Thomas Vinterberg helmed the Danish film “Another Round,” starring Mads Mikkelsen as one of four friends who partake in an experiment with alcohol. The film was just nominated at the Oscars for Best International Feature Film and Vinterberg himself was nominated for Best Director.
Vinterberg spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Daniel Montgomery before the Oscar nominations announcement about the origins of “Another Round,” working with Mikkelsen and what it would mean to win the Academy Award for Denmark. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.
Gold Derby: [The film] felt different to me than most American films that I usually see about alcohol, where it’s usually either pure comedy or tragedy. Here, the alcohol feels sort of secondary to the deeper reasons why these men feel lost in their lives. Was that how you wanted to approach the story and these characters?
Thomas Vinterberg: Well, from the beginning, it was merely a film about alcohol. Actually, it was a pure celebration of alcohol because I looked at world history together with Tobias Lindholm, my co-writer, and we saw so many great accomplishments having been done by drunk people. But digging deeper into it, we realized that there was more to it and we got more ambitious. This project grew and developed into becoming a movie about life and being inspired. As we always say, the word “spirit” means more than just alcohol and also, we wanted to explore the dark sides of drinking. We have to acknowledge that this miracle liquor that can elevate a lot of situations and can make people merry and make people make great decisions, can also destroy families and kill people. So we ended up doing an investigation of the nature of alcohol and the nature of life and when you’re halfway through it, somewhere in Scandinavia.
GD: And the characters base their experiment on Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud’s theory that humans were born with a blood alcohol level 0.05 percent too low. Was that theory the genesis for this story initially?
TV: Well, initially we were looking for the genesis of the story. We just wanted to make a movie about alcohol and when I ran into this theory, we sort of found the engine, and more importantly, when we put it at a school among teachers, the ball started to roll and a script developed in front of us. But we had been searching for this for quite a while. Finn Skårderud is a scientist. He’s a psychiatrist and a real academic. He wouldn’t necessarily call it a theory, more like just something he said (laughs). We tried to make it a theory.
GD: And the friendship between these four men is so much the heart of the film. What inspired these characters and their relationships as you were writing them?
TV: This is a script written for four good friends of mine. These actors I’ve been knowing for many years. These actors are my friends. We come to each other’s birthdays and we go to the gym together. So my main inspiration for writing these characters are these persons, though nothing is private. It’s not their own stories. There’s nothing in Max Mikkelsen’s life that looks like the life of Martin in the movie. That’s obviously something I invented together with Tobias. I thought it was interesting to look at that place in life where repetitiousness catches up with you and there’s no element of risk left and there’s no curiosity left and no inspiration. The word “inspiration” has the word “spirit” inside of it as well. Looking deeper and deeper into that place in life where people are yearning for their youth, the weightlessness of being young, I guess that’s where I found these characters.
GD: Early in the film, as they begin this experiment and things seem to be sort of working out for them, did you approach it as it’s purely the alcohol making things better or like you said, there’s something, this recapturing, this wanting to bring something back in themselves is really driving them and the alcohol is just kind of an excuse to re-find themselves?
TV: Well, it’s very important to emphasize that this movie is about more than just alcohol and I think it’s the risk that they pose on themselves and the element of exploration and the element of togetherness — this brings them together — that inspires them more than just the alcohol. I think you can accomplish being inspired without alcohol as well, but in this case, the alcohol is the engine, so the alcohol became sort of an engine. To talk about something larger than that, my wife tells me — she’s more clever than I am — she tells me that it’s a movie about the uncontrollable. Our lives have become very measured. When you write an article, it’ll tell you how many clicks you get and how long people will stay per click or average or something. If you’re a young student, you have to map out your life. You’re being graded all the time and evaluated all the time. You have to appear on social media 40 times a day and you’ll have to see how many thumbs up you get and how many likes you get. There’s a constant measuring of what we do and there’s not much room for the uncontrollable, the inspired moment where you don’t decide what to do. Then I asked my wife, “What is the uncontrollable?” Her favorite example is falling in love. It’s not something you can buy on the internet. It’s not something you can find… well, you can find it in the gym, but it’s not something you can plan for. It’s something that happens to you that you have to be open for and it’s beyond your control, first and foremost. Such as, getting an idea is beyond your control. It’s something you get, it’s not something you buy. This movie is a battle for this tiny corner of our lives which is represented by being uncontrollable. Does that make sense?
