Mads Mikkelsen looks evil in the face in ‘The Hunt’ and ‘Hannibal’

'Michael Kohlhaas' Photocall - The 66th Annual Cannes Film Festival Day 10
Mads Mikkelsen won Best Actor at Cannes for the Danish drama “The Hunt.”
Credit: Getty Images

Mads Mikkelsen just wrapped up the first season as the latest incarnation of Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s “Hannibal,” where he heroically avoids the mannerisms of Anthony Hopkins — and, for that matter, Brian Cox, who embodied him in the 1985 film “Manhunter.”

Mikkelsen isn’t the first Scandinavian import, nor all that new: He’s already known for playing the sinister, bleeding-teared villain Le Chiffre in “Casino Royale.” He still manages to do work back home in Denmark, as he did with the drama “The Hunt,” in which he plays a man falsely accused of exposing himself to the young daughter of his best friend — a performance that netted him Best Actor at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival.

It’s important that the film clearly establishes that your character is not guilty.

That was our point from the beginning. Thomas [Vinterberg] and his cowriter Tobias [Lindholm] did not want to turn this into a thriller. That would have been too banal. We wanted to see the snowball effect and showing both sides, so we could make a classical drama rather than have the audience sitting on the edge, thinking, “Oh, did he do it?” We wanted to tell a story about how enormous love could turn into enormous fear and then into hate.

What were the difficulties of playing a character who can’t really react?

My character is at a difficult place where I can’t place my anger anywhere. I can’t blame the girl, I can’t blame the best friend, I can’t blame the woman who works at the school. There’s no one I can blame. You’re running into closed doors everywhere. If you scream too loud, you’re guilty. If you do nothing, you’re guilty. If you’re in the middle of the road, you‘re guilty. That’s the Kafkaesque universe of the story.

He does have a bit of a dark side. He gets indignant when accused.

Of course. He’s getting insulted. If my wife would ask me if I did something like this, I wouldn’t take that easily. I would probably do the same, and say get the f— out. In some ways he has a masculine way of dealing with this, and in some ways he does not. He treats this subject in a civilized manner. He believes the system will take care of this. And the system fails. He’s fighting against the emotions of irrational people. The one place where he mans up in the supermarket (where he gets into a fight), that’s the one time the audience goes, “Yeah, man, that’s cool!” But it’s interesting that we react like that, because he’s doing it in the uncivilized manner. It’s like we want him to be uncivilized.

For many people, even those proven to have been falsely accused, these accusations never really go away.

If he was accused of robbing a bank, he’d get a shoulder pat. “Hey, I thought for a second you robbed that bank!” But a bank is not as important as a kid. We’re so afraid today when something involves kids. It’s a little pathetic.

It’s the same thing with the war on terror. We turn our democracy into something where we’re afraid of living our free life because we’re fighting terror. And that’s exactly what it shouldn’t be. We restrict our lives.

On playing Hannibal Lecter:

It’s a different species. Hannibal is not a person. He’s basically Satan. He’s probably one of the (most) cheerful and happy characters I’ve ever played. I never carry a load back home. He’s just enjoying life. Even if he would go to jail one day, he would see that as a beautiful opportunity for a new and fresh start, to see what happens.

But we get to see him outside, and with people. I have to be a certain degree friendly and reliable around them. If that wasn’t the case, they’d point their fingers and say, “He’s the killer.” I’m already in deep s—. I have a three-piece suit. I’m an art collector. I have a funny accent. So I’m probably the killer. But we have to take it to a degree where the cops don’t look like idiots.


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