Mads Mikkelsen is drunk. OK, well, maybe he's not drunk right now, but he spent a whole lot of time pretending to be drunk on screen—and a little bit of time actually being drunk behind the scenes—for his new movie, Another Round. And while they weren't actually intoxicated, Mikkelsen and his three co-stars spent time stumbling around and destroying the inside of a supermarket while filming—what he called a "terrible day" for some behind the scenes.
"Once you kind of wind each other up, and we get more and more inspired by crazy stuff, we start behaving like little children and there's no way they can control us." he says, reflecting on the four men "drunkenly" stumbling through a grocery store. "So that was a very busy day for the cameraman."
Another Round, a dramedy re-teaming Mikkelsen with director Thomas Vinterberg (the two previously collaborated on 2012's highly-praised The Hunt) tells the story of four middle-aged teachers who decide to put the theory of a Norweigan philosopher named Finn Skårderud into practice: everyone's blood alcohol level is naturally .05 % too low. So, it offers, people would be better going through life just a little bit drunk—and so the friends try it out to varying levels of success.
Before the movie began filming, Mikkelsen—who says beer has always been his alcoholic beverage of choice—and his costars (Thomas Bo Larsen, Lars Ranthe, and Magnus Millang) put themselves to the test. The four went through what he calls a "boot camp" where they tested out their own reactions not only to that .05%, but, like in the movie, the higher .08% and .10% rates as well. But when the cameras started rolling, the fun came to an end.
"Once we started shooting, we just put the cork in the bottle and started behaving like actors, because it would be completely impossible for us to walk around being drunk for 60 days straight on," Mikkelsen says. "That would be ridiculous and unsustainable."
That "unsustainable" qualifier is particularly tested in one sequence of the movie where the four friends drink to excess in what is referred in subtitles as an "ignition" phase. It's at this point that the guys end up blitzed out of their minds: destroying the supermarket, dancing around, and waking up bruised and bloodied without an idea as to why. Mikkelsen says he can remember a time in his own life when reaching that level of drunk was par for the course.
"I'm sure I've been drunk like that many times, especially when I was young," he says, citing the Danish social drinking culture. In the film's opening scene, students do a crate race around a lake, drinking excessively, with penalties for teams who vomit. In the closing scene, students drink to celebrate their graduation. "I remember maybe at least a week when we were driving around having the best time of our lives. All the burden was off our shoulders, and I think any of us can barely remember any of that time, but probably will remember it as a good period.
The film has a lot to say about both the positives and negatives that come with the culture that surrounds drinking, but it might have even more to say about how people of a certain age react when whatever version of a mid-life crisis creeps up upon them. Mikkelsen's character, Martin, starts the movie off in an almost corpse-like trance. His students at one point even stage an intervention and essentially beg for him to become a more lively teacher; they need some assurance they're going to be properly prepared for their upcoming standardized exams.
Mikkelsen, 55, knew how to dial into the character, but doesn't see any of himself in this aspect. "My character is a man who's standing on the platform and watching the train leaving when we meet him," he says. "I don't have that gene. I tend to wake up every morning and be quite curious and really enjoy the fact that the sun is rising and there might be something interesting out there, yet another day."
And while he doesn't see himself as someone who needs any sort of jolt into his day-to-day-life—and particularly not one from an infusion of alcohol—he does find himself, at his age, thinking about the concept of aging, and the need to do something to combat that.
"Even for the most optimistic person, it's at least halfway through your life," he says. "So you do think. You do turn around and think a little about it, but I haven't jumped into a big crisis about it yet, and I'm 55 now. There's simply nothing I can do about it, but as long as I can do stuff that I enjoy doing, I think that's a good measurement."
One thing he certainly can still do, and the movie deeply proves this, is dance. Mikkelsen was a professional ballet dancer in the early part of his career, and Vinterberg specifically wrote a similar backstory into his character's past. When he begins an elaborate and, quite frankly, incredible dance scene late in the movie, it's meant as a metaphor for both extreme happiness and extreme sadness. Mikkelsen himself doesn't particularly express that he misses his life as a dancer, but it's palpable in his voice that he was happy that he still could passably do what he was trained to years ago.
The character and performer differ in that the actual Mikkelsen danced for a living, and Martin only did so on an amateur level. Still, Vinterberg made sure that there was common ground—both were in the same place of having not done it, at that point, for about 25 years. So when it came time to bust the moves out, both were in a similar place.
"In that sense, we were in the same boat—quite rusty," Mikkelsen says. "It was fun to do it but it was really brutal. A week after that I was just hurting everywhere."
While Mikkelsen hasn't really taken up dancing in 25 years, he does keep himself in good shape. This mainly comes through his joy for playing tennis (as much as injuries allow, he says), in addition to riding a racing bicycle and a bit of weight lifting during requisite trips to the gym. But it's tennis that rises above the fray as his favorite. "That's the one I would love to do like eight hours a day," he says. "Unfortunately, I don't have time or the age for that."
