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The Lab Magazine – Mads Mikkelsen by Noomi Rapace

Source : The Lab Magazine
Date : March 21, 2012

In 2006, when big screens played host to Mads Mikkelsen’s bleedin’-eyed Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, the Danish actor told Variety that he would always live and work in Denmark and that whatever happened outside his homeland was just “icing on the cake.” Well, the Cake Boss better move aside, because this European commodity has an awful lot of fondant on his hands. For a man whose acting career began at the age of 30, he’s already romanced us in After the Wedding, scared the Nordic nonsense out of us in Valhalla Rising, and had his way with a French fashion icon in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky. Not to mention the high-octane performances he’s put in for the popcorn crowd in Clash of the Titans and 2011’s The Three Musketeers. Performing in a menagerie of accents and languages, Mikkelsen has embraced corrupt men, troubled artists and deadly killers without hurting his reputation with the ladies (he’s been voted Sexiest Man Alive in Denmark a number of times) or the critics (he’s fresh from winning the European Achievement in World Cinema award at the EFAs.) Who better to dig a little deeper into this Scandinavian enigma than the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and star of new Ridley Scott sci-fi thriller Prometheus – Swedish darling Noomi Rapace. Rather fittingly, the two European exports talk about what they both do so well – acting.

NOOMI RAPACE—I’m the journalist! It’s the first time I’ve ever been the person who asks the questions. I’ve been doing my homework and watching a lot of your movies and I want to ask you how far are you willing to go to find what you’re looking for when you’re acting?
MADS MIKKELSEN—I don’t know how far I would go, actually. It depends what I’m looking for. I would probably go pretty far to make a scene work. I’ve hurt myself basically a billion times but I haven’t really crossed that physical line yet where I’ve thought that was too much. It’s been really tough emotionally once in a while, but I don’t think I’ve really crossed the line there either.

NR—Have you ever felt like you’ve lost yourself in it and you’re not in control anymore and you don’t really know if it’s the character or if it’s you who’s in charge?
MM—I think in general every actor is looking for that little space of getting lost. We always look to be in control of what we’re doing and at the same time letting go and getting lost in whatever situation it is. And when we do that we feel free and we feel like the character is on its move and we’re standing right behind, guiding it. But once in a while you can get lost and I mean really get lost where you don’t know what’s going on anymore. I think getting lost is something we’re all trying to achieve when we act. We’re trying to erase that knowledge of having the camera there and our own little camera that’s constantly watching us. There are a couple of times when I’ve lost track and I was like, “What the fuck happened in that scene?” but it wasn’t bad; it was something new I had to get used to.

NR—But it only happens to you in scenes? It’s not like when you’re done with the whole shoot that you realize that you’ve been on a journey that you didn’t really know you were on? I did this Danish movie, called Daisy Diamond and when I was done with it I realized I was quite lost but I hadn’t realized while we were filming it. There’s a difference between losing yourself in a scene and realizing later on that you lost yourself for a couple of weeks or months. Has that happened to you?
MM—I don’t think so. I’ve been involved in films that have gotten lost and coming out on the other side I realized we did not shoot what everyone expected. But it wasn’t in a sense that I got lost personally. I think I’ve always been a big fan of trying to get in and out of the character as fast as possible. That doesn’t mean you’re not carrying the energy of what you’ve done that day or the frustrations or the joy of what you’ve been doing but I definitely try to look at it from a distance and also just to be practical – it’s nice that my kids can recognize me when I come home once in a while.

NR—But do your characters affect you a lot? I was talking to [director] Nicolas Winding Refn about you and we were discussing how you’re fearless as an actor. For example, in that movie you did with him, Valhalla Rising, your character’s so specific and so strong – I’ve never seen anything like that. Did that affect you a lot?
MM—It did. And likewise with the first character I did with him [Winding Refn] in the Pusher films – he had such a hyper energy. Spending 10 hours a day being hyper and having your foot move up and down and just talking, talking, talking is obviously not that easy to forget about when you go home. It’s a physical thing; it catches you. Likewise with Valhalla Rising it was very much a Zen thing being this caged animal, gorilla kind of creature, unlike a real person. Being in that Zen mode in the beginning was a little frustrating because everyone was running around and I was sticking a lot to myself. It was difficult to lose that energy. I would still have a beer in the evening and I still tried to have some fun times with the other guys, but it was different. It does affect you when you do something that’s so different from your own energy and I don’t mind that. It makes you figure out things about yourself that you can use later in life. It hasn’t changed me but I think I’ve added a little something to the drawer.

