Interview: 10 Questions for Mads Mikkelsen | Film reviews, news & interviews
Interview: 10 Questions for Mads Mikkelsen
The Bond baddie on monarchy, typecasting and what's rotten in the state of Denmark
From playing a blood-weeping Bond villain in 2006’s Casino Royale to his repeated collaborations with directors such as Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) and Susanne Bier (After The Wedding), Danish-born actor Mads Mikkelsen has carved out a respected niche on both sides of the pond. He can come out of questionable blockbuster material unscathed – as his recent turns in Clash of the Titans and The Three Musketeers demonstrate – and elevate good material with his relentlessly compelling, peculiarly intense screen presence.
He’s recently been confirmed to play a villain in the follow-up to Kenneth Branagh’s Thor, and he’ll take on the role of Hannibal Lecter in a new US mini-series exploring the origins of everybody’s favourite cannibal. On the home front, he won Best Actor at Cannes this year for Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt, in which he plays a man who becomes the target of mass hysteria in a small Danish village.
Mikkelsen’s new film A Royal Affair is a dark, urgent period drama based around real events in 18th century Denmark, with an emotional immediacy and freshness belied by its rather drab poster campaign. Mikkelsen plays royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee, who is brought in to treat King Christian VII (Mikkel Følsgaard) for his unspecified mental illness. Struensee develops a genuine bond with the king, but also falls for his mistreated queen Caroline Mathilde (Alicia Vikander), and uses his increasing position of power to bring about a series of reforms which ultimately lead to his downfall. It’s a conflicted, dramatically fraught role and Mikkelsen plays all of the nuance and passion with none of the melodrama that might threaten to overwhelm the story.
In person, Mikkelsen is engaged, hugely enthusiastic and not even remotely villainous, as we recline on West London sofas to discuss monarchy, typecasting and what Yank filmmakers could stand to learn from Europe.
EMMA DIBDIN: The story of A Royal Affair isn’t widely known here, but I assume it’s much more so in Denmark?
MADS MIKKELSEN: In terms of the crown jewels of Danish history, yeah, it's up there with the top five. People certainly know that he had a relationship with the Queen, and took over the country, and there are divided opinions about whether it was a selfish act, whether it was ambition, whether he was a good man or a crook. I got very emotional when I read the script for this, and that rarely happens the first time. Normally it takes a while to dig into the script, and this is a period drama which can be even more tricky to get inside. You often have to get through the wigs and costumes before you find the human beings. But I thought it was beautiful, and there was no reason to say no.
There’s a lot of ambiguity to (your character) Struensee – you can make the argument that what he does serves the greater good, but he certainly seems to exploit the King’s trust in him.
Totally. We do believe, based on the real letters and diaries, that the King and he really, really cared for each other, they loved each other. At the beginning, his dream is not to change anything in Denmark, his ambition is just to open up this young man, and find the key to him, because he’s obviously absorbed by some problem. So that’s why he starts persuading him to stand up for himself, and then as he realizes that there are people whispering in his ear, Struensee thinks “well, maybe I should be doing that, because I have better ideas than they have.” And gradually, you start slipping from there.
How much is known about Struensee’s relationship with the Queen?
We know for a fact that it was not a political alliance, it was a real love story. That was a benefit and gift for the film, because you can actually bring some romance to it without lying. And of course the fact that he’s lying to his beloved friend the King makes this a very dramatic character, a man full of dilemmas. And at the end of the day he forgets everybody around him, he forgets the Queen, the King, his friends, and he's doing everything too fast. Like every good dictator in history, they start out with brilliant ideas but they forget, they get tunnel vision.
Subscribe to theartsdesk.com
Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.
To take an annual subscription now simply click here.
And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top films out now
Exemplary package celebrating Ken Russell’s compelling DH Lawrence adaptation
Almodóvar's moving portrait of a mother's grief, adapted from Alice Munro
Alex Cox’s account of punk rock’s ill-fated duo takes a ride to the heart of darkness
Charisma battles desolation in moving documentary of Ukraine's lower depths
A reputation's tatters are shredded in convincing detail
Atmospheric debut film inspired by Sartre novella on the nurturing of a fascist
New horror franchise isn't scared enough of the dark
John Schlesinger's seminal British New Wave drama about a couple forced to marry
Reassuringly cosy adaptation of Arthur Ransome's 1930 children's novel
Trouble in paradise for Blake Lively courtesy of a hungry shark
Peerless Slovak Holocaust drama brings comedy into tragic context