Mads Mikkelsen stars as Martin, who embarks on a drunken experiment in the film “Another Round.” The film was selected as Denmark’s submission for Best International Film at the Oscars, and he has been nominated at BAFTA for Best Actor.
Mikkelsen recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Daniel Montgomery about what he thought of the story initially, working with director Thomas Vinterberg again and the prospect of winning the Oscar for Denmark.
Gold Derby: What did you initially think about this character and this story when you read this script for the first time?
Mads Mikkelsen: Well, actually, I heard about this story eight years ago when it was only a pitch and Thomas came up to me and we talked about this philosopher who had the theory that we were born with too little alcohol in the blood for if you wanted to achieve things and the theory was fun and interesting, but it was on a pitch level. Then I saw the script and I just loved it. Yes, it was about that. That was the kick-starter to the story. But the story was much more about embracing life and about four characters who are kind of standing on a platform looking at the train that’s just leaving them.
GD: And it can be very difficult, it seems, to play a character who is intoxicated. A lot of times when actors play it, it can be very exaggerated but here you’re playing very specific levels of intoxication as the film goes along. I talked to Thomas Vinterberg a couple of days ago and he mentioned taking all the actors to a booze boot camp to sort of prepare. What was that process like and how did that help in terms of informing your performance?
MM: In one way, it was kind of challenging because between the four of us actors and Thomas, we have enough experience to know how it is to be drunk. But we wanted to just double-check what it means after two glasses of wine, three, four, five and hit the exact levels, and whilst we were doing it and we were in the midst of it, it was, “It’s not a big difference. It’s cozy. It’s fine.” But when we watched the video the day after, we could see big differences between two glasses and four glasses and that was very inspiring. Gestures, hands were getting looser. If you have a lisp, it will come out all of a sudden. So that just gave us some tools to dial up and down. If we wanted a little more, a little less, we had an idea where we would go. For the extreme drunken scenes, though, we didn’t want to go there because you can’t even remember anything if you do that. We just watched a lot of YouTube videos. Apparently, Russian people like to film themselves when they’re really hammered.
GD: And working with Thomas Vinterberg, you’ve worked with them before on “The Hunt.” What was it like working with him on this very different kind of story that has these elements of humor but also sadness to it, that blend?
MM: Yeah, I mean, we became friends after the last film, so we’ve been that for seven, eight years before we did our second film together and it wasn’t that different. We had a great time the first time. We trusted each other on “The Hunt” but even more so here. This is a territory we haven’t been in and sometimes it’s just nice to have people you trust to take that extra step, go that extra mile and dare doing things that might feel ridiculously bad but do you dare go there because people who are laughing at you and not laughing at you, they’re laughing with you. So we can retract and we do it again. It a little simpler. We didn’t have to be polite. We could just say our opinion right in each other’s face and we can move on really fast.
GD: The relationship between the four friends is also so important to the film. What was it like developing that rapport between them that felt very like you could feel the years between them?
MM: Yeah, it’s kind of like the same sensation as me being friends with Thomas for seven years. The guy who plays my best friend in the film, Thomas Bo Larsen, has known Thomas since the beginning of their careers 30 years ago, and I’ve known him for many, many years as well. The other two guys I knew as well. I’ve worked with them all. So that was also like a cushion. There is a risk when you know each other too well that you just pull out that drawer and you repeat yourself in a boring manner. But there can also be a benefit if you push each other a little further than you would have done with people that you didn’t trust as much and I think that’s what we aim for and I think we succeeded in that, pushing each other a little.
GD: Another important relationship for your character in the film is with his students. When the experiment begins, we really see him come alive in a way. From an earlier scene, we saw that he kind of lost his lust for teaching. What was it like creating that relationship and becoming that kind of exciting teacher at that moment in that scene?
MM: It was great because, obviously, they’re young kids. They’re 18, 19 years old, maybe 17, and they know who I am as an actor, as a person, a private person and the first scenes were just, as you said, extremely boring. I was the most boring person on planet Earth and obviously they’re acting but I think they were a little disappointed with me, like, “What’s he doing down there? Sitting, mumbling. I have no idea what he’s doing.” So it was nice finally to get that relief and come in and take the room a little more but they were just great. They were fantastic casting. I don’t think a lot of them were actors. They were just kids who were really good at reacting to the reality of what happened. So I had a great time with these guys. And then you saw them in lines, say a couple of lines and they were just so natural. Something we can all envy.
GD: As an actor, was it harder to portray the dull Martin or the really excited Martin, the really engaged Martin?
MM: I recognize both sides. The more loose version of him was a little more tricky, obviously, because we wanted to find the exact level so we had something to build on. We didn’t want to go completely crazy. We wanted to build it up like a staircase. So to find those exact balances took a few more takes than it would have been in a different kind of scene. We tried a few different levels out for all the scenes. I think we have some versions in there where it’s obvious that he’s drunk and we just dialed it back a little because they might have a hunch, but they also like what they see, and that’s what we wanted to aim for. We don’t want to go cross that line.
