I had the honor to interview the one and only Mads Mikkelsen, famous for his roles in “Casino Royale,” “The Hunt,” and “Hannibal.” The Danish actor is set to take over the big screen next in Marvel’s widely-anticipated “Doctor Strange” as the villain Kaecilius, as well as Lucasfilm’s upcoming “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.”
Read on for an in-depth interview with Mikkelsen looking back on his life, his acting methodology, his favorite Marvel superhero, and his experience playing the infamous Hannibal Lecter as compared to playing Kaecilius in “Doctor Strange,” where he faces off against Benedict Cumberbatch.
CH: In the film, Dr. Strange gets some sort of a rude awakening when he meets the Ancient One. What is a moment in your life when you thought you knew everything, but really, you didn’t?
MM: When you’re young, you’re immortal and you think you know everything. Obviously you don’t… There were a few years where I did feel that. I don’t recall a wakeup call, but I do recall some people who were close to me who died when I was young, and all of a sudden I realized we’re not immortal. Everyday I hear people who have different perspectives on life, so I think you can learn everyday if you keep your eyes and ears open.
CH: These characters play with time in the film. If you could manipulate time and have the opportunity to talk to your younger self, what advice would you give young Mads Mikkelsen?
MM: There are so many mistakes I’ve done in my life, but I don’t mind those mistakes. I might give one advice which would be breathe in, breathe out. You don’t have to move so fast all the time. Slow down a little. But… it was also a part of me and it took me somewhere. I don’t regret the big picture.
CH: If you could turn back the time and relive a moment in your life, but not change anything, what would that memory be?
MM: I think I would probably go back to the birth of my two children, which was obviously a nerve-wracking moment, but turned out fantastic… It puts everything into perspective and hits you like a hammer right away.
CH: As Dr. Strange realizes, it takes years of study and practice to become good at anything. What does that study and practice look like for you as an actor?
MM: I think it doesn’t stop. You learn from every process, every film, every colleague you meet, every director, every camera guy, every producer—there’s a lot to learn. It’s about the constant process, not a goal. Sometimes what you think was right, you figure out was not so right, so you keep adjusting throughout life. Every film is different. I have to first of all figure out the director’s vision. That’s my job to try to fulfill. On top of that I put my little pieces in there as well—I have ideas and thoughts about the character and the story.
CH: The movie encourages audiences to open their minds and question reality. For some actors it can be a challenge to step out of a role and identify between character and self. When you’re so immersed in a character’s thoughts and feelings, is it easy or difficult for you to identify what is reality?
MM: I’m pretty good at figuring out what is reality and what is not. The tricky thing for a lot of actors including me is that if you spend a lot of time with a character—meaning you’re in character eight, nine, ten hours a day—some of that starts smudging off on you. You get that energy even if you don’t want that energy—you’ve done it so much that it’s part of you. I’m aware that it’s not me but it can be a little tricky to throw off sometimes.
In general I try to divide it as sharp as I can. Enter the character as fast as you can, as honest as you can, but also try to leave the character as fast as you can. I don’t believe in carrying it around in my private life to make it more convincing. I think that would take a toll on me and my family. I think you can step into a character as fast as people who never leave it.
CH: Playing Hannibal, an anti-hero—how does that experience help you as an actor relate to villains like Kaecilius in a movie where you have limited screen time to develop his character?
MM: There’s a big difference between playing a TV show like “Hannibal,” where we follow the character and we can build it up gradually, as compared to film, where your role is to serve the purpose of the hero. We have to be on the same page—is Kaecilius just taking over the world because he wants to? Or does he have a higher vision for that? His vision is to make the world a better place. To make it a place without pain, or suffering, or death. He has a point. It’s not stupid. Problem is, his means might not be as moral as other people’s means, but you will see that in any good war. And he’s just a radical general.
CH: You grew up with the Marvel comics—besides Dr. Strange, who was your favorite superhero?
MM: Peter Parker. He was easy to identify with because he was close to our age. He wasn’t built with crazy muscles. He was nerdy, he was cheeky, and he dropped all these cool punch lines. We wanted to be him. That was definitely one of the first superheroes I connected with.
CH: Dr. Strange is guided by the Ancient One, and accepts her wisdom and teachings in the mystical arts. Who are the Ancient One’s in your life?
MM: I never had any icons or gurus in my life—I’ve never really been in religious in that sense or dedicated myself to one belief. I think I’ve met people who’ve said a lot of smart things and I just try to pick out things that make sense in my world. I’ve definitely come across older, wiser people than me that have a point in certain things. My grandfather is one of them. I’ve met some actors as well who didn’t lecture, but said something very smart, all of a sudden. So I choose to remember that.
Catch Mads Mikkelsen as Kaecilius in “Doctor Strange” in theaters Nov. 4.