In the next few months, Americans will learn why. Starting Friday, Mikkelsen will star in “A Royal Affair,” a historical drama set in 18th-century Denmark. Next spring, he will topline “The Hunt,” a harrowing psychological thriller in which he plays a teacher accused of sexual abuse. Also next year, he will star in “Hannibal,” an NBC series based on the early years of that cannibal we loathe-but-also-kinda-like, Hannibal Lecter.
Mads Mikkelsen, you’re having a moment.
“It’s nice to be here, with two films people find beautiful or brutal or interesting,” Mikkelsen said at the Toronto International Film Festival in September, where “A Royal Affair” and “The Hunt” made their North American debuts. Even better, he was conducting interviews in his temporary home town: “Hannibal” had begun shooting in Toronto, and Mikkelsen was just settling in, with his family in tow.
“It’s tough,” the actor admitted, speaking of his son, who had just started the ninth grade. “English is not his first language. . . . But he’s ready for it, I hope. He needs to pick up the English; everybody speaks it. But he’ll get there.”
“He’ll get there” could just as easily be Mikkelsen’s life motto. After excelling in gymnastics as a boy, he was recruited to study ballet and was a professional dancer for eight years before entering drama school. He didn’t graduate until he was 30, a year after he landed his first movie role, in the highly regarded crime thriller “Pusher” by writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn.
“It was never a plan to be an actor,” says Mikkelsen, now 46. “It was just [that] I was in love with the drama of dancing and, I suppose, with the aesthetics of dancing, and for that reason I said, ‘Why don’t we do drama full time?’ ”
Almost immediately, Mikkelsen made a speciality of playing villains and dark heroes, including the ancient Norse warrior One Eye in 2009’s “Valhalla Rising,” also by Refn.
“He usually had a patch on the eye or a scar on the face,” says “A Royal Affair” director Nikolaj Arcel. “He’s had a career a little bit like Robert De Niro, where he started out playing a little bit of a punk, a little bit of a rebel, a little bit of a dangerous guy. As he’s got older, though, he’s been playing the romantic lead in several Danish films and even comedies. He’s by far the biggest star in Denmark and the main dramatic actor that we have.”
In “A Royal Affair,” Mikkelsen plays Johann Friedrich Struensee, a physician who was living in Hamburg in 1767 when he was enlisted to become the court doctor to the king of Denmark, Christian VII. As chief adviser and confidante to the addled monarch, Struensee exerted a strong influence on the young man, introducing Enlightenment values to a country that previously rejected them.