GD: The relationship between Martin and his wife, Anika, is also such an important part of the way the story develops and what starts going well and then starts going very not well eventually and really builds up to this argument scene where you really feel all these years of tension building up. What was it like shooting that scene and developing that relationship on screen?
MM: All the scenes with Maria Bonnevie were just fantastic because she is an amazing actress. It’s a very, very difficult thing to come into a film that is kind of a family of these four guys doing an experiment and she’s kind of serving a film to see the aspect of his family life, obviously, but she has very few scenes to deal with it. But she’s such a good actress. She just finds the temperature in the room right away and it becomes a given that we’ve been together for 20 years. I’ve known her before as well. As you can tell, Denmark is a small place (laughs). I’ve known her for many years. I’ve always been very, very fascinated with her work. I just love to be able to do some scenes that were much more interesting and intimate than the things I’ve done with her before. She was a gift. It’s very difficult to come in and just put your fingerprint on a film with that few scenes.
GD: At the very end of the film, there’s this incredible catharsis of Martin dancing and you have a background in dance, but I know you’ve spoken before about being a little bit reluctant to do the dancing onscreen for the film. What made you kind of reluctant to do that and what convinced you?
MM: Well, being reluctant was merely based on the fact that this is a realistic film and to pull something like that off is very difficult. I had a fear that it would come across as pretentious, so I kind of imagined that it was a drunken man’s fantasy, something that was lifted, a little more magical, and Thomas was very adamant in saying, “Yeah, I like what you’re saying, but I don’t agree. He’s just getting up and he starts dancing.” So I just gave in because I trusted Thomas, of course, and he was right and I was wrong, completely. It is a beautiful ending of a scene. We wanted the man to be in a state of wanting to fly and wanting to fall at the same time and I think that’s illustrated really well in that sequence.
GD: As you mention, there’s so much emotion going on in the character that’s expressed in that. Was it heavily choreographed or was it a lot improvised or what was the preparation?
MM: We had steps. We had a base of the steps, a young girl called Olivia helped us out and I added a can of beer, I believe, to the moves and some of the moves were a little too young for me and she smiled and said, “OK, let’s go back to the ‘80s. I’ll find something for you.” But she’s just great. So that was a base of that and then we improvised a little when we saw there was a lot of big vans and there was a bench and there was cobblestones. So we had to figure out how to deal with that. But we also wanted it to be an internal journey, more so than being an aesthetic dance. He’s just a guy who’s just lost someone he loved and he’s just regained someone that he loved within the last hour and we wanted that to be reflected in the dance. So I think it becomes a more internal journey than it becomes a dance. I think that’s why we could pull it off.
GD: The film has gotten a fair amount of acclaim and it swept the European Film Awards a couple months ago, you won Best Actor. It was a virtual event because, of course, the world we’re in right now. What was that experience like and seeing that recognition in particular for this film?
MM: I think it was a little unheard of, in the sense that some films some years do really well, but I don’t think that any film has done this before. I might be wrong. But it was great. It was fantastic. On a personal level, for all filmmakers, whether you’re a director or the editor or whatever you do, an actor, you like to be acclaimed, obviously. But for this film, it was just of bigger importance, obviously, because of Thomas’s daughter, who passed away within a week of shooting. So, in many ways, it’s the tiniest little light at the end of the tunnel for Thomas and for all of us who have been part of this project because there was only one reason why we did the film, and that was for her and for other people give it a nod and embrace it, we can’t ask for anything else.
GD: The film is also on the shortlist for the Academy Award for Best International Feature and you’ve had the good fortune of being in a few nominees from Denmark “After the Wedding,” “The Hunt,” “A Royal Affair.” Are you kind of like Denmark’s good luck charm at this point?
MM: Well, I haven’t been so far. We’ve been nominated, but we never won. So let this be the fourth a charm. That would be great. I mean, I wish and hope so much for Thomas and his family that it will be nominated and that it can also take the last step of that ladder and bring that statue home. That would be fantastic. If not, it has been a fantastic journey. So many good films out there so you can’t predict anything but so far we’ve been blessed with a lot of people and a lot of love.
GD: And what do you hope that audiences will take away from Martin’s story and him and his friends and their experience, other than maybe a breathalyzer, which might be a practical thing to have just in general?
MM: Well, I know for a fact that people take a lot of different things away from it. There’s a whole generation of young people who have been watching this film back home who obviously see themselves in there. They recognize themselves as exactly how they feel when they’re graduating and we are the teachers they’ve been laughing about. Some of them might love some of us, so they have one feel. Then you have the middle age group that will also recognize themselves as like, yeah, the train is leaving and you’re standing on the platform, you didn’t catch it. Not super happy with your past and a little jealous of the future and you just forgot to embrace the present. Then you’ll see an older generation. You might see people from AA who will sit and nod and recognize themselves. So people take different things away. But I think they all take away, it’s a tribute to life. It’s a tribute to living your life now. There is no other chance. Regain your force, reinvent your family life, reinvent your job. Come on. Don’t wait for something to happen that’s magical. It’s right now it’s happening.