Before Ryan Gosling became the muse of Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn, there was Mads Mikkelsen, who came to prominence in his home country in the Pusher film series. After winning over the rest of the world as the villain Le Chiffre in the first Daniel Craig James Bond film, Casino Royale, Mikkelsen returned to television (he had previously done a Danish crime drama called Unit One) as Hannibal Lecter in the brilliant and beautiful Hannibal series. But even though we might associate him with these villain roles, Mikkelsen turns that on its head by playing a character who is completely innocent in The Hunt. As the kindergarten teacher Lucas, he is accused of sexual abuse of a child — and then multiple children — as his community quite violently turns against him, no matter what he does or says in his defense. Mikkelsen chatted with Vulture about kicking ass, eyeball acting, and his Emmys expectations.
I actually saw your friend Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives last night.
Oh, yeah? I have not seen it yet.
I was struck by how little dialogue there was in it …
Which has become one of his trademarks. Obviously in that one and Valhalla Rising, but in the first two or three Pusher films, that was packed with dialogue. That was like Scorsese in the early days. We were just spitting it out. So that has changed a little for Nicolas. But for Valhalla Rising, it was his idea to not have dialogue. He called and said, “I want you to be a Viking that has no past, no future, you only have one eye, and you don’t say jack shit.” [Laughs] I said, “Yeah, sure, why not?” We will definitely work together one day again, I just don’t know when.
You’ve had a lot of parts which reference your eyes — one eye, eye patches, tears of blood, not blinking. Even in The Hunt, there’s a remark about how someone can tell you’re lying by your eyes. Do you like eyeball acting?
Yeah, there has been a tendency, but I’ve also driven a car on numerous occasions in films, and nobody ever mentions that! “Oh my God, there he goes again, sitting in a car!” [Laughs] Obviously, One Eye has one eye in Valhalla Rising, and Rochefort in The Three Musketeers has a patch on the eye, and then there’s also Le Chiffre, his eye spilling blood. Hannibal’s very different. He would never react to an instinct. He would never be cornered. He would never be stressed. He would never have all these natural things that the rest of us have, without knowing it, like blinking or scratching his arm, the stuff that makes us human beings. And if he does blink or if he does look a little nervous, it’s something planned. So he will always be one hundred percent in control.
It’s interesting how because Hannibal does not react in a human way, he’s somehow above suspicion in people’s minds, whereas Lucas in The Hunt, no matter how he reacts, people think he’s guilty.
Yeah, you could say that to a certain degree. If he were screaming and shouting and hitting things, Lucas would have been thought of as guilty. If he’s keeping totally quiet, he’s guilty. And if he’s behaving in a totally civilized manner, and confronting people in a rational way, he’s also guilty. There is no way he can win that battle, because he’s fighting emotions.
And he’s fighting a system, which unbeknownst to him, is investigating sexual abuse in the wrong way, such as asking a child leading questions: “Did something white come out?” Klara doesn’t know what that means; she just says yes.
And that is one of the most scary scenes in the film, and it’s even more scary when you know it was taken word for word from an interview with a little girl in Norway. When I read it, I was like, “Are you kidding me?” And obviously this film is not trying to say that child abuse never takes place, because it does, and it’s terrible, and it’s not trying to say, “Oh, kids are always lying.” But it is trying to say that when this is happening, we should not immediately react emotionally. We have to make absolutely sure before we make any accusation.
Especially because this kind of accusation can ruin someone’s life, as it does Lucas’s, even though he is innocent. He can’t even go to the grocery store and try to get food without getting beat up.
They tell Lucas to get out, “and if you don’t, I’m going to kick the shit out of you.” We all really wanted that scene to happen: “Please let’s kick the shit out of someone!” Because I had not been able to direct my anger anywhere. And we want this guy to behave in an uncivilized manner. We do not want him to take it as a man. We want him to be an animal. If the justice system is not helping you, fuck it — go out and kick some ass, you know?
What do you think about America’s take on Nordic noir stories? Such as the two from your country which have been remade: Forbrydelsen — which featured your brother, Lars — becoming The Killing and now Broen becoming The Bridge, which debuted this week.
We would hope that you would be able to embrace the actual original versions of these shows, but no one here — no one — is going to watch it in Danish, and we have to accept that. So it’s a natural thing to do a remake if they can capture the atmosphere they fell in love with. I’ve only seen a couple episodes of The Killing and I thought that looked really cool. But it’s always a problem because what the Americans fell in love with, they also want to change.
Emmy nominations are next week. Do you think Hannibal will get a few?
Well, we never know, do we? Isn’t it rare for a network to get that kind of nomination? If people believe we can get a couple nominations, that would be fantastic. I would be very surprised if I got nominated. And very enthusiastic. But I hope I don’t get nominated before Hugh [Dancy] does, because he’s doing tremendous work on the show. Maybe we could be nominated as a couple — the bromance! [Laughs] I can say really, really honestly that Hannibal really does love Will Graham. That doesn’t mean he won’t eat him, of course. But he loves him. He’d prefer to have him as a friend for the rest of his life. If that doesn’t work out, he’ll find something else.
I would love to see a spinoff show of just Hannibal cooking. It’s such food porn when he cooks.
It is! We might be doing a cookbook next year. Everything is up there when he cooks. Everything he does is always elaborate. But Hannibal is a much better cook than I am. I’m much better in an Asian kitchen, like simple Thai dishes and Chinese dishes. I do an awesome coconut soup with shrimp and spicy chili.
David Bowie might be coming on the show to play your uncle. I can see the resemblance …
I know what you’re saying — the high cheekbones! [Laughs] That would be amazing, if that happens! I would love that. I’m an enormous fan. I actually saw him when I was living in New York in the late eighties; I was playing basketball down around Tompkins Square, and there was a little fuss on the court and it was sealed off, and it turned out that David Bowie was doing a part of his new music video there. So I was standing twenty meters away from him, and that was my first encounter with a celebrity, ever.
Have you seen any of the sites or Tumblrs dedicated to you, the ones that say they are “Mad about Mads“?
I don’t know what that means, Tumblrs? But that’s so cute! I have to go and look at it! I’ll have to get some assistance from my kids, though, because I’m from the former millennium. I’m not even on Facebook. I’ve got enough friends I never see. You know how you have a lot of friends you never call? I don’t have time for new friends, and I don’t want to be friends with someone only online. I never understood that. But if David Bowie wants, I’ll put him in my phone-book.