NR—Have you ever been doing a scene and felt that you couldn’t face those emotions that you have to wake up?
MM—Not really, actually. I feel really joyful and happy when I deal with that, if it’s something that fits the scene. I’m not saying that my job is a therapy but it does feel really healing once in a while. I feel relieved if we nail a scene that is very far out and you’re using yourself in a way that is not necessarily normal. It will take some hours to shake it off sometimes, but I enjoy it. I’ve always thought that was fun, because I’m pretty sure all human beings contain all kind of emotions, so it would be weird if I couldn’t find some in myself.

NR—So what are you afraid of?
MM—I think I’m basically afraid of the classic things every parent would be. It’s always something to do with your family. Stuff with your family you’re afraid of, end of story. I’m afraid there’s nothing else existing out there than this. If there’s nothing else that would just be really annoying. Besides that, I’m not really afraid.

NR—I believe you. We’ve been trying to work together a couple of times and when I was talking to Nicolas about you I remember saying, I don’t need protection when I’m [acting] with you. I know I can go in and see whatever happens and go with it. I think most people are much more afraid and driven by fear than you are.
MM—I would be a liar if I wasn’t afraid of certain things, but when I look at it, it’s not real fear. I can definitely be afraid of some of the things I get myself into. I could think, “What am I doing here playing piano, speaking Russian and French – I’m a Danish guy – what the fuck am I doing?” But having that feeling on the set is definitely a losing situation, so I’m trying to find the psychopath inside of me who believes it’s all cool; it’s all fine. I just get to work and do as best as I can, and then I can go back home get a couple of beers and think, that was a disaster, but I’m not going to do it on the set. So I suppose I have that fear like everyone else, but if I look at it from a slight distance I would say that’s not real fear.

NR—Did you go to drama school?
MM—Yes. I was dancing professionally for eight or nine years. So I was very old when I got into school – I graduated when I was 30. There were a few teachers who were absolutely fantastic and really inspired me to learn about myself. There was lots of stuff I hated; some stuff was boring, annoying, and pretentious, so it was a very frustrating time for me as well. Having said that, those few teachers who were inspiring, they were really inspiring, and I wouldn’t lose that for anything.

NR—Do you have some kind of method that you follow when you take on a new role?
MM—I do now. I didn’t have that in the beginning – I didn’t have a clue. We had no methods because they’re not allowed to teach a certain method in Danish drama schools. We were all really frustrated but you gradually find your own method I guess. I believe that everybody has every emotion inside of them somewhere and I feel that an actor’s work is to be able to acknowledge that and know them as well as they can so they can play around with them. So when I read something and I find it inspiring I try to focus on what is the most powerful emotion; what is driving this person and can I recognize that? It might only be a small part of me but I try to multiply it so it becomes much bigger than it is in my own character. After that, I look at the other characteristics I have as a person and decide if they’re part of the character I’m playing. So if it doesn’t have my empathy I take the empathy away, but if it has this very dark side I recognize, I try to multiply it. So in many ways I’m just peeling off instead of adding in and hopefully somewhere down the line that will create a character that I can recognize, and people will recognize me in that, but it’s not me.

NR—For some actors it’s more about studying others and copying and pretending. I don’t understand that because for me that’s not possible. It would never be true and it would never be real.
MM—It’s the eternal discussion. Do you start from inside and then you go outwards or do you start from outside and it lands somewhere inside? I believe the two methods can come up with the same quality of final product. I found it worked for me to start by recognizing something in myself and then letting it build from there, but I’ve also been inspired by people I’ve met in my life who I’ve seen something funny or annoying in, and used that for certain characters.