GD: Yeah, absolutely, and working, as you mentioned, with Mads Mikkelsen again after directing him in “The Hunt,” we usually see him in a very dramatic, dark context, a lot of roles that we tend to see him in, and here we get to see, at times, a lighter side, this warmer side. What was it like working with him in this film as opposed to working with him before?
TV: Well, you have a different vision of Max Mikkelsen out there than I have back here. This is the Mads Mikkelsen… well, the character’s not, but this is what I know he can do from all the Danish movies he’s done. He’s got a huge vulnerability and a huge comic side that hasn’t been explored that much in his international work. So for me, it was like working with one of my best friends and one of the best actors in the world. It couldn’t be better. He’s such an extremely well-trained, humble, intelligent, humorous, and hard-working actor, and you gotta realize in this movie how much I challenge him. He had to protect and play a very nuanced, emotional journey, which is very pure and open. Yet still, he had to be very funny, and yet still, he had to be drunk at very specific levels, and also he had to dance (laughs). So I asked him a lot of things and I think he enjoyed being challenged like that.
GD: As you mentioned, playing drunk at very specific levels is something that when a lot of actors play drunk onscreen, a lot of times we see it come off as very exaggerated but here they’re really dialing it in as these characters progress throughout the film. How did you work with the whole cast to kind of capture those subtle changes as they go further and further?
TV: And to make them drunk. Right. Well, we did some alcohol rehearsals, like a booze boot camp or whatever you want to call it before the shoot to figure out the specific behavior of these specific actors on these specific levels of intake and we filmed it and we had fun with it. It was also a lot of hard work because it’s really difficult to play drunk and do it convincingly and we watched a lot of videos from the internet with drunk people to see how they fall and how they stagger them around. As in every case where you see something that works naturally onscreen, it’s normally a result of a lot of hard work, and it was here as well.
GD: You mentioned having Mads dance in the film and it’s one of the most memorable scenes that comes at the end and it’s this entire sequence. He has a background in gymnastics and dance. Was it something you were always eager to give him the opportunity to showcase? Because that’s also another side that, at least in American film, that we haven’t seen much of him. I don’t know if he’s done much of this kind of dancing in Danish film.
TV: He’s never danced in a movie before, though he’s been a professional dancer for nine years, and yes, I’ve always been eager to see that and in this case, emotionally, I felt it made complete sense because he does become weightless at the end, together with the youngsters, the same youngsters who wanted to fire him in the beginning, where he feels very old, so there’s a very visible journey and a sense of catharsis at the end of this movie. Mads was very hesitant about it and Tobias Lindholm, my co-writer as well. They both come from a world where reality rules and they did feel at times it was a bit of a stretch to have a schoolteacher suddenly being able to dance like that, but it worked out. If you look at the dance at the end, the choreography of the dance pretty much became the process in the sense that he’s dancing a little bit and then he’s pulling back and then he’s dancing a little bit more and then he’s pulling and then finally he surrenders and gives into this.
GD: As we’re recording this, it’s about a week after the Oscars announced their shortlists and “Another Round” is one of the final 15 films competing for Best International Feature. Your film, “The Hunt,” was nominated a few years ago. How meaningful is it just to be selected to represent Denmark for the Oscar?
TV: Oh, I’m very proud to represent Denmark. There were some great movies this year and going through this process again now is something I look very much forward to. If we’re lucky enough to get nominated, there’s this journey through which involves a lot of people who are truly interested in the quality of filmmaking and very, very generous about it. I really enjoyed it back with “The Hunt,” actually, and I’m just crossing my fingers that it’ll happen again.
GD: If, knock on wood, it happens to win, it would be the fourth Danish film to win the Oscar. What would it be like to join that very elite group?
TV: Wow, I don’t know. It would be an overwhelming moment and it would be a great honor. Also, this movie of all the movies I’ve ever made is the one that means the most to me, for personal reasons. I lost my daughter while making this movie and she was supposed to be in the movie. It’s in her classroom, at her school. It’s a celebration of her life. So the movie is for her and any honor or award given to this movie would be for her as well. So, yeah, I’m keeping my fingers crossed.