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Q&A: Mads Mikkelsen Heads West

Source: Cineplex
Date: May 30, 2014

The Salvation, a festival favourite at this year’s Cannes, is a sublime Western starring Mads Mikkelsen as a brutal gunslinger out to get his vengeance. The film is directed by Kristian Levring, one of the original signatories of the Dogme 95 document, and a leading voice in Danish cinema.

Cineplex chatted with Kristian Levring and Mads Mikkelsen about their favourite Westerns and television shows on the shores of the Mediterranean at the Festival de Cannes.

CINEPLEX: What does the genre of Western cinema mean to you?
KRISTIAN LEVRING: It’s my first love of the movies. Westerns were the first movies I watched as a kid, so, it was like an introduction to cinema. I think when you are a kid, the way you take it in, it’s so powerful. You never take in film as powerfully as you did when you were a kid or a teenager.

CINEPLEX: It’s the same with music.
KL: I’m still [stuck] in the 60s and 70s. My son makes me listen to a lot of new music and I hear that it’s great, but when I listen to it, it doesn’t hit me. I remember in 76 when I saw Taxi Driver here at Cannes for the first time. It hits you, and I think if I saw it now, I wouldn’t be hit in the same way.

CINEPLEX: What it’s like to working with Mads Mikkelsen as the vehicle to tell your story?
KL: Mads is a special one. They don’t come in dozens, those kinds of actors. First of all, he has an incredible honesty in the way that he works — in approach and the way he expresses his physicality.

[There’s] a hunger of doing well. You have wonderful actors in the history of cinema, but some of them lose their hunger. When they lose their hunger, they start repeating themselves. He’s so aware of not repeating himself, of bringing something new. Of all of the actors we had on set, he was the best horse rider, but he’s still the man who spent four hours every morning practicing. He set the bar very high, which is a big thing to the director.

CINEPLEX: At what stage did [Mikkelsen] become involved in the project?
KL: We wrote it for him.

CINEPLEX: Was there a specific performance you had in mind [when you wrote it for him]? Was it Valhalla Rising, Pusher or another work?
KL: No, I just felt Mads. We’re Danish. We’re making a Western. Who else?

CINEPLEX: Do you consider yourself — method is a silly word for a very complicated idea — but are you somebody that’s constantly in character even after the camera is off?
MADS MIKKELSEN: Absolutely not. I’m the exact opposite. I take great pride in jumping in to my character and leaving it very fast. If not, it’s so pretentious. I don’t understand what it is. But that doesn’t mean you don’t take it seriously. Certainly, emotional things you’ve done should stay with you for a while. But insisting that your kids should call you a different name? That is a disease.

CINEPLEX: When you go home from something like The Hunt, I’d think you have to leave it on the stage otherwise you’d go crazy.
MM: If you make a very heartbreaking scene and you nail it, you should be happy. It makes you happy. It gives you energy. You don’t go home depressed. You go home happy. But on the other hand, [if you’re] making a happy scene and it doesn’t work, you go home f***ing miserable because you f***ed up at work.

CINEPLEX: For you, is there still a greater love for the big screen than for the small screen or is it becoming less of a division?
MM: You mean television? For me, it’s the same work. I do not change my work at all.

CINEPLEX: There’s no attenuation for the different types of stories or the way the camera captures you at a different distance?
MM: No, I try to be in the situation. I try to be in this feeling, this emotion, and hopefully, we’re doing the right thing and people will read it. Luckily, a lot of people do, but you will always find people who say nothing’s happening. You also find people who say a lot of things are happening. So, I’m a big fan of that.

CINEPLEX: Are you both still excited when you watch films? Can you sit in the theatre not just thinking of it as a technical exercise? Are you still able to just lose yourself in it?
KL: It has to be. I think [François] Truffaut says somewhere in a book that one of the problems when you direct your first film is that you lose the greatest love of your life because you can never watch a film the same way anymore — because you’re always thinking about this, about this. I think the film, for me — to be able to really go into it, to be truly apart, they have to be damned good.

MM: Obviously, it’s the same for an actor as well. If I forget myself in a film, it’s really good.

CINEPLEX: Can you think of a time recently that you have forgotten yourself in a film?
MM: I would say actually I did forget myself yesterday [at the screening of The Salvation] and I saw myself on the screen. It’s always a trick I’m checking out. It’s a test. If I can relax the first time I see it and I forget what we did that day and I can just follow along, it’s a good sign, and I did that.

KL: I have to say, this is very banal what I’m saying, but I’ve just watched it over and over quite a few times. I think “Breaking Bad”‘s fifth [season] is my last [time I lost myself]. It’s a masterpiece.

CINEPLEX: Some people say that genre on television is making a little bit of a breakthrough thanks to some incredibly strong performers coming in to North America — but I don’t want to speak too highly of “Hannibal” and make Mads feel too good about himself.
MM: [Laughs] They’re much more radical on TV now than they are on film, and for that reason. They can get away with things they could not get away with a few years ago, [including] stuff that we could not get away with in Europe. We are much more politically correct with our dramas on TV here [in Europe].

KL: I read an interview with [“Breaking Bad” show runner] Vince Gilligan a while ago. He talks about Westerns. He talks about The Searchers, and there are a lot of references in Breaking Bad.