No one can have it all, but if you’re Mads Mikkelsen, you can get pretty close. The 55-year-old Danish actor is a man in demand for some of the biggest names in cinema: James Bond, Marvel, Star Wars … and now Harry Potter. Mikkelsen called amidst production on the third “Fantastic Beasts” film, in which he’s been tapped to replace Johnny Depp as villainous Gellert Grindelwald.
But we’re chatting to discuss “Another Round,” Mikkelsen’s latest project in his native Denmark. The film reteams him with director Thomas Vinterberg after their last collaboration, “The Hunt,” netted Mikkelsen the Best Actor prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. His turn here is similarly impressive, though much less somber. “Another Round” follows Mikkelsen’s Martin, along with three other middle-aged teacher pals, as they test a dubious scientific theory that humans are born with a 0.5% BAC deficit and thus need to maintain a slight alcohol-induced buzz to find equilibrium. Their experimentation results are hilarious, heartwarming, and heartbreaking as their drinking mitigates certain problems in their lives but unearths others.
Our conversation covered how Mikkelsen calibrated his character’s varying levels of drunkenness, where he differs from Martin in his own life, and whether he’d ever want to expand upon the dancing skills he shows off in the film’s rousing final scene.
Congratulations on the “Fantastic Beasts” news. I assume you have to be pretty tight-lipped about it…
Not anymore; everybody knows it’s out now. It’s just the reality of things; we are just trying to shoot a movie now.
Have you been on set yet for anything in the COVID era?
Yeah, I worked there. I worked for the last three days. It’s a wonderful atmosphere. The cast is fantastic, the crew is great, and David [Yates] is absolutely wonderful to work with.
How is it with all the protocols?
Yeah, it’s tricky. I think they’ve done it for a while now – quite a few months, so they have a rhythm that works. And I think I’m one of the guys that have to get used to it. But there are protocols, and it works for them.
Is the process of becoming Grindelwald at all similar to assuming the role of Hannibal, given that you are stepping into another character that already has strong associations from a well-known actor?
No, it’s a little different. I mean, obviously, Hannibal we knew had been done to perfection before. But this was a different animal. We were doing a TV show, so we could start from scratch and do our own thing. Here, obviously, we have a reference to an actor who has just done it. We’ve been thinking a lot. We’re trying to make some bridges and connections but still do our own thing.
How do you balance these global franchises vying for your attention with these intimate dramas like “Another Round?”
Well, it’s all about what’s coming my way. I wouldn’t be able to balance anything if I didn’t get different offers. And they seem to come with the right timing. I might do two films back home that I love doing, and then I might get a few offers from over here right after. It’s a neat balance for me. The smaller budget films are wonderful; I love it with my entire heart. But I also love to have a sword in my hand and swing around with a rope! This is something you would never be able to do in Denmark. When I can go back and forth, I consider myself a fortunate person.
Is it flexing a different muscle as an actor whenever you’re away from the giant sets and the green screens? Or do you see them as having continuity?
There’s a complete continuity; it’s all about the frameworks you’re working in. I think everybody knows that in different jobs, but our job, it’s the same. The framework is different when you do a Marvel film, obviously, when you do a little kitchen sink drama in Denmark. So, for me, if it’s a large-scale film, I will try to shrink it, so it’s just the three of us in the room and forget about the rest. But we still do it as honestly within that framework as we can.
“Another Round” is just the latest film in which you appear to represent Denmark as the country’s submission for the Oscar for Best International Feature. As one of the chief Danish cultural exports, what do you hope people from outside the country learn about it from the movies you’re making in your native land?
I mean, it’s not only me, but it’s also a lot of directors and other actors. One of the real fantastic benefits from when we start working, especially in America, is that if they like what we’re doing, they get curious. Let’s take, for instance, when I did the “Hannibal” thing. There are a certain group of people who are called Fannibals. The ones who are fans of Hannibal. They love the show, and there are almost a million of them, I believe. And before you know it, they’ve watched everything I’ve done. A million people have watched everything I’ve done in Denmark. Of course, that is a blessing for Danish cinema because there’s so much to explore there, and it’s hard to get [the films] across Europe outside our own borders. But these are the things that will open the eyes of a different kind of audience.
Have there been any interesting revelations for you from people rediscovering your older work?
No, it’s just nice to revisit it through other people’s eyes. I’m not the kind of guy who sits down to watch stuff I’ve done, for numerous reasons. But one of the reasons is that if I look at something I did 15 years ago, I know I would have done that differently today. But that’s the beauty of the whole thing. I wouldn’t have been able to do it the same today as I did 15 years ago. So everything is for their own time; I don’t regret any of the stuff I’ve done, even though it could have been different. It’s just part of you becoming the actor you eventually become when you’re 108 years old. It’s just nice to see people who have got a certain reaction from a film we did years ago.
Is there anything in particular that you would hope that people would stumble upon that didn’t get the love that it deserved whenever it came out?
It’s going to sound a little crazy, but there are certain films – I’ve done a trilogy called “The Pusher Trilogy.” They’re a kind of cult within our business: many people in the business know about them, but very few people outside the business know about them. When people discover them, I’m really pleased. They were great films and festival films but produced without a lot of power, so we never got into festivals. They deserve to have a rich life, and it’s coming slowly.
Back to “Another Round,” how did you approach the complexities of a character like Martin and finding the balance between his juvenile side and the more somber midlife crisis he’s enduring?
