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Mads Mikkelsen talks about life after Casino Royale, and beating up Daniel Craig

10-May-2007 • Casino Royale

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen on the acclaimed melodrama After the Wedding and what it was like to kick Bond in the balls... An interview by Matthew Hays of the Montreal Mirror.

Mads Mikkelsen appears to have been genetically engineered for the movies. His bone structure is sharp and dramatic. He has dark, imposing eyes. In person, he’s warm and polite, but on film he can pull off cool and icy very well indeed. To paraphrase Dietrich, the camera is his friend.

Mikkelsen is perched at the Toronto International Film Festival, where he’s just attended the North American premiere of After the Wedding, the devastating family melodrama from Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier (Open Hearts). In the film, he plays a charity worker who is called back to Denmark from India by his main benefactor, who offers him $4-million to keep his orphanage afloat. Mikkelsen desperately needs and wants the money for his needy children, but there are all sorts of conditions attached: the multi-millionaire insists that Mikkelsen stick around for his daughter’s wedding. Mikkelsen soon learns various family secrets, and becomes implicated in the clan’s complicated internal politics. Sitting through After the Wedding is a serious emotional experience; it’s also a tricky film to synopsize, as you don’t want to give too much away. (Don’t worry—no spoilers here.)

Mikkelsen says the script grabbed him from the get-go, and the chance to work with Bier again (the two had collaborated on Open Hearts in 2002) meant he was on board. “I liked the script. I had a feeling all the way through though, that in fact the rich guy should be the main character and mine should actually have a smaller part. I sort of felt that my character was a bit of a victim too. I wanted my character to be pushing buttons too—to suggest that he had something to do with his ultimate fate.”

After the Wedding is a big, emotional film—the Danes are good at that—that at times becomes operatic in its over-the-top depictions of epic themes and ideas. But there’s an odd tension that Bier creates with it, too. While the script features one plot twist after another, the actors create a consistently real and believable universe. At times, their acting style is so natural that it feels like they’re improvising. “Bier is very open as a director,” Mikkelsen reports. “But we had to be on the same page. We would talk about things very openly during rehearsal. But ultimately there wasn’t really a lot of improvisation. If you just start improvising, out of the blue, then you’ll end up with crying actors and screaming actors. It’s in our blood. And that’s not necessarily the purpose of the scene. So we pretty much stuck to the script.”

As Mikkelsen discusses creating After the Wedding, it strikes me that he’s a perfect symbol of the Toronto International Film Festival, a place where entirely commercial films coexist peacefully with small-budget, independent and international films. While talking up After the Wedding, he concedes it isn’t long before people want to talk about his bad-guy turn in the rejuvenated James Bond franchise entry Casino Royale. And, he explains, he almost didn’t get the part. “They called me in for a reading, but on three different occasions I couldn’t make it because I was shooting a film in Denmark. But they really wanted me.

“It’s fun for an actor to be doing different things. The last thing you want is to be placed in a box or a drawer. So to have that variety feels amazing. I get to play very, very bad in Bond.”

Did Mikkelsen look to old Bond baddies for guidance, like Oddjob, Blofeld or Dr. No? “No, I didn’t look at those films again, I didn’t read the book or watch the original film. We knew this was going to be different—he’s unbelievably bad, but he’s more realistic. My character is not a mad scientist.”

The best part about Bond? “I loved getting paid to play poker. But you know, the most fun was the torture scene. I spent an entire day listening to Daniel [Craig] scream. That was great. He wasn’t wearing a lot of clothes. I got to kick him in the balls, literally.”

And the biggest difference between doing a Bond film and doing a Dogme-style project like After the Wedding? “The biggest one is the number of people on the set. It’s really hard for me on a Bond set, because I’m terrible with names. I mean you’re dealing with hundreds of people. On a Danish set, you’re 30, maybe even 25 people.

“But when it comes right down to it, the work is the same: you have to bring a certain integrity to what you do.”

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