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Another Round (Denmark) – In Conversation with Thomas Vinterberg

We are a lot happier with 0.05 percent alcohol in our blood. That is a theory created by the Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud and adopted by Danish director Thomas Vinterberg in his latest film Another Round. However, Another Round is not a celebration of alcohol but rather a celebration of life. It follows high-school teacher Martin – played by Mads Mikkelsen – who has lost his mojo in life. When forced to face this, he turns to alcohol to find a way to create a new path in life and is followed by his three friends. They create an experiment where alcohol is used to boost their joy in life with some unexpected results. We spoke to Thomas Vinterberg from his home in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Martin is your lead character in Another Round. He is a middle-aged man, who seems to be stuck and to be longing for something in life. How did you and co-writer Tobias Lindholm come up with this character?
The character is written for Mads Mikkelsen and it is developed over years and has become a conglomerate of Tobias Lindholm and my thoughts over the years. Obviously, we had Mads in mind all along. We thought it was interesting showing a story about living, the power of alcohol and inspiration in order to show a man who is not really living: A man who is stuck in his midlife at the beginning of the movie.
Does Martin reflect your own life situation?
Martin is not a reflection of my own life. No. I have not really personally experienced what I am making movies about. But it is an investigation of a middle-aged Danish man, so I would say that I try to make it personal but not private when I write. Since the change in my life that I talked about last time we spoke (his daughter passed away in an accident), I don’t have problems. I have one big problem in my life but other than that, I am a very happy man. I am very lucky as well. So no. It is not about my life.
You have worked with Mads Mikkelsen before with great results. You did The Hunt with him in 2012. What is it about your collaboration that makes it so good?
First of all, it takes a really, really great actor to go as far as he did in my movie. Secondly, I think it is a huge advantage for the movie and for him that it is written for him because I know who I am writing for and I know his vulnerabilities and his strengths and I can put him in situations that I know he can pull off greatly. Most importantly, he trusts me and I trust him because we are close friends. So he can entirely devote himself to the projects because he has complete faith in me in the editing room. So he lets go in front of the camera, which makes it very personal and fragile. He does not need to protect himself.
There are rumors that he will take over a job from Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts films. Obviously, you cannot speak to that – but do you think he would be good?
Mads is a very high caliber actor and he has a very wide range. He has a great palette. He has a lot of colors on his palette. The choices he makes in Hollywood are mainly great choices and I think he is doing it with the same seriousness as when he is making more personal stories such as those he makes with me. So yes, I think it is a great choice and if they are lucky enough to get him, I think he will be amazing.
We follow four male, middle-aged high school teachers in Another Round. Why did you decide that high school teachers were the right characters for this film?
High school teachers are to be highly respected in my opinion. It is not a very respected (profession) in society but to me, they are very important and heroes of everyday life. Dramatically, they open doors into a lot of stuff that we wanted to talk about – for instance the history of alcohol usage – it makes it very convenient to have a history teacher and also a music teacher because of all the singing. It gave us a certain academic level, which was good for the movie for it not to be just a silly comedy. More importantly, it creates a mirror between being middle-aged and young. We all remember how it is like to be sixteen and a little drunk and a little bit in love. A lot of us are yearning for that time or at least we carry it as a very fond memory. So, the mirror of youth and midlife is very present in high school.
When did you first hear about Finn Skårderud’s theory about alcohol? Why was it interesting to include as an experiment in the film?
As with most ideas in life, they come to you. Either they come as inspiration – something godly – or they just come via email. This one arrived in my inbox from my Norwegian editor Anne Østerud and I looked it up. I have to say that it is not academically a theory. A doctor would not call it a scientific theory. It was just something he said. It was just a thought. It does not have the academic leverage to be a real theory but in our movie, it does. 
There is a lot of talk about ‘freedom’ in connection with the way that Danes use alcohol – why do you think this is the case?
Isn’t it liberating for everyone to drink? Maybe, we are a little loser with it – just like we were with sex and nudity in the ‘70s and ‘80s. In Denmark, there is a need to let go because we are actually a people that use our common sense a lot. There is a lot of rationality and good behavior. I guess there is a need to let go sometimes. We need to let go of being in control. There is the uncontrollable – such as falling in love – you fall – you are out of control. When you start drinking, you open the door to the uncontrollable and I consider Danes reasonably controlled people, who need to let go and let go of the control sometimes. 
You have previously talked about having a visitor from the States who was shocked by the Danes’ relationship to alcohol. Can you talk about this?
This very intelligent and open-minded writer, Jane Anderson, from Los Angeles was visiting me. We were working on a project that someone else ended up doing. She met my daughter, Nanna, and asked her what she was doing that day. She told her that she was doing the ‘lake run’. She asked her: what is the lake run? And she replied: You have to run around Gentofte lake and empty a box of beer on time. Jane looked at me and she was like: When is this guy going to interfere? But being the Danish liberal person that I am, I was just being goofy and laughing. She asked Nanna: ‘Aren’t you going to get sick?’ And she said: ‘Yes, but if we vomit in sync time will be deducted.’ So that is cool. She got even more agitated and went: ‘What about the police?’ And Nanna replied: ‘But the police are there.’ I could just tell that Jane’s mind collapsed a bit and that she was thinking: what kind of country is this? What is interesting about this story is that it obviously was a mirror of our country. But it also made me a little bit proud, which is strange.
Why were you proud? Your daughter was talking about getting drunk to the degree that she would vomit?
Yes, but she had a very disclosed, healthy way of talking about it. She is a very ambitious girl, who is becoming a doctor. So I was like: I find it interesting that we are so relaxed about these things and I do actually think that we have fewer problems with drugs and alcohol than in the United States for instance. Maybe because it is out in the open here. My daughter was never in one second hesitating about telling this story in front of her father for instance. She is a very reasonable woman and by the way, most of these high school kids stop drinking when they get out of high school. Suddenly, they become responsible young adults with the future in front of them and they become rational with the weight of the future on their shoulders.
Having read reviews or comments about your film, have you learned something new about it?
I don’t read reviews. I read a lot of commentaries from audiences and what surprised me is that it is less provocative than I thought. I thought it would possibly be provocative. But maybe I am beyond that point in my life where I am trying to be provocative. It sort of belonged to my youth somehow. What I also found from reading this is that the film is about far more than drinking. It is a life-affirming film, which moves people. For both professional and personal reasons, that is what I could wish for.
Can you talk about what it feels like to release a film during a pandemic?
It has been very weird but also very successful. It could have gone two ways: First of all, it could have felt slightly irrelevant in a world where death and confinement are so present, but it felt the opposite. It felt like a breath of fresh air to all these people being confined and we were witnessing a historic success in Danish cinemas. We are going toward 800,000 admissions, which is a lot in Denmark. It is pretty amazing. I have met a lot of young people who have seen it more than three to four times.