Cannes: Mads Mikkelsen Ready to Play the Hero

Mads Mikkelsen Spirit Awards Arrivals - P 2013
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Mads Mikkelsen Spirit Awards Arrivals - P 2013

The Danish actor has menaced James Bond and feasted as Hannibal Lecter, but now he stars in the Western "The Salvation."

He’s been a (falsely accused) child molester and a (self-confessed) cannibal, a James Bond villain and a true-life WWII hero. Now, Danish star Mads Mikkelsen is breaking new ground with The Salvation, a Western from director Kristian Levring that TrustNordisk is shopping to buyers at the Cannes Film Market.

“Well, I’m 47, I figured if I still wanted to play a Western it was now or never,” says Mikkelsen, speaking to THR from The Salvation set in South Africa. “I think the whole world grew up on Westerns -- playing with guns and hats, cowboys and Indians. But I was careful not to copy the performances of those classic Westerns [of Gary Cooper or Clint Eastwood]. My character isn’t a gunslinger. He’s an ordinary man.”

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In Salvation, Mikkelsen plays John, a Danish immigrant in America, circa 1870. When a local gang leader massacres John’s family, the peaceful pioneer turns into a vengeful hunter. Eva Green, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and fellow Scandinavian Mikael Persbrandt also star.

The project already is getting strong pre-sales buzz, not least because of Mikkelsen. The veteran actor, long an A-lister in Europe, is moving up buyers’ lists worldwide thanks to his weekly performance as a young Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s critically-acclaimed procedural Hannibal and his best actor win in Cannes last year playing that falsely accused pedophile in Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt.

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“I was pretty established before, but to a certain degree and in certain territories, I think winning in Cannes did establish my name,” Mikkelsen says. “But the biggest change was for myself. When I feel in doubt, I can always look at [the award] and think, ‘I’ve done OK'.”

Mikkelsen is putting in another potentially award-winning appearance in the competition lineup this year with Arnaud des Pallieres’ period drama Michael Kohlhaas.

When The Hunt premiered in Cannes last year, critics hailed it as a return to form for Vinterberg, whose directorial debut was the 1998 Dogme classic The Celebration. Some already are suggesting the same could prove true for Salvation director Levring, another Dogme filmmaker most famous for his debut feature, The King Is Alive (2000).

Budgeted just south of $14 million, Salvation is Levring’s biggest film to date and comes with strong art house credentials in the form of co-writer Anders Thomas Jensen and producer Sisse Graum Jorgensen, both veterans of Oscar winner In a Better World. Trust kicked off pre-sales for Salvation in Berlin but is hoping it’s in Cannes that the title will really catch fire.