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Mad about Mikkelsen

Comedy is hard,it’s often said. But how easy can it be portraying a French-speaking,Russian musical genius when you’re a Dane who doesn’t speak French,Russian or play the piano?....

Written by New York Times |
June 13, 2010 10:10:43 pm

Comedy is hard,it’s often said. But how easy can it be portraying a French-speaking,Russian musical genius when you’re a Dane who doesn’t speak French,Russian or play the piano? “I was looking forward to going down to Paris,having some coffee,saying some lines and producing some emotions,” the actor Mads Mikkelsen said of his role in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,a biopic about the real-life affair between the French fashion designer and Russian composer. “Instead,it was like going back to school.”

His graduation from Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky may have required advance study,but it will do no damage to Mikkelsen’s growing image as a cult attraction and slightly unearthly sex symbol. “He’s mysterious,” said his Coco co-star,Anna Mouglalis. “You don’t know what’s behind his eyes.” Their director,Jan Kounen,called Mikkelsen “charismatic,but very strange.” Mikkelsen shrugs it off: “I can’t take it that seriously.”

But movies have always been about faces,and Mikkelsen’s is haunting: alpine cheekbones; the eyes of a mourner; a mouth that suggests both tenderness and cruelty. And since his rather late entry into acting at the age of 30,Mikkelsen,now 44,is finding plenty of work: he’s played an altruistic aid worker in the Oscar-nominated After the Wedding; a Sweeney Todd-inspired meat merchant in The Green Butchers; a World War II resistance fighter in Flame & Citron; a pathetic drug addict junkie in Pusher and Pusher II; a mythic Greek in Clash of the Titans; and that old Hollywood favourite,the European-accented villain of undefined national origin in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

Hollywood is beckoning with its crooked finger and bags of money. But while he labours in Germany among the cast of Paul W. S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers (“It’s a popcorn movie,” Mikkelsen said,“hopefully”),he can be seen in the US in two films that will only enhance this ex-dancer’s reputation as a man of a thousand,occasionally damaged faces: the elegant Stravinsky,and a lethal,mute,barbaric,half-blind Viking gladiator called One-Eye in Nicolas Winding Refn’s Valhalla Rising.

It was Refn,Mikkelsen’s most frequent collaborator,who gave him his first feature role,in the gritty Pusher (1996). “I made him,” he said,deadpan. “The reason Mads and I always work so well is that he’s very good at playing me.” Mikkelsen put it slightly differently. “I’m really good at translating him,” he said. “And he’s really good at coming up with crazy ideas of what to do.” This time the idea was a low-to-no-budget story about a group of ancient Danes who sail to the New World to found a Christian community,taking with them a quasi-Messianic killing machine (Mikkelsen). It was shot in primal Scottish locations,in freezing weather. “And I said yes,right away,” Mikkelsen said.

“I think every actor in the world would like that situation,” he said. “Once you do one bad guy,usually all you get offered is bad guys. But I’ve been able to do different things. I’m not looking for a challenge,necessarily. I’m looking to make a really great film.”

He danced professionally for eight years before entering Denmark’s state-sponsored theatre academy,at one point studying in New York at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. At the moment his dance card includes The Three Musketeers,in which he plays Cardinal Richelieu’s henchman Rochefort,and The Nazi Officer’s Wife,adapted from the Edith Hahn Beer memoir,“about a Jewish girl hiding in Berlin during the war who marries a Nazi.” Presumably each role will involve dialogue,although he has no lines in Valhalla Rising,which opens next month.

Now,when not on the road making movies,Mikkelsen is a homebody: he and his wife,Hanne Jacobsen,have two children,18 and 13. “A solid family,as they say,” he said. “They join me on location if they have a chance,but I can also be home three or four months doing nothing,so I probably see my kids more than people who work constantly all year long. If that changes,we’ll have to have a family meeting.”

Enter Refn,who is directing Ryan Gosling in Drive and has a deal for a heist film in which he plans to cast his favourite actor. “My whole mission has been: ‘How will I bring Mads Mikkelsen to Hollywood?’” he said. “And if no one else will give him the lead in a Hollywood movie,I will.”

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