3 sep 2020

Is Mads Mikkelsen the greatest actor of his generation?

At the age of 53, Mads Mikkelsen is the only thing that Rihanna, James Bond and Hannibal Lecter have in common. As the new Robinson Crusoe in Joe Penna’s Arctic, in movie theatres from February 6th, this Dane is the clearly coolest guy in cinema right now. A portrait.


He first became known to wider audiences with a card game… November 2006, his character Le Chiffre invites the most famous British spy to Montenegro. In the middle of Casino Royale, the tension reaches breaking point but the terrorist paymaster is disillusioned: a straight flush has been laid on the green baize before him. Daniel Craig wins the game of poker in his brutal and tortured incarnation of James Bond. As for the charismatic Mads Mikkelsen (pronounced “Mes”), his role as the antagonist with one eye had everyone in agreement. 



His challenges? A Rihanna video, a Netflix production and a Hideo Kojima video game…



It should be pointed out that the 53-year old Dane was formed in the school of Nicolas Winding Refn, creator of Pusher (1996) and Drive  (2011), a fan of unexpected spurts of blood, contemplative feature films and phlegmatic characters with impenetrable psyches. Mads Mikkelsen’s first film role was the dyslexic and colour-blind drug dealer in his fellow Scandinavian’s movie Pusher, the opening part of a particularly dark trilogy. Filmed using a hand-held camera, this ultra-violent movie was nothing short of sensational. Three years later, Mikkelsen joined forces with the same director again. This time he played an introverted film fanatic in Bleeder, a clammy drama involving lots of gory films. In spite of being a box office flop, the actor still went to Cannes. But no one was interested in this 30-something guy with his prominent cheekbones and big lips whose charisma and polar expression makes half of Hollywood seem quite square in comparison. Mads Mikkelsen handed out copies of Bleeder himself on the Croisette. The Rfn era was interrupted in 2009 after a fifth collaboration with Valhalla Rising. A slow ode to artistic performance against the backdrop of Viking struggles that bemused many with its sheer 7th artiness.


So how do we explain Mads Mikkelsen’s incredible power of attraction? As Hollywood production big shots show an increasing interest in him –  Clash of the Titans(2010), Doctor Strange (2016), Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – the Dane has balanced his appearances in blockbusters with more unorthodox challenges: Rihanna’s video for Bitch Better Have My Money (2016), Polar, the rather dreadful Netflix production released this year and the much anticipated video game by Hideo Kojima, the Japanese genius megalomaniac who conceived Metal Gear Solid in 1998.



With Hannibal, he delivers his most terrifying interpretation, becoming the very epitome of phlegmatic calm, and won a Saturn Award.



In April 2016, Mads Mikkelsen was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Ambassador to Denmark. Not much of a consecration when we know the background of this polyglot and master of 6 languages, having learnt French on the set of Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky in 2009. Contrary to what one might think, this native of Copenhagen is a million miles from the horrible people he tends to play. Once a gymnast anda professional ballet dancer, this son of a taxi driver, loves making blockbusters, in spite of graduating from the Aarhus Teater, Denmark’s most prestigious drama school.

In 2013, he revealed additional aspects to his irreproachable elegance in Hannibal, a new adaptation of Thomas Harris’ eponymous novel by American film maker Bryan Fuller. A prelude to Red Dragon,  this television series – currently on season three – portrays the close relationship between profiler Will Graham and the psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter, a cannibalistic sociopath in his spare time. Against a backdrop of gastronomy, from coq a vin to human flesh risotto, Mads Mikkelsen won the role over David Tennant (Doctor Who). By playing this impassive monster, he delivers his most terrifying interpretation yet and even won a Saturn Award.


Fan of Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, this beer lover was also awarded the prize for best male actor at the Cannes Film Festival, for his role in The Hunt, in 2012, the seventh full length movie by his compatriot Thomas Vinterberg. In it he plays Lucas, an irreproachable kindergarten teacher accused by a little girl of abusing her in the nursery. A work that’s interesting because it doesn’t deal with injustice, but with trust, doubt and the sacralisation of a child’s word. For the first time, Mads Mikkelsen seems to be truly human.

Currently starring in Arctic, in movie theatres from February 6th, he’s back and on fine from. Here he plays a pilot whose plane crashes at the North Pole. Mikkelsen has been quite open about how this survival flick shot in Iceland by Brazilian director Joe Penna, was the hardest in his career. This master of drama, lit in every other film by a filthy neon light, capable of reciting the phone directory with the brilliance of a nobleman, will certainly be on movie posters for years to come… Like Marlon Brando in the fatigues of Colonel Kurtz, the Scandinavian is fascinating because he is swathed in a veil of mystery. Tall by Hollywood standards at 1.83m, Mads Mikkelsen looks like he might hug us or break our neck, it’s impossible to know.