The Danish actor was Rihanna’s captive accountant in ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’, went viral with vodka and starred in Marvel’s ‘Doctor Strange’
It may come as a surprise to those familiar only with Mads Mikkelsen’s English-speaking roles, where he’s frequently cast as the stony-faced villain, that the 51-year-old actor is really fucking funny. Although slowly making himself a global household name thanks to his portrayals of the ice-cold Le Chiffre (Casino Royale), a debonair and manipulative Dr Lecter (the NBC TV series of Hannibal), the titular “bitch” in Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money” video, and, recently, the head-lopping Kaecilius (Doctor Strange), Mikkelsen is a bonafide superstar in his native Denmark, having clocked up numerous award-winning dramatic and comedic performances since his big screen debut in 1996.
His first Hollywood role came in the Clive Owen version of King Arthur, but it was Mikkelsen’s one-eyed, corporate terrorist who antagonised Bond in 2006 that marked his entry to blockbuster franchises. He’s continued to roam the lands of the ultra fanboy, appearing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and infiltrating the Marvel universe, where Doctor Strange is its odd fish in a big screen sea of mutations, vampires and super-rich inventors. Perhaps only Ghost Rider and its supernatural/Devil’s pact can stand near Doctor Strange’s esoteric themes of mysticism, sorcery and occultism, in which Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius seeks eternal life for himself and his followers and whom the actor refers to as a “villain with a goal”. We talked to Mads about avoiding critics’ reviews, sequels, self-identity, and why he loathes social media.
Do you have a particular memory of your time on the Doctor Strange set that really sticks out?
Mads Mikkelsen: I don’t have kind of one funny day at the office, there are so many fun days that going into harnesses and doing flying kung fu every day was a gigantic challenge but it also became every day working life. I look back on it as something very special, I’ve done a lot of stunts before but not on that level. It was wonderful.
Do you care what critics think?
Mads Mikkelsen: I’ve read a lot of reviews in my time, and they don’t seem to make me happy (laughs). Even the good ones! I’ve kind of stopped doing it. You always remember that bad one or those two terrible ones, and it doesn’t matter how many good ones there are. I just throw my trust into the arms of the director and my own judgement. If I like it, that’s good, if there’s something I dislike about it, I should try to make it better next time. It’s easier to trust your own inner judgement and that’s what you have to do in this kind of career.
Doctor Strange director Scott Derrickson said his favourite scenes were the more elaborate dialogue-led ones. Even their presence is quite an anomaly for a superhero film where CGI and big sequences take precedence, so if Dr Strange had erred towards the latter, would you have still done it?
Mads Mikkelsen: I think I would. I grew up with comic books and the Marvel universe, and I grew up with Bruce Lee and all of a sudden, this was like Bruce Lee in the Marvel world. So I think I would have said, ‘This is a childhood dream, let’s just go for it’. But it was definitely a very nice surprise that the parts were so meaty, there are a couple of great scenes that stand for themselves and we all love that as actors.
Spoiler alert - but your characters in blockbuster franchises die every time. Is this your sneaky way of never having to do a sequel?
Mads Mikkelsen: It’s not really my choice, though! I guess in the Marvel world there’s always a comeback, anything is possible, but it’s just been a coincidence. I don’t mind, I haven’t done a sequel of anything and I’m kind of pleased with that. I think 'that's what we did, it was great, move on’. But maybe it would be great to do a sequel.
Mads, wait, you were in two Pusher films!
Mads Mikkelsen: Yes, that’s true, but it’s a different animal. It wasn’t like, ‘That was a great audience success, let’s patch something together and see if they want to see it’, it was a natural development of the characters.
You’ve played four characters who have a defective left eye. What are the chances of that? It’s not a run-of-the-mill health issue.
Mads Mikkelsen: It’s a complete coincidence. They’ve all had that since the birth of the script. But you know I have also driven a car more than ten occasions in films! My left eye is my weaker eye, though, so when they have to take one out, they always take my left so I have at least a chance of seeing what’s going on because you lose your depth of perception. One of the worst was when I played Le Chiffre in Casino Royale, he was such a cool character, so much on top of the situation, but every time I reached for my (gambling) chips, I’d just knock them over.
I read a quote of yours regarding finding your identity within the English language, which I thought was interesting considering you never seem lost but rather quite assured.
Mads Mikkelsen: Identity is not the same as being lost, controlling the language is a very different thing. We have identities in many ways - socially; we have an identity with some friends; with other people, we have a different identity. And I think just as actors our own personal language is what it is. From there, we roll into whatever kind of character we’re working on. But with it not being a first language (means) it’s almost always a character just speaking English. Like, it’s me, I know I’m doing it and it’s getting better and better every year, but it’s kind of me acting a guy who’s speaking English, then I have to put the character on too. That’s what I was talking about.
You’ve been acting for a long time in many styles - comedy, drama, action, big screen, TV, indie films. What now are you looking for, what do you see as a challenge?
Mads Mikkelsen: It’s hard to say what it is. It kind of varies. If I’ve done one kind of genre for a long time, I look for something different. But it’s not like consciously I sit down and think, now I want to do a smaller film or a big film. It has to be the story, it has to be the director, you have to be driven by them, it’s very important.
“I like when the villain has a purpose or at least they have a point.” – Mads Mikkelsen
You became a bit of a viral hit when you opened a bottle of vodka mid-interview at a press junket. Are you aware of this?
Mads Mikkelsen: I’m simply not online. I’m not on Facebook or Twitter, I don’t know how to do it and I really suck it. And I don’t feel I need it. I can see how much time it steals from everyone – it’s enormous amounts of time, people are just swallowed up. I’d get all stressed out if I had to do it. It’s a whole different world that I’m not really aware of.
Why does the public love a good celluloid villain when there’s so many horrors in the real world and terrible people doing terrible things?
Mads Mikkelsen: Yeah, it’s a good point. We hate them in reality, we don’t want to see them, but there is a fascination. I’ve said (before) that five minutes after we invented God, we invented Satan. Man is driven by both sides, we’re very curious what’s on the dark side, maybe because it’s part of us and we really want to try and understand what it is.
Do you enjoy putting people in that position of really making them think about what it is to be good or evil?
Mads Mikkelsen: It depends on what it is. I like when the villain has a purpose or at least they have a point. At least Kaecilius has a point - what’s not to like about eternal life for everyone? He’s generous, he wants to end pain and suffering, and, obviously, he’s not really aware of what the price is, but it sounds really good. If you take a character like Hannibal, it’s a world that is upside down, he sees beauty where the rest of us see horror. Everything has to be very extreme and beautiful, spending every second of his life purposefully. And that we can recognise, not his goals, but the way he’s doing it.
Marvel Studios’ Doctor Strange is out on 3D Blu-Ray, Blu-Ray & DVD on March 6 2017
Available on digital download from February 24 2017