Mads Mikkelsen – ‘Oh, That's Right. I'm This Guy.'
New York magazine|April 26 - May 9, 2021
Mads Mikkelsen is known for playing villains in America and more nuanced roles in Denmark. He takes everything and nothing seriously.
By E. Alex Jung

Before he became an actor, Mads Mikkelsen spent almost a decade as a dancer, a practice evident in the carriage of his characters. Each vibrates on his own frequency, a jittery drug dealer, a sweaty butcher, a pagan warrior, a

worldly cannibal. Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round features one of the rare moments in Mikkelsen’s filmography when he straight-up dances. His character, Martin, has the leaden tread of a man stuck in a midlife crisis. Throughout the film, his friends urge him to show off some moves for old time’s sake, and he resists until the final scene, an ecstatic burst of choreography that pops like a sea spray of Champagne. As an actor in Hollywood, Mikkelsen is better known for playing franchise villains—Casino Royale, Doctor Strange—but he’s perhaps too fast, too fun, to become a simple stock character. Closer to his native Denmark, where he is a star, his characters take on honeyed shades of darkness. As a celebrity, he has a touch of aloofness, as though he exists in his own world of pleasant amusement. “I’m rarely starstruck,” he says, chain-smoking in a green tracksuit at his home in Mallorca. “Maybe because what I’m doing has never been a dream of mine.”

Before you became an actor, you spent about a decade studying dance, including a stint in New York at the Martha Graham Dance Company. How long were you there?

I was there for half a year, maybe more. I was 21 years old. It was the first place I really visited outside of Denmark, and everything was like the movies. There were even kids playing from a broken fire hydrant. I got myself some roller skates to transport myself. I really was a kid of the ’80s.

When you decided to go to drama school after studying dance, did you feel like you were in a rush because you were older than your classmates?

I was super-pleased to get in because it’s difficult. But part of me thought, Jesus, I’m 30 when I get out. I was in school with people who were almost ten years younger than me. All the 20-year-olds, they’re going to get the jobs. But I did a film in my third year that came out when I graduated, so the doors started opening for me.

That was Pusher, the 1996 Nicolas Winding Refn movie.

Yeah. I was dreaming of making films like Taxi Driver, something we’d never done in Denmark at that time. That period placed Denmark on the map together with directors like Thomas Vinterberg and Lars von Trier. Doing Pusher, we felt as if we were 15. We were naughty, we were doing something illegal, it was cool. But I also bumped into situations where for the first time I was like, Why is this scene here? Where is this going? What is my development? Sometimes, it was not feeling right, and I couldn’t put a finger on it. I hadn’t questioned that too much at that point. This is a big part of the way I approach things now to understand what’s going on.

Then the film came out, and I learned that people write about it and think you’re great or you suck. And it’s like, And who were they? I met some of them. I was like, Seriously, you have an opinion about this film? You’ve never seen a drug dealer in your life, and now you have an opinion?

What is your relationship with fandoms? I know there have been very intense ones throughout your career.

It came late in my life. I did a cop show, Unit One (Rejseholdet), in 2000. All of a sudden, we were aiming at having people who were 5 years old and 95 years old watching it, meaning the corners will be much rounder now. We can’t be too edgy. I remember for weeks in the beginning, I was waking up sweating in the night. I was abandoning everything I believed in.

It came out, and all of a sudden, the world was different. Everybody recognized me. I was fairly old at that point: 30-something. Since then, I’ve never bought a normal Coca-Cola. It’s always “Here’s your cola, Master Mads” or “Get your fucking Coke and get out of my shop.” There’s no neutral Coca-Cola anymore. They all serve me with hate or with love. I hadn’t seen the fame coming. But it’s okay. I handled it fine. It was not about me; it was about the concept of me. I was luckily not 17 years old. You might believe everything. You might believe you are special. I forget it every day I go out. I walk out the door and somebody says, “Hey, can I get a photo?” Then I wake up. Oh yeah, that’s right. I’m this guy.

Was Casino Royale your worldwide moment?

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