Mads Mikkelsen is a Danish actor who has starred in numerous Danish and English speaking films over the past 20 or so years, with roles in the likes of Casino Royale, King Arthur, Clash of the Titans, The Three Musketeers, After the Wedding and Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky. Here he talks to View’s Matthew Turner about his latest role as the 18th century Danish king’s advisor, who begins an affair with his young wife, Queen Caroline.
Please note that this interview contains spoilers throughout. If you have not seen A Royal Affair, and feel that your enjoyment of the feature may be impaired by foreknowledge of the plot, please watch the film prior to reading the article.
Congratulations on the prizes A Royal Affair won at Berlin. Were you pleased by the reaction to the film?
It is a touching film and especially for a period drama – it doesn’t always happen with period pieces. I wasn’t surprised but I was happy, pleased when I saw it the first time that it did touch me as well. That is what we were trying to do.
What attracted you to it in the first place and how did you get involved?
That actually, when I read the script – the script was touching as well. I think sometimes it can be hard to get through the pile of costumes and wigs and you know, the distance is sometimes too big to write something that is that interesting. It felt contemporary, emotionally at least and I just liked that. It’s a beautiful story, which is a true story. And it was a romantic relationship they had and that was his extreme drama. So that was another reason.
Did you do much research into the real story?
I did some. I knew the story before, I’ve always been very interested in history. I did read books and theories – especially to see anything in there about his character that we could use in our portrait. And sometimes you can fit it into the script and sometimes you can’t. There’s a couple of little interesting inspirations - mostly for something that kind of like settled me and said, 'Oh, I like that letter, that really indicates that they did love each other.' Things like that, that made us sure of what we were doing.
Did you have much rehearsal period beforehand? Did you get much chance to work on the relationship beforehand?
Yeah. We did. We went to Prague and we had some castings to find the Queen and the King. After that, discussed the whole thing, went through some scenes and for different reasons, she had to learn how to speak Danish and he had to find this weird character. Even though he was in his own film in many ways, he also had to be part of our film. So we were working a little on finding the level of the King’s madness, and fragility, and he did a fantastic job.
He won the Best Actor prize at Berlin, didn’t he?
He did, and he’s not even graduated yet, he’s graduating this summer, so he can only go downhill from here! No, he deserves it; he’s a fantastic, talented man, and very, very nice to work with. He deserved every moment of it.
He got the tone exactly right, I think, because it’s very easy to play that thing too big.
It's one of these characters where if you do it right, it’s just wonderful. If you do it wrong, it’s terrible. And he just makes it.
I heard a rumour that Lars Von Trier helped out on the script, is that true?
I think [the director] was discussing certain elements with Lars, it was not a big contribution but he was sparring a little with him, with certain ideas.
Is this the first time you’ve had your head cut off?
Uhh, no. Actually I did a – no, that was the first one. And the film I did right after that was a French film where I do get executed as well, in 1600 and something. This is a bad year, man!
The same way, with the axe? Or with the guillotine?
No, with an extremely big sword.
Do you have a favourite death scene, that you’ve had so far? You’ve had quite a few, I think.
Of mine? I’ve had quite a few, yeah. I did a film called The Flame and The Citron, about the Danish resistance, and that is also a true story. This man, he’s just burying himself in this house and he’s killing twenty-something Germans. And he was the most pacifistic of the two but he goes out blazing fire in the end. And when they put in the tank - and we don’t have that in the film because people didn’t believe, they didn’t believe what we did, but it was twice as many soldiers - they pull in a tank, they shoot the fucking house down.
And he comes running out of the house and he doesn’t have a scratch on him. And then, they pop him. Then they shoot them all. But he did not have a drop of blood on him. It was like, crazy. But that was a good death, I liked that one. It was shots all over, and just, boom, collapse. It was cool, I liked it.