At first, you don't think the voice on the other end of the zoom call actually belongs to Mads Mikkelsen.
From his roles in major Hollywood projects like Hannibal, Doctor Strange, and Casino Royale, the Danish actor's performances often require him to be so grave, stoic, and frankly rather intimidating. Yet Mikkelsen in real life is warm, friendly, and hugely enthusiastic about his new film Another Round, which reunites the actor with writer-director Thomas Vinterberg, who Mikkelsen previously worked with on The Hunt.
Another Round is the story of four schoolteachers in Denmark who decide to test a theory that a person's life can be improved if they spend all day slightly drunk. Naturally, things don't go according to plan, yet the film isn't the typical anti-drinking morality tale that American viewers might assume.
Below Mikkelsen discusses the film and its ideas and, the secrets to pretending to be drunk, and his headline-making Fantastic Beasts 3 casting.
Entertainment Weekly: First off, what drew you to this project?
Mads Mikkelsen: Predominantly Thomas Vinterberg. We worked together on a film called The Hunt eight years ago and it was one of the best experiences of my working life and he's a wonderful person and we became friends. So when he came around again and asked me to be part of his next film, that was the reason. Then when I read the script, everything made sense. It's a beautifully written story about embracing life during the difficult state of your midlife crisis.
There are a lot of scenes where you're playing different levels of intoxication in the film, and I know this is an obvious question that probably everybody asks, but I'm sure viewers will wonder if the actors drank on set to help play those scenes.
It's an obvious question and, of course, you have to ask it. We very early on in the process we decided for numerous reasons that it would be a no-go to drink while on set. One, it's very hard to communicate with actors who are drunk. Also, to stay half-drunk for 16 hours a day is not recommendable. Thirdly, there will be numerous times where we have scenes where we are drunk, and right after that, we might have to do a scene where you're driving home in a car.
So instead we decided to do a lot of boot camp rehearsals where we figured out how to talk, how to walk on different levels of alcohol. It's not that we don't know at all – because we're Danish, right? So we have certain experiences with alcohol. But we wanted to test different levels precisely. So we did, and then when that was done, we put the cork back in the bottle and said, "Let's start being actors now." Also, we had one guy on set from Alcoholics Anonymous who stopped drinking seven years ago. So out of respect for that, we figured we'd be in the same boat and just go for the acting.
I've interviewed actors who have said pretending to be drunk is one of the hardest forms of acting as it can so easily swerve into something that's broadly comic or fake-looking.
It's a tricky thing and all actors know it. One of the tricks is if you're like semi-drunk – two, three, maybe four glasses – we how to approach that. The secret is to do what we do in our own lives: We don't want people to see that we are drunk, so we try to hide it. That's the way you approach it. You move a little slower, a little more precise, and, obviously, that gives it away.
It's the next level, that's the tricky one, once you're Charlie Chaplin-drunk, when you're all-in. We watched a lot of Russian YouTube videos, there's a lot of funny examples where people are just out-of-their minds drunk. And one of the things that we learned from that was when you fall – and you will fall when you're that drunk – is that you will never use your hands to stop yourself. You don't care. You're just using your face. So that was very inspiring.
There is a scene early in the film where your character, who is clearly reluctant to drink, is pressured into a sip of vodka at a dinner with friends. The look of resigned despair on your face was my favorite moment of the film. It was fascinating that you were able to convey so much drama while maintaining such an otherwise passive expression.
I'm so happy you said that; it's one of my favorite scenes as well. It's a key scene for the film and a bold way to portray a man. That scene would normally take place an hour and 20 minutes into a film, but Thomas put it 10 minutes into the film. We were like, "But we don't know this guy yet. Are we seriously gonna have any kind of feelings for this creature who is sitting there feeling sorry for himself?" The camera is focusing on his face. He could still hear his friends. He could hear the people singing next door. But all of a sudden he realizes he's standing on the platform and the train has left the station. He realizes he's messed up it's very heartbreaking and beautiful, but it was also a very risky moment.
I feel an American film would have explained your character's backstory and history with drinking with on-the-nose exposition or even flashbacks. Yet we're told nothing about that. We are left to figure it out ourselves through his current behavior that he's had some problem with alcohol in the past.
I think Thomas and I might have had different approaches, and I think that people see it with different eyes as well. I had an approach that the man is driving, so he will just have some water. But there was also another side of it where the guy knew that if you open that bottle, he knows what's down at the bottom. So we kind of disagreed a little on that and I think we met halfway. Now it's more like he's doing drinking out of pity and, and through drinking – and through his super-helpful friends – he re-finds his life.
For a movie that's so much about drinking. I was trying it the entire time to discern the movie's attitude toward drinking. I kind of came out thinking this: If the big question is, "Is alcohol wonderful or horrible?" The answer is simply "Yes." The answer is "Yes," to both.
I think you said the smartest thing of all the interviews I've done so far. That's exactly what we're trying to put on the screen. It actually started out as being a tribute to alcohol and then we quite quickly realized we had to touch upon the other side of the coin as well. But we don't want to make a film just about the dark side of drinking because that's been done numerous times to perfection, and we also did not want to be immoral about it. We wanted to remind people that human beings been drinking for 7,000 years. There must be a reason – whether to take the load off your shoulders or to get more inspired or to somebody who doesn't have the balls to pick up the phone and make that phone call.
Thomas normally asks – when there's a crowd of people asking him this question – "How many of you met your spouse without alcohol involved?" There's not a lot of hands coming up. We all know how beautiful it can be, how richer a conversation can be after a couple of glasses. We also know after a bottle how it's not that interesting anymore. But we know if you can hit a perfect zone, as we argue in the film, there is something to gain there. I mean, look at Winston Churchill, what he did while he was completely soaked. Look at Ernest Hemingway what he did while drunk. So there is something there, and that's what we saying. It can go both ways. And as you said: Is it bad? Or is it good? And the answer is "Yes."
I was going to ask about that – the seeming paradox of inspirational figures who were known for working while inebriated. The question is whether their genius was partly because of their drinking, or would they have been even greater without it?
We will never know! Churchill and Hemmingway are difficult to predict. But I have a hunch that quite a few musicians would not have done what they did if they were not under the influence of something, you know? I don't want this to sound [like I'm telling musicians], "hey, keep drinking."As for actors, there were some comedians from the 1960s and '70s who were great, but I have a hunch they would have been better if they were not as drunk as they were most of the time. It's just a matter of balancing it.
There is also, and I won't say anything to spoil it, a dance sequence in the film. Many probably don't realize you have quite a bit of dancing experience. What was that like to shoot?
That was brutal. I think it's maybe 30 years ago since I last took a step, so I felt fairly rusty and my body was aching for a couple of weeks. I had my doubts when we did it that it was the right approach. I thought it might risk being pretentious. But Thomas insisted and he was absolutely 100 percent right and I was wrong.
On another subject, you've obviously made headlines for being cast in Fantastic Beasts 3. How is your Grindelwald going to be different than the versions we've seen?
Well it's going to be me, so that's a difference. No, this is the tricky part. We're still working it out. There has to be a bridge between what Johnny [Depp] did and what I'm going to do. And at the same time, I also have to make it my own. But also we have to find a few links [to the previous version of the character] and some bridges so it doesn't completely detach from what he's already masterfully achieved."
What was it like to get that call under such dramatic circumstances?
Job wise, it's obviously super interesting and nice. It's also a shocker that it came after what happened, which is just super sad. I wish both of them the best. These are sad circumstances. I hope both of them will be back in the saddle again really soon.
Another Round is now in theaters and available on demand Dec. 18.