There are quite a few things that I do not have in common with Martin: that sense of giving up that he has, the sense that the train has left him, and he’s standing on the platform looking at it. He is absolutely not curious anymore about life. I’m not like that; I’m inquisitive. I think it’s wonderful to wake up every morning. I think there’s always another building you can walk around to see what’s behind it, and Martin has lost that ability. But then again, there are many other sides of Martin I do recognize; there’s a recognizable pattern of reaction. The secret, the key to making a character like that, is that it doesn’t become so extremely specific that nobody knows him.
Did you ever consider playing one of the other three men, or was it always Martin for you? I assume it might have also been written for you, too.
This one was written for me; I didn’t have a choice. The boss decided!
Speaking of Thomas Vinterberg, we talked last week, and he described your rehearsal process for making drunkenness not look like overacting. How do you go about internalizing that practice, so it’s calibrated but still feels spontaneous and exciting?
Yeah, it’s a tricky thing. I mean, obviously, it’s easier when the four of us are together in the same room because then we’re on the same page, and we’re as silly as each other. The trick was always when you were alone teaching a class. The class shouldn’t notice that you are drunk, but they should notice that you are energized. And that was a fine balance that we had to find. Sometimes, we had to cross [the line], not as actors but as the characters.
Thomas probably told you how we approached being slightly drunk – it’s always about hiding it. Everybody recognizes that in their lives. Like, “I do not want to be seen as a guy who’s been drinking three beers, so I will just move a little more precise, a little slower than normal.” That’s the key trick for most actors when you are slightly drunk. But then, of course, we go to the next level of crazy drunk where you don’t care if people see you are drunk. That the challenge; that’s where you can mess up a lot. I’m sure he told you that we watched many videos and came up with a few ideas. One of the things we all agreed on is that we will fall. When you’re that drunk, you will fall. One thing you cannot do is to use your hands. You have to fall on your face. That’s the way it works!
Was the level of displaying drunkenness always planned out, or was there some element of intuition in finding it on set?
We researched the different levels so that we were on the same page. Thomas could tell us, “You don’t want 0.5% [BAC]. Let’s try 0.8% now, Mads. Let’s give it a little extra.” We had already started what that means for each of us, and we could go up and down on the volume. But in terms of choreographing, not so much. We knew where the scene was going but, physically, you have to be a little open. When he goes from 0.5% to 0.8%, the physicality will be slightly different. You can’t really choreograph; you have to go with your intuition there.
So, through the rehearsal process, you all figured out what each BAC percentage looked like for your characters?
Yeah, we did a boot camp where there was alcohol involved. We just tested out what happens to our speech, and that was a lot of fun. There were notes we could come up with there and use in the film –specifically, what happens to the way we moved.
The classroom scenes where Martin is lecturing under the influence are so much fun to watch. How did you keep up such energy in them?
You obviously have a text that’s basically a monologue, most of the time, when you start teaching, and you’re in the zone. But there also certain interactions with the students. It’s up to Thomas and me to energize the classroom. They will help me, of course. You can’t walk into a room and be interesting. You have to have help from the rest of the room. The young kids, I think they enjoyed it a lot because they had a lot of scenes where everything was so boring, and I was the most boring teacher in the world. I think they really enjoyed it when I came in and placed something else on the table. They were on the case, and they were cheering and having fun.
The other scene that made me laugh out loud at home was where Martin is weaving through the teacher’s lounge with the grace of a ballerina … only to run straight into the doorframe. How did that come together?
He almost got it! He almost had a perfect day. Yeah, that was fun. I mean, that was where he brought it up to, I believe, 1.3% or 1.4%. At this point, I was doing really well with 0.5%. But then my character’s, like, “You know, what about twice as much, then I might be twice as good?” And it looks as if you can pull it off, then SMACK! Obviously, it was a little theatrical trick for us to be nervous for the next lesson. It’s like, is he going to completely fuck it up now? And it turns out to be the best teaching he ever had! He was just a Superman there. If it wasn’t for that doorframe, that day was perfect.
The movie raises many questions about the role of alcohol in society and daily life but leaves audiences to answer them for themselves. Did “Another Round” make you rethink or re-examine alcohol or life more broadly?
Not alcohol, but life in general, Thomas’ focus is always on life. It’s a film that is embracing life; it’s a tribute to life. And it’s a film that basically, morally, is saying no, don’t look into the future all the time. Don’t regret your past. Try to live in the present, with or without alcohol. The film is about embracing your present, embrace your family, embrace a job you love. Don’t be miserable; don’t lose energy. You love the job; you’re good at it. Get back on the horse!
It doesn’t sound like you have much of a problem finding joy in your work, but is that something you carried out of the film and into your own life?
No, I can always find things that I recognize. I can also find periods of my life that have been miserable when you don’t want to go on anymore with that specific scene. But I think our job is to have enough empathy with our characters that we understand them. We don’t have to understand everything about them, but we have to understand that the elements they’re going through. Then we put the pieces together, and that will become some character eventually.
I’ve read that you steal something from every set. Do you remember what it was from “Another Round?”
That’s so funny, somebody asked me the other day for the first time, and I do not remember. I have a hunch that it’s the glasses I was wearing. If I were doing it today, I would have stolen the glasses. I might have done that. I’m sure I stole something.
Based on the reactions I see to “Another Round,” many people seem very surprised by the choreography in the end – not knowing, of course, that you have that background in dancing. Is that something you’d ever want to do for another project? Would you go full musical?
I mean, if it wasn’t for the fact that nobody wants to pay to listen to me singing! We need some really extra help there.
I’m sure the technology exists for a good dub or auto-tune!
Yeah, that must be a button somewhere you can push; you’re right! [laughs]
“Another Round” releases in U.S. cinemas on December 4 and VOD on December 18.