The untold truth of Mads Mikkelsen

Mads Mikkelsen is familiar to TV viewers for his suavely creepy performance as a younger version of Anthony Hopkins’ Silence of the Lamb serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, on three seasons of NBC’s Hannibal. In November 2020, the Danish actor made headlines when Deadline reported he was in talks to take over for Johnny Depp in the Fantastic Beasts franchise after Depp resigned in the wake of his failed libel suit against a British tabloid. That said, a confirmation has yet to apparate: When IGN asked Mikkelsen about the report, he replied, “Oh, that is on the rumor basis as we speak.” He went on to say that he is “waiting for that phone call” but only knows as much about it as the rest of the world. 

If Mikkelsen does take on the role of evil Grindelwald in the Harry Potter prequels, he’ll have the distinction of being part of four of Hollywood’s biggest franchises: Fantastic BeastsStar Wars (as Galen Erso, reluctant architect of the Death Star in Rogue One), James Bond (playing criminal mastermind Le Chiffre in Daniel Craig’s first outing as 007, Casino Royale), and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (portraying villainous Kaecilius in Doctor Strange).

Boasting a roster of credits extending back to the 1990s, Mikkelsen has carved out an enviable career on both small and large screens. Yet there’s much that the average viewer may not know about this multitalented and versatile actor; continue reading to uncover the untold truth of Mads Mikkelsen. 

Mads Mikkelseon promoted 'the Danish way' in beer ads

Fans are used to seeing Mads Mikkelsen in dark dramas, yet in the United Kingdom he’s equally well known for a series of comedically tongue-in-cheek commercials for Carlsberg beer, which originates from his homeland of Denmark. The 2017 campaign, noted Branding.news, was dubbed “the Danish way,” featuring Mikkelsen revealing that the secret to Danes’ legendary happiness “all boils down to creating what we believe is the best beer in the world.”

According to The Drum, Mikkelsen continued on as the beer’s “brand philosopher” when the campaign shifted gears to take an edgier direction. In those ad spots, people read hilariously nasty “mean tweets” that had been written about the beer, comparing the taste of Carlsberg to such things as “a bitter divorce” and ” the rancid p*ss of Satan.”

Mikkelsen then appeared in a subsequent spot, offering a confession: “In the U.K., Carlsberg pursued being the biggest, not the best and the beer suffered.” Danes, however, “don’t cry into our beer.” To rectify this, he implied in a Hannibal-esque twist that the previous brewer had “been dealt with” by being drowned in a lake.

You may be pronouncing Mads Mikkelsen's name wrong

Unless they’re versed in the intricacies of Danish, those who say Mads Mikkelsen’s name out loud are probably pronouncing it incorrectly. As the actor explained in an interview with Canada’s National Post, the “d” in his first name is silent, pronounced “Mass.” However, he won’t be offended by anyone saying it wrong. “I don’t mind,” he told the newspaper. “I think it sounds kind of cool.” Even so, video exists on Twitter of Mikkelsen pronouncing it correctly, providing fans with the definitive pronunciation. 

Given that Danish is his native tongue, Mikkelson joked to The Independent that his accent had helped him land roles — since Scandinavian actors had been cornering the market on movie villains, which had previously been the domain of British actors. “It’s been very popular to use British actors to play the villains, but — for some reason — they need an even funnier accent to play the villain which is the Scandinavian one. We’re the villains right now,” he said. 

Dancing with the star of Hannibal

A video of a young Mads Mikkelsen showing off some amazing dancing abilities in a cancan routine made its way onto YouTube. In another clip, he can be spotted as a singer’s backup dancer. (As Uproxx advised, “Pay close attention to the guy with the red kerchief.”) Understandably, these videos left fans shook. As it turns out, long before he decