Mads Mikkelsen on the Joys of Drinking, Replacing Johnny Depp, and His Hunger for More ‘Hannibal’

Mads Mikkelsen has serious moves. That should come as little surprise to those who’ve seen his suave turns as James Bond’s bloody-teared nemesis in Casino Royale and as a dapper cannibal in NBC’s Hannibal. Yet the more dancer-like qualities of his work are often overshadowed by his imposing (if not outright menacing) screen presence—a situation thrillingly rectified by Another Round, Mikkelsen’s new collaboration with The Hunt director Thomas Vinterberg. As a high school teacher who along with three colleagues decides to invigorate his moribund life by maintaining a persistent alcohol buzz, the 54-year-old Danish actor is a dexterous wonder, bringing equal measures of empathetic gravity and humor to his everyman role. His Martin is a lost soul in the throes of a mid-life crisis and, eventually, a burgeoning booze dependency, and his saga culminates in an expressively electric musical number—all leaping, twirling, running euphoria—that stands as the finest scene of the cinematic year.

Another Round’s showstopper not only allows Mikkelsen to utilize his considerable dance training—it demonstrates his charismatic versatility. Mikkelsen’s Martin is an ordinary protagonist on an extraordinarily sloshed journey of self-discovery, and the actor brings his plight to life with relatable inner turmoil and reckless abandon, resulting in one of 2020’s most subtle and moving performances. The stellar film proves that Mikkelsen remains completely comfortable operating in small, human-scaled endeavors, no matter the splash he’s made over the past decade in a variety of Hollywood blockbusters (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Doctor Strange) that have turned him into a hot franchise commodity. With rumors swirling that he was about to step into the newly departed shoes of Johnny Depp in the third Fantastic Beasts installment (the casting news was confirmed following our chat), and with Another Round destined for critical accolades when it premieres in theaters on Dec. 4 and on VOD on Dec. 18, we spoke with him about his impressive dance routine, collaborating with Vinterberg, Denmark’s drinking culture, and more.

Let’s begin at the end of Another Round, with your amazing dance number. Did you prep your moves ahead of time, or were they improvised?

It’s a mix of both. We made a base of moves with a fellow actor and friend of mine, who’s also a choreographer. But at the time, we didn’t know how many young people would be at the place, and then we figured out it was on cobblestone, and there was a bench and a couple of cars, and we’d have to come up with some moves once we were at the location. But yeah, we did a few days of prepping it.

Was the scene in the initial script, and did you have some input into how it would play out?

There was a version of the dance in the story. There was a different version of the ending, and the dance was actually placed at a different spot in the film. The more we worked on it, the more we wanted it to finish with the dance. I was always a little reluctant about the whole thing, not because I didn’t want to dance, but because there’s a fine, fine balance so we don’t go and become pretentious. Like, oh, look at this guy dancing for real amongst a lot of young, lively people! So I wondered, how are we going to pull it off? Are you sure we don’t want to lift it a little, and make it a little magical—like it was a hallucination from his side, and he imagines himself dancing really well, and in reality he’s not? We talked a lot about that, and at the end of the day, Thomas just said, “No, he’s dancing for real, and that’s what I want to see.” Luckily, he was right and I was wrong.

How long did it take to shoot the scene?

Once we began, it was fine. Obviously, you can’t go on for 12 hours like that. We shot it over two days, but that was not only me; that was all the young kids and everything leading up to the dance—throwing Peter (Lars Ranthe) up in the air, and me getting all the phone calls and text messages. How did it feel? Obviously, I was super-rusty [laughs]. It was fun to do it, but I could barely move a week after that.

You weren’t in peak dancing shape, then?

I’m always in very good shape. I play tennis, I ride my racing bike, and I play a lot of sports. But there’s a very big difference between doing sports and dancing, and the main difference is flexibility. The only thing I really worked on was stretching a little before I began dancing, because you can pull anything at any time when you go up to extremities with your body. That’s what I focused on. But obviously, the character has not been dancing for 25-odd years either. So that works fine. It had to be the way it was. There’s a vanity in me as an ex-dancer that I wanted to do maybe a little better than the character [laughs]. When I watched some of the rehearsals, I was like, “Didn’t I used to jump much higher than that?” But that’s good for the film. Me and the character are on the same level.

What brought you back to Thomas Vinterberg, after eight years apart?

I think we were both looking for a certain thing that would fit into our world, and then it became the right thing at the right time in the right place. He pitched the idea right after The Hunt, when we finished that film, and we were celebrating that around the world. The story wasn’t there; it was just this idea about these four guys jumping into the experiment. At that point, I believe, my job was different—I was working in the control tower in the airport, which was obviously based for a lot of laughs, if you drink a lot there [laughs]. But eventually he gathered the four guys in the same working environment so it could be a film more about friendship and life. The pitch was a funny pitch, but I also knew that there’d be more added to it once we saw a real story. Thomas always puts ordinary people into extraordinary situations, and we can relate to them.

