Once an unknown with unconventional roots, the chiselled features of Mads Mikkelsen have now captured the hearts of fans world-wide with his role on the American show, Hannibal (2013-2015), and a variety of international roles. A television adaptation of the Hannibal Lecter series, this show and these high profile films have propelled the former dancer and gymnast to become one of the faces of the wave of success that the Danish have enjoyed since the mid-1990s.
Mikkelsen originally pursued gymnastics before embarking on a career as a professional dancer for a decade. However, he eventually left to study drama at the Århus Theatre School in 1996 – and thank goodness he did! He made his film debut as a drug dealer in the internationally renowned film, Pusher (1996), directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. Thanks to two sequels, Mikkelsen won awards for his performances. At the same time, he was receiving critical acclaim and further awards for his work of marginalised, comic characters, a sensitive policeman in Niels Arden Oplev’s television series Rejseholdet (Unit One) (2000-2003) and other eclectic roles. Here, Mikkelsen demonstrated a diverse repertoire with a competence that can be attributed to his creative roots, which have evidently enhanced his subtle emotional expression and bodily awareness.
While he had won recognition as a Danish film star, Mikkelsen gave an excellent, chilling performance in his first international role of ‘Le Chiffre’ in the James Bond film, Casino Royale (2006). Mikkelsen continued to go from strength to strength with leading roles in films such as the highly awarded Danish drama, After The Wedding (2006). He also aided his international rise with the promotion of his Bond villain ‘Le Chiffre’ in high-profile events like the Swiss watchmaker, Swatch, launching the ‘007 Villain Collection’ in Austria. However, he added to his diverse reputation with Jan Kounen’s visually-stunning Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky (2009) to reinforce his status as a Danish sex symbol. Although he still continued to take violent roles in action films with 2009’s Valhalla Rising and 2010’s Clash of the Titans, it is clear that his strength comes from the intensity that is hidden under his measured voice. Each word is said with care, every look almost reveals something in his ambiguous gaze. This is apparent in Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky, in which he reveals the developing desire of his character with only the smallest changes in his face and posture.
In 2012, he bounced back from the failure of The Three Muskeeters (2011), which received poor reviews in spite of box-office success. He played a school teacher wrongly accused of molestation in The Hunt (2012), garnering praise and nominations. While he had gained international attention for playing Tristan in Jerry Bruckheimer’s King Arthur (2004), it was the historical drama, A Royal Affair (2012), which arguably confirmed his status as an international movie star. Amongst the glamour of extravagant costumes, making it one of the highest budget Danish films ever, Mikkelsen excels at portraying the 18th century physician Johann Friedrich Struensee. This compelling film, in which the physician treats the mentally ill Danish monarch Christian VII before embarking on an affair with Queen Caroline Mathilda, was a triumph. Mikkelsen was ultimately awarded the Danish American Society’s Person of the Year.
While he was hesitant to accept the role of Hannibal Lecter after the ‘perfection’ of Anthony Hopkin’s performance in the films, Mikkelsen has taken on the challenge with aplomb to create a Hannibal Lecter that rivaled Hopkin’s. Again, without saying a word, Mikkelsen easily conveys the calculating mind of Lecter and is a picture of charm and elegance. Never before has cannibalism been so graceful. We can’t wait to see what Mikkelsen turns his hand to next.