This is what life has been like for Mads Mikkelsen since “Another Round” collected the Best International Feature Film Oscar last month. He started rehearsing James Mangold’s “Indiana Jones 5” with Harrison Ford and Phoebe Waller-Bridge, bookending the year he began with yet another franchise villain, Gellert Grindelwald, replacing Johnny Depp in “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them 3.”
“I’m playing misunderstood people,” he said, smiling over Zoom. “I’ve had a few non-villainous American roles that tend to be the baddies; I did an American film called ‘Arctic.’ He’s not a villain, so I’m grateful for that. Maybe times will turn a little, and people are watching a little more of the Danish stuff. Maybe they’ll accept a funny accent for an everyday-man character. If that’s not the case, I’m happy with what I’m doing. I’m happy I’ve been invited into some great franchises, like the Bond [Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale”], Marvel [Kaecilius in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange”], and Indiana Jones. It’s a luxury, so if that’s what’s coming my way, I’ll take it any day. If they do want me to do something else, I’ll give it a shot!”
Here’s what he won’t be doing: Leonardo DiCaprio’s “Another Round” remake. Both Mikkelsen and director Thomas Vinterberg are more than happy to give it a pass.
“I’m glad not to be part of it,” he said. “This is what we did. Unlike theater, where you can do it one year and do it again a couple years later, the little moments we do in films are happening right here and now — something interesting your fellow actor brings on set that day. I would probably want to change these scenes again. It can never happen. It’s a tricky thing to replay the same character. It’s better off in someone else’s hands.”
Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
Which is why the athletic, physically imposing actor balances scary villains — he built his TV profile over three seasons in the charismatic serial killer “Hannibal” on NBC — with more nuanced dramas in his home country, of which three have scored Oscar-nominations (“A Royal Affair,” and Vinterberg’s “The Hunt” and “Another Round”). Mikkelsen can be dangerous and violent, deranged and funny, mighty warrior or tender lover. He likes to strip away extra layers to the lean meat of a performance.
And so he has decided to ride the waves and take “the one for them, one for me” approach, playing an imposing mayor in Doug Liman’s improvisatory space western “Chaos Walking” while recovering from complex dramatic roles like Anders Thomas Jensen’s “Riders of Justice” (May 14, Magnet Releasing, VOD May 21).
“I’m diving in very hard, making these characters that drain me,” he said. “I’m not sure i could do these films back to back. And not the Hollywood productions, either. I grew up fascinated by Hollywood films as a kid. All of a sudden, I’m invited into that universe. I’m grateful. I started out in complex dramas. I can do both.”
“Riders of Justice” follows the aftermath of a tragic bombing on a commuter train that kills the wife of Markus, a career soldier who returns home to his grieving teenage daughter (Andrea Heick Gadeberg). When a motley trio of brainy geeks approach Markus to tell him there’s been foul play involving criminal gang Riders of Justice, Markus jumps into a mission of bloody revenge. He’s terrifying, a volatile time bomb primed to go off at any moment. But somehow we root for him, and for his impromptu new family of computer hackers and brainiacs who supply some of the psychotherapy he refuses to get for himself. He in turn teaches them to assemble and fire automatic weapons.
Jensen, who won an Oscar for his 1999 short film “Valgaften” and is best known for writing the 2006 Susanne Bier drama “After the Wedding” and 2010’s “In a Better World,” said he started “Riders of Justice” from his own personal mid-life crisis.
“I discovered that finding true meaning was about connections,” he said. “When people go down a dark hole, they’ve lost a sense of connection and everything seems meaningless. When you are depressed, you have an array of possibilities when you look to the meaning life. You can do it with God, pills, alcohol, or revenge. The way to go is to see the connection that is there.”
This is Jensen’s fifth feature as a director; all of his films are about family. “It doesn’t matter how little you fit into any box, there’s always a family for you somewhere,” said Mikkelsen. “It might be a weird family, but he’s a poetic guy. It can’t be straightforward.
“He’s in two worlds: his own insane filmmaking which is unlike anyone else, and the way he writes for Susanne Bier, heartfelt dramas,” said Mikkelsen. “He’s talking about big things like God, Satan, death, and coincidence, which he pushed together in this film. Our job was to find a bridge between the two universes. When I saw the film, when these crazy guys knock on my door, the audience has the sense: ‘Don’t open to that world, it’s not going to end well.’ Ten minutes later, you want to shout at these three guys, ‘Run away from him, he’s insane!’ That insanity makes the film work.”
Jensen said he leaned into making Markus unsympathetic. “He’s so tied up and not in touch with his emotions and horrible with his daughter,” he said. “Even though you know he’s suffering inside, it becomes unrelatable. Mads is brilliant; you have feelings for him all the way through, no matter what he does. We went all in. He hasn’t got any development at all until he cracks. it’s 80 minutes of being an idiot and a psycho, and then he falls apart. Mads keeps you in there… It’s experience and it’s Mads.”
Mikkelsen said he would have softened the character if it weren’t for a pivotal breakdown scene in which he destroys a bathroom and head-punches a mirror before he heads for the fridge. “Knowing that scene is coming allows me to be as firm and borderline psychopathic,” he said. “Trying to hold it all together constantly allows me to be tough, a man who is self-destructive.”
You can hurt yourself doing a scene like that, and Mikkelsen did. “That was a necessity. Instead of breaking stuff, he’s breaking himself. If you hold back it doesn’t look as shocking. It doesn’t look as interesting.”