thought that the text I wrote would be read by a Danish. Is there in the French text, very, very difficult things to say for a Danish that I might be able to change? For a Danish it is impossible to differentiate between in, on and an. If I do in, on and an, the difference between these 3, which has been widely used in French, imperceptible. He drove himself crazy trying to understand if it was in, on or an. As soon as I found out, I tried to remove as much as possible but sometimes it was not possible. I tried to customize the text. I’ve kept the most important part of the text so he does not waste 90% of his energy with it because he had to feel free to act. So I dropped a lot of text, which makes the character a little hieratic, he does not talk much. It’s part of the efforts I have made. And he did something very intelligent, a brilliance at the beginning.

He told me on our first meeting: if we make this film together, I have 2 things to do, learning to ride and learn French. Learn French, I will until the first clap. From the first clap, we’ll no longer be involved in the language, you do not tell me anything about the language otherwise I’ll never feel free, I must play. I’ll pronounce wrong but if I do, it’s on my acting you must interfere. I found it extremely intelligent that he make this suggestion because when I work with French actors, I tend to be very directional, maniac on the issue of language, pronunciation, articulation and diction . He said it was his condition, I said okay, I will not do that.

I blessed him every day of the shoot because … I tricked him, we had an idea that it was the sound engineer that would say if he had to correct the pronunciation of certain words. It was him who was saying: you’ve mispronounced that word, you must pronounce it like that. And suddenly Mads and I had not a working relationship based on the language, it was the character, the game, the body … Work that is normally done with an actor. And frankly it was him who came up with this idea. It could have been a very bad experience for him.”