Are you a big drinker?

I am Danish, so that’s that [laughs]. It could be worse—I could have said I was Finnish, or Russian. There is a certain Danish drinking culture, which you can see in the film. It starts fairly young for us. I believe my first official beer in a bar, I was probably 12 or 13, and that was OK. When you went to a pub and played billiards, as long as you had your older brother with you, it was fine, they would serve you. It was not a big issue. Those days have changed to a degree. And our young people there are unfortunately holding the world record for the most drinking youth in the world.

The good side of that is, after they finish high school and move on, it tends to slow down a lot. So maybe they just get the steam out in their younger years. But I think you can find this in every culture. You can find it in Italy in a different way, Russia in a different way, America in a very different way. I mean, [Americans] have standards for certain things and double standards for other things. I can’t even remember how many meetings I’ve had with people in L.A. where they’d show up to a lunch, drink a bottle of wine, and then go back home in their car—and that is a complete no-go in Denmark. But apparently that works really well in L.A. So I think every country has a version of what we are portraying here.

To what do you attribute Denmark’s prolific youth drinking culture?

It is a fact that we hold the world record, for now, and we have been doing it for quite a few years, when it comes to youth drinking. It’s no secret that it’s a problem, and it’s not a secret that it can go terribly wrong if you drink too much. We’ve seen numerous fantastic films about that subject. But that was not the goal of this film. This film was trying to focus on the positive side of drinking. Alcohol has been around for 6,000-7,000 years, and it’s been there for numerous reasons: getting closer to your gods, and the spirits; becoming creative; writing music; or maybe as banal as getting the balls to pick up the phone and call that one person you’d love to call.

One of Thomas’ questions throughout the interviews that we did together [for the film] was, how many people in this room met their spouses without alcohol being involved in that? It’s not a lot. So we have to admit that there’s something fantastical and magical about those two glasses of wine, or those two beers. Obviously, those two beers can easily turn into 30, and that’s the problem. But the theory here is, what if you can always be on the level of two glasses of wine? What would happen to life? I mean, would Churchill have made those irrational and insane moves during the Second World War, when he actually beat the shit out of Hitler, without being an alcoholic? Would he have done that if he was just straightforward sober? There’s a lot of things that are fun to discuss.

Was there any pushback to depicting the positive aspects of drinking?

Surprisingly little. We were getting ready. The thing is, if you watch the movie, you see the film is not a commercial for drinking or for not drinking. Everybody in their right mind who watches the film sees it for what it is: an embracement of life. It’s a tribute to life, and a wake-up call to not look at the past and regret, and to not look at the future and wish, but to be in the present and live for what you’ve got and love it. Everyone in their right mind will watch the film for that reason. Then again, times have changed dramatically over the last 10 years, and you have people who will be nitpicking, and going, “Oh my God, that’s not OK!” But if you just watch the film for what it is, any sane person will see what kind of a beautiful message we have in the film. We were getting ready for those keyboard warriors, and it was not a tsunami, it was not too bad. We were quite surprised.

I mean, would Churchill have made those irrational and insane moves during the Second World War, when he actually beat the shit out of Hitler, without being an alcoholic?

You play Martin in various states of inebriation. Is there a secret to playing drunk?

There is a secret, and it’s no longer a secret among actors; everyone knows what the trick is. As it is for private people as well, the trick is that if you’ve been drinking a little too much and you don’t want people to notice, you hide it. That’s the secret of playing drunk. It’s always the case that you will hide it—you’ll make sure you don’t knock anything over, or stumble. That makes your movements a little awkward and a little slower than normal, a little more controlled, and that’s where you give it away. That’s the state between 0.5% and 0.8%-0.9%. We all recognize that. I’m sure you’ve done that before, where you don’t want your spouse to know you’ve had a couple of drinks, so you try your very best not to look drunk. That’s the secret to playing drunk.

But then, of course, we have to take it to the Charlie Chaplin level, and go completely ballistic. And this is why everything can go so terribly wrong as an actor. We were in good hands, with Thomas and each other. Among the five of us, we calculated we had at least 210 years of drinking experience together, so we had a good idea how that felt. But we watched a lot of Russian YouTube videos, and it’s completely insane what these guys get away with. They are so drunk that it makes any acting not overacting; it’s way too much what they’re doing, and it’s real life. So that gave us some comfort that we could go for it.

Is it important to keep moving between Danish and American cinema?

I think it is. If you asked me 10 years ago, I’d probably have said that’s not the important part; I go wherever the good story is offered to me. And the answer today is not that different: I wouldn’t go back and do stuff in Denmark if the stuff I was offered didn’t interest me. But when it’s interesting and it’s Danish, it’s a double win for me, because I’m on my home turf, it’s my language, it’s my stories, it’s my friends, and to a certain degree it makes it easier. So I think it is important. But on the other hand, if nothing comes my way from Denmark that’s interesting in the next 10 years, I won’t work in Denmark. It’s as simple as that.

