• Festivals

Mads Mikkelsen’s Masterclass at Cannes

One of the highlights at the Cannes Film Festival this year was the Masterclass conducted on May 26 with Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, whose career spans nearly three decades. Born in Copenhagen in 1965, he made his acting debut in Nicholas Winding Refn’s 1996 Pusher.

The game-changer in his career occurred when he was cast as Le Chiffre, the principal antagonist to 007 in Casino Royale (2006), a role which immediately garnered him global recognition. Other major parts followed, in The Hunt (2012), A Royal Affair (2012), the TV series Hannibal (2013 – 2015), and the Golden Globe-nominated film, Another Round (2020). He recently starred in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore (2022) and will next be seen in Indiana Jones and the Order of Elysium (2023).

Another Round is a favorite for his fans and watching him dancing at the end of the film was a highlight — but apparently not for Mikkelsen. “I hated it,” he says. “I was a dancer 30 years ago.  I never trained for it.  I just went for it. But in this [context] I felt very, very old. I thought it was wrong. It felt pretentious and I felt that the film was fairly realistic, and then [this scene] was off the concept a little. But I was wrong. It turned out to be the best ending of any film!” Apparently, it’s not the first time Mikkelsen’s artistic sensibilities proved to be off the mark. “I was also wrong when we did The Hunt. I wanted a different ending as well.”


His roles have run the gamut from hero, in A Royal Affair, to numerous villains, including Hannibal and in  Casino Royale. What makes his performances so authentic is the humanity with which he imbues them. Even as Hannibal Lecter, the audiences somehow found in him a likable element. “Well, we need to somehow relate to the character. But if you play the bad guy and you only have a certain amount of screen time, there’s a limit to how much complexity you can find. If it’s well written when the bad guy does the big monologue on how he’s going to take over the world, it has to ring a bell, it has to make sense. There has to be a little of you in it. If not, it’s just a lunatic [ranting] and we don’t care. But in playing characters that are absolutely horrible that you have to defend, some are easier than others to defend, of course.”

Although he downplays his past as a dancer, he admits it’s a skill that has played well in his career. “I’m sure I use it but I don’t think about it much. I was a gymnast as a kid, and obviously, that background comes in handy when you do stunts, need to understand the [atmosphere] of a room. When I grew up, I was a fan of only two people: Bruce Lee and Buster Keaton. I think it’s because they were both physical in an insane way, and very poetic at the same time.”

Mikkelsen has lived in Copenhagen all his life. “I think wherever you grow up is part of your life,” he opines.  Other Danish filmmakers have made a successful career in Hollywood – notably, Golden Globe-winning director Suzanne Bier (The Night Manager, Bird Box), Thomas Vinterberg (Another Round), and Winding Refn (Drive, The Neon Demon). “They were doing fantastic things at the same time, developing their own languages, and hating each other, of course,” he laughs. “But later on in life they started working well together – other than Lars Von Trier – who I’ve never worked with, and I’m not sure why.”

Proud of his roots and how far Danish cinema has come, he says, “I believe in Danish filmmaking.”