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Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky

Mads Mikkelsen talks about taking on the role of the legendary avant-garde composer in a dark tale of power, fashion and sexual obsession

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is a surprisingly dark arthouse meditation on the nature of attraction that places the avant-garde music of the legendary composer at the centre of the action, imbuing the predatory sexual battle for power between the film’s two protagonists with an unusual and stunning intensity. Picking up where its linear predecessor Coco Before Chanel left off Jan Kounen’s beautifully shot film explores obsession, ego and the lonley nature of genius: pitting Anna Mouglalis’s lupine Chanel against the contained rage of Mads Mikkelsen’s tortured Stravinsky. Here Mikkelsen reflects on their strange relationship, the nature of fashion and the extreme selfishness that drives sexual obsession.

Dazed Digital: In the film there’s a suggestion Chanel and Stravinsky share an affinity for rebellion, and it's that which draws them together.
Mads Mikkelsen:
I think there’s a strong indication of that. It’s not a normal love that they have. She finds him fascinating because of the power and the energy in his music – it’s the craziness contained within him that she recognises. He just gets obsessed more physically with her I think, and it’s a total obsession. She is very powerful, and she represents the kind of life that he’s not really living: he’s just living vicariously through his music. He was not a flamboyant artist. He was a very structured and boring man. She’s much more frantic in many ways, and I think he also recognises the craziness and power of his music in her. It was the decade of decadence – gay people came out, fashion went crazy, and people were sniffing tonnes of cocaine. He was in middle of it and he didn’t approve of it, but I think he was still part of it; there was no way he could not be. She was also in the middle of it and she was far more vivid than him.

Dazed Digital: Despite the powerful attraction, he seems to resent her...
Mads Mikkelsen:
Well, she was actually his benefactor – she was giving him money, and he hated that: he was so patronised by it. There was no way a woman should help him: this genius! At the same time, he wanted to fuck her so bad. There are indications that he was totally, totally egocentric and an extremely selfish man, and she was very selfish as well: its funny to watch these two intensely selfish people trying to have sex.

Dazed Digital: It seems as though she falls far more in love with the idea of his genius then she does with the actual man...
Mads Mikkelsen:
 I believe it was like that. I think she does fall in love with the idea of artistic power. She was notorious for going for the power all throughout her life, and he does represent something extreme.

Dazed Digital: Was he deliberately provocative in his art?
Mads Mikkelsen:
 He wasn’t trying to be the punk of his day: he didn’t try to make extreme music to shock and was baffled when people simply didn’t love it. He just didn’t understand it and thought the world was unfair. Diaghilev knew what exactly was coming and he tried to prepare him for it, but he was like, ‘No. They’re gonna love it!’ The film begins with the debut of The Rite of Spring in Paris and the riot was actually far worse then we show, some of the audience actually started to try and burn down the theatre.

Dazed Digital: Coming from a background in Dogma, were there any fears for you as an actor about being in a film that’s so entrenched in the fashion sphere? Did you have any concerns about style over substance?
Mads Mikkelsen:
 I wasn’t afraid of that. I have nothing against fashion; I am just against how people conceive of fashion, because everyone puts it on a pedestal. It’s fucked up and crazy how much it permeates people’s lives. I knew we were going to make a film in a different and more voyeuristic style, and I knew we were going do a lot about Coco Chanel, but it was never going to be a portrait of her being the fashion queen or him being the master of music. It was going to be about the music, and about taking a slice out of their history – making these two extreme egos come together and just seeing what happens.

Dazed Digital: What is your take on Coco Chanel?
Mads Mikkelsen:
 She was a really liberated girl that wanted to change this world. She was not one of those women who are like, ‘Down with the men! Women power!’ but she wanted it to be recognised that women were real people. I think fashion was an ideal thing for her to start working with. That’s where she could really make an impact, because it was so divided at time… she saw her way to power through fashion. She suffered so hard when she was young being poor, and she was ashamed of being poor: she was ashamed of her mother and sister and everyone, and she didn’t want to see them once she was climbing the social ladder. She was so ambitious, and I think she was ambitious on her the behalf of her sex.

Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky is out on August 6