Unlike in America, where you’re often cast as the villain, your Danish work—including Another Round—often takes advantage of your gifts for comedy and everyman drama. Did that also make this project appealing?

Yes. I don’t think that’s a wrong interpretation of what’s happening. I’ve been very lucky that people around the world have seen me with different eyes. But it is true, if we’re just dividing up between America and the rest of the world, I tend to play the baddie over there. Luckily, there have been a lot of variations in the baddies I’ve been offered. Hannibal is very different from James Bond, which is very different from the guy I played in Star Wars. So that’s been nice as well. But the palette might be slightly bigger when it comes to Danish films.

People ask me to go completely insane in dark comedies, and completely normal in kitchen-sink dramas, in Denmark. Maybe I’ve opened up a door lately, in America, by doing a low-budget film called Arctic, that could have easily been a Danish film, in the sense of the mood of it and the character. This is maybe like the first normal person I’ve played [in America], in a very not normal situation. So maybe stuff is happening over there as well. But it doesn’t matter, because I get offered a lot of different things, whether they come from America, and I’m just embracing it. I’m lucky that I can go back and forth.

Speaking of villainous parts, there’s talk about you possibly taking over for Johnny Depp in the third Fantastic Beasts films. Any truth to those rumors?

You know as much as I do. If there’s anything to the rumor, I’m just sitting here waiting for that phone call [laughs]. Whatever happened, and for whatever reasons, it’s a sad situation. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know what happened, but whatever happened to the two of them—Johnny and his ex-wife—that’s just super-sad. And I’m a massive Johnny Depp fan, so whoever takes over his part, I’m sure they’ll do it with him in mind.

I’m a massive Johnny Depp fan, so whoever takes over his part, I’m sure they’ll do it with him in mind.

Between James Bond, Star Wars, Marvel and now possibly Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts, you’ve covered your franchise-cinema bases. What is it about those big-budget projects that speaks to you?

Don’t forget Hannibal! To be honest, there is no way in hell that Danish cinema can ever produce a franchise that America can. The franchises in Denmark tend to have a very small audience. When I grew up, that’s what I watched; that’s what I was in love with. I did not grow up with French or Czech Republic films, I grew up with American films and franchises. So in my early forties, suddenly I had the chance to go there and do stuff, and who am I to say no to that? It was a dream come true. So I just feel extraordinarily fortunate that they have asked me to join some of those big franchise families. And I should say, I’m Danish—it doesn’t make sense! [laughs] I’m in Bond, I’m in Star Wars, I’m in Marvel, and I’m in Hannibal—it’s just insane.

Are there directors you’d still like to work with, be it in Denmark, America or elsewhere?

I don’t keep up with what’s happening. I once in a while will watch a film and go “That’s great,” and then I won’t catch who made it. I’m not a film nut in that sense. So I know there’s a lot of stuff going on up there, and if any of the great directors want to approach me, I will be pleased. But I think we have to go back in time for me to mention names that I would love to work with, and I’ve said this like a billion times now, but Martin Scorsese—if he would be kind enough to call me one day. And he hasn’t done it yet! Maybe I’ve jinxed it. [laughs] I’ve actually had dinners with him quite a few times, and he’s a lovely person. But he just keeps forgetting to call me.

Finally, the obligatory Hannibal question: Any further word on a fourth season, now that the show has attracted more attention thanks to its Netflix debut?

I don’t know. And you tell me—is it doing well on Netflix, or is it just a little funny situation that it’s landed there? Are people watching it? I don’t know anything about the numbers.

Netflix is very stingy about providing reliable numbers, so it’s hard to tell. But from my social media experience, the show’s Netflix bow sparked a lot of talk about a revival.

I think you’re right. I also saw a few things on my social media, besides the usual suspects that are called the “Fannibals”—and they’re not a small group! It’s amazing how big that group is, and it’s all over the world. Thanks to them, we still talk about making a fourth season. But there were new people coming to my social media who had seen it, and obviously Netflix opens up different opportunities for people to watch it. I think it was about time, because it’s a special show—it’s radical, [especially] for the channel it was shown on, so I think it deserves a bigger audience than it got. Whether there’s going to be a fourth season is still up in the air. I know that everyone who was on board five years ago is still on board and would love to wrap this up in a way that we have control of. Whether it’s going to happen or not, I have no idea.

Have you spoken with showrunner Bryan Fuller about where he was going to take the show, in a potential fourth season?

Yes. I know everything [laughs].

But you’re not telling.

I’m not telling you anything! [laughs] Yeah, I know everything. And if it happens, we’re in for a treat, and a rollercoaster.

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