NR—What about vanity? I always try to do whatever I need to do for a character. I can be fat, I can be skinny, I can shave my head, I can pierce myself; I can do anything because I need to force away my own vanity because I know I’m fucked if I care about if I’m sexy or beautiful. That means I can’t look at myself. I did this movie [Prometheus] with Ridley Scott and he wanted me to come and look at a scene and I said, “I can’t do that, I’m sorry, I just can’t because I don’t want to see myself.” How is it for you? Can you look at yourself and how do you deal with your own vanity?
MM—I think you would rarely find, especially in Scandinavia and Europe, boys who have problems doing whatever it takes to do a film. To look however they need to make the character. I think it has always been something that’s a bigger problem for girls in many ways because there’s still this lunatic ideal of girls being perfect on film in a very classical way. And for that reason a lot of girls have been super frustrated. They want to do something dramatic but their agent may say, “Don’t do it because you’ll lose your audience.” I’m very vain in terms of the character. I don’t give a shit about what people think about me but I can be very frustrated if people are trying to drag the character somewhere that is going to please a certain group of people if it’s not right. I can be vain with myself in my personal life, but not in a character.

NR—Can you watch your own work? Can you go and look at dailies?
MM—Yes, I can do it, but I don’t. I will sometimes go and look if we’re doing big stunts and something’s not really working to see if I can fix it. I’ve also watched myself in certain scenes because the director wanted to tell us about this specific emotion of the film where he felt we nailed it or whatever. I don’t watch dailies too much because I want to have it in my body rather than to see it and start analyzing it.

NR—Sometimes I feel like actors are so afraid. They worry how a movie will affect their career and they’re driven by anxiety and a fear. I don’t think you’re like that. You’re not constantly judging your career from the outside are you?
MM—I’m not really sure whether I analyze from outside or not, but one thing I do believe in is if it feels right to do something, even if people advise you against it, you have to do it. If you’re focusing on a career you will never make everyone happy, especially yourself. If you’re doing things that appeal to you it will become a career – it might be fragile, it might be strong – but it will be something you believe in.

NR—I kind of get the sense that you’re quite picky about the roles you choose. When you decide to do a movie, what’s behind that decision?
MM—I have to meet the person who’s going to make the film and figure out whether we communicate. It doesn’t mean that they have to be a specific way; they can be as weird as they want to be but there’s got to be something in there that I find radical, inspiring or just plain happy. Secondly, the script has to be something that touches me somewhere. And it can be anything. I like films that are radical but it can just as easily be a family film. But if I’m going to do a family film where I’ll be fencing on the roof of Notre Dame it has to be because it’s going to be the kick-ass fight to end all fights.

NR—Have you directed movies or do you want to direct?
MM—I have never directed movies. I find myself extremely lucky to be part of what some people call the new “golden period” of Danish films, where a lot of people in my generation started working together – directors, writers, camera people, actors – in a very collaborative style. That means we spend a lot of time with the scripts together, discussing options that might be better, coming up with ideas, fighting on the set when we disagree or agreeing from the beginning. But I think I’ve been such a big part of making these films that I have no immediate hunger for directing myself. I would love to direct something one day, but it has to be a story that I want to tell the world. And as long as that’s not happening, I say just leave it and, with the risk of stepping on toes here, I think a lot of directors should leave it like that as well. If they’re not yearning for what they’re doing, don’t do it.

NR—And actors too. There’s a difference between acting because you really want to do it or you need to do it, and because it’s a good move or it’s good money.
MM—I’ve definitely done things that were for the money as well, but I need to find something in there that satisfies me besides that. I don’t mind doing entertaining things, but why not try to make something really cool and entertaining – that can be your inspiration as well. I would be very frustrated if I constantly did radical dramas.

NR—I respect you because you always change – you always switch into something that’s unexpected.
MM—I’m not doing it deliberately. I wouldn’t mind doing something that looked almost exactly like the thing I just did if that served the film best. I wouldn’t try to change a character just to satisfy myself but I’ve just been lucky enough that I’ve been offered things that are very different, and so I’ve had opportunities to go down different paths.

NR—I hope I get the chance to work with you soon.
MM—That is the plan Noomi, you know that.

NR—I hope I see you soon too.
MM—That was a really good interview. Like nothing I’ve ever done before, and I loved it.