For those who know Mikkelsen best as, well, a serial-killing cannibal psychiatrist (or, really, any of his other notably sinister roles throughout the last 15 years), it might come as a bit of a shock to see his latest turn as a rather dull teacher who only gets a pep in his step once he starts boozing on the job.
But comedy—of the dark variety, to be specific—has always been part of Mikkelsen's repertoire; he's made five films of the sort with Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen. But it was some of the more physical aspects of Another Round, combined with the movie's more pragmatic tragicomic elements, that caught his attention.
"I mean, drunk people, besides having the ability to be enormously annoying, they can also be quite funny to watch," he says. "I think that you can have humor in a film that is realistic, as long as you take it extremely seriously yourself and it has a dramatic part to play."
THAT HUMOR checks out when thinking about the title role in Hannibal, which throughout its three-season run on NBC, consistently threaded in—to perfection, I might add—Mikkelsen's underrated comedic timing. While Another Round is intense in its own way, no one would dare argue that it ramps up to the intensity of Hannibal Lecter, the role that has likely become his most famous over the last half decade. ("No, thank god," he says dryly when comparing the two.)
Since Hannibal left NBC's airwaves in 2015 following three little-seen but much-loved seasons, the show—which featured some of the most gorgeously violent content to ever air on network television—has become a cult favorite. That 'cult favorite' descriptor may even be underselling the show's 2020 status, having landed on Netflix in June and now calling the world's biggest streaming service its home.
"We were really pleased that we had a home on American television, but at the same time we were also aware that we could have had larger crowds if we were part of that hipster community of Netflix, HBO, and whoever does TV shows," he says. "So we're really grateful that they are housing it right now, so that can come up to a wider audience. I think the show deserves it."
Hannibal has also been frequently rumored for a potential Season 4 revival, and while there's no official news of any sort, Mikkelsen has always seemed to be on board if the opportunity ever arose. That said, the world has become a different place since 2015, and one would be fair to wonder if the performer has changed as well. Is such a specific, intense role such a thing an actor—even one as talented as Mikkelsen—can just flip a switch and jump back into?
"I wish to say yes," he says. "I think we know the character so well at this point that it hopefully wouldn't take as long to be back on track, back in that three-piece suit and enjoying life the way Hannibal only can."
At the same time—and he even alludes to this—that's a character who is just...so much. The cannibalism and extreme violence are the parts of Hannibal that people always talk about, but what flies under the radar is the fact that Mikkelsen's Hannibal is constantly engaging in psychological warfare. Even more than Anthony Hopkins' three cinematic portrayals, Mikkelsen plays Hannibal as almost less man than just constant, creeping, evil. As much as Hugh Dancy's Will Graham, or Laurence Fishburne's Jack Crawford think they're in control, it's always Hannibal holding all the cards.
And when you're playing that character, how the hell do you unwind? Mikkelsen compares his process to a valve. "You can get the air out of the balloon somewhere," he says. "For us actors, we get to do crazy stuff in our job, and then we don't have to do crazy stuff in our lives. Because it's kind of off our shoulders after that."
While such an important part of Hannibal comes in the relationship between its two leads—and don't worry, he says he still keeps close tabs on what Mr. Dancy is up to ("We keep track of each other," he says, noting that the two often try to link up in New York or London. "We'll keep track on email or text messages once in a while just making sure I can figure out how big his family is now, how many dogs they have.")—it's important to know that they also like to break some of that unmistakable dramatic tension with a laugh, whether that's at something minor that went wrong, or, sometimes, for no good reason at all.
"You have to be able to easily jump into the character, but even more importantly it should be equally easy for you to leave your character," he says.
Hannibal may have become his most famous role, but that's certainly got competition. While his films in Denmark go back to the '90s, Mikkelsen's breakthrough in the United States came when he played villain opposite Daniel Craig's James Bond debut in 2006's Casino Royale. Since then, he's been a steady presence as villain or villain-adjacent characters in major blockbusters, including Marvel's Doctor Strange, and the upcoming Daisy Ridley/Tom Holland sci-fi Chaos Walking. He bent the mold to play a hero in the Star Wars film Rogue One, and was just cast as Johnny Depp's replacement in the Harry Potter spin-off franchise, Fantastic Beasts.
"I was just really pleased if got any kind of career once I graduated from school," he says of his resume thus far. "My main dream, though, was to be part of filmmaking."
Another interesting thing that's happened to Mikkelsen in recent years is his gradual rise to celebrity of the viral meme status. Not only do those of us who are always-online see gifs of him in his unmistakably-sharp cannibal shrink get up, but it feels like an almost weekly occurrence that he's going viral for one reason or another, whether it's reflecting on a Rihanna music video or telling a story about quasi-stealing one of his Hannibal suits.
But as perfect as some of those stories seem, you can rest assured that it's just as natural and unplanned as you'd hope. In fact, Mikkelsen says that he's heard about these viral moments, but it's certainly not something he spends any significant amount of time thinking about.
"Once in a while I hear that I'm quoted, and I'm like, 'When did I say that?'" he says. "Because I just say what I think. Sometimes you should be careful doing that, and sometimes you shouldn't care at all."
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