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For Mads Mikkelsen, the most grueling days on his new Netflix comic book film Polar had him thinking about one of the most disturbing scenes of his acting career.
In 2006, Casino Royale revamped James Bond, with Daniel Craig’s 007 going against Mikkelsen’s blood-weeping villain Le Chiffre. In a chilling moment, Le Chiffre tortures Bond — tying him to a chair and striking his testicles with the knot at the end of a rope. In a scene in Polar, Mikkelsen’s character Duncan Vizla, or “The Black Kaiser,” is tortured himself. So Mikkelsen has now been on both sides of scenes like that.
“I definitely prefer to be on the other side,” the actor tells The Hollywood Reporter. “[Craig] had a tough day at the office. I’m sure I enjoyed it a bit more than he did.”
Mikkelsen’s torture scene in Polar also involved extended time in low temperatures.
“That was some brutal days we did in Polar,” he recalls. “I was hanging there for three days. It was icy cold. I’m not wearing any clothes. And it was just brutal as hell.”
According to Mikkelsen, the Casino Royale scene was shot in only one day.
“So I was suffering a little more, even though they didn’t get to my genitalia,” says the actor.
Before becoming a blockbuster mainstay in such movies as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Doctor Strange, Mikkelsen made his mark in Danish cinema after his acting debut in 1996’s Pusher. When he moved to Hollywood productions with Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 film King Arthur, one thing stood out: the scale.
“I remember that they built a wall that was 1.8 miles long, and it was eight meters high and eight meters wide,” Mikkelsen recalls. “They built the entire thing. And the value of that wall would probably be identical to 10 Danish film budgets. It was just insane, and I’m not sure we used it too much in the film. So I was just flabbergasted by the way that the money was spent in an extravagant way.”
King Arthur was one of many turning points in Mikkelsen’s career, which saw him move from independent Danish projects to U.S. films to the hit television show Hannibal. Now he’s kicking off 2019 with the icy cold films Polar and Arctic.
It has resulted in a busy work schedule that sees him shooting about nine months a year.
“Arctic and Polar, we shot back-to-back. I didn’t get a chance to go home then,” says Mikkelsen.
Netflix’s Polar, which was adapted from the comics series of the same name and will be available for streaming on Friday, gave the actor an opportunity he didn’t realize he wanted, even after Doctor Strange: to play a comic book hero. The film centers on the world’s No. 1 assassin (Mikkelsen) who is lured out of retirement.
“I grew up with comic books, and specifically graphic novels. I was just absorbed in them,” Mikkelsen says. “I was always fascinated with that world, so that when it came my way, it was an obvious ‘yes’ because not having thought about it, I all of a sudden realized that I’ve always been a fan of that world.”
Polar also marks Mikkelsen’s first Netflix original film, but he had a primer on the streaming giant last month when Danish director Susanne Bier, a past collaborator on the movie After the Wedding and Open Hearts, released the hit Bird Box. “I just saw her breaking all the records. It’s completely amazing,” he says.
But like many a busy movie star, Mikkelsen has trouble with technology, and might not be able to check out Polar on his own phone. “Give me an iPhone and I can only call and text,” he says, laughing. “The rest of all the apps, I have no idea what they’re about. And being on Facebook and Twitter, it’s kind of skirted over my head always.”
What was important to the actor about Netflix is something he’s heard from many filmmakers who’ve partnered with them: The streaming service more or less lets artists have creative freedom.
Part of that freedom allowed Mikkelsen and director Jonas Akerlund to, amidst the neon colors and the gore, hone in on a specific trait of their action hero — how “awkward” he is. “I think that’s what we like about the character, that he’s not one of the classical action heroes that throws around with punchlines and funny remarks the whole time,” explains the actor. “If he makes a smile, it’s because he tried to be funny and was really not good at it.”
The old, quiet and reluctant hero archetype is having a particular resurgence as of late, from practically everything that Liam Neeson does to Keanu Reeves’ John Wick trilogy.
“There is a fascination with that world because there’s a certain simplicity in the way that they live,” Mikkelsen says in regard to that trend of action hero.
Meanwhile, the actor is further expanding his repertoire, as he is set to appear in Hideo Kojima’s anticipated video game Death Stranding, rumored to be set for release later this year. He also will appear in Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking opposite Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, but beyond that, he claims not to know what’s next.
“I’ve never really had the plan,” Mikkelsen says. “I mean, not even when I started dancing and later on became an actor. Basically, I just wanted to make films. I wanted to be part of changing the film industry in Denmark, and it’s just expanded from there and now I’m working over here as well.
“I don’t have a little Hamlet in me, like, ‘Everybody should see my version of Hamlet,’” he adds. “I don’t have that. I don’t find it interesting.”
But something new will likely come soon, as Mikkelsen has been on a longer break than usual.
“This time, I’ve actually had more than seven months off,” he says. “I’ve been super lazy and enjoying life, so it’s about time for me to get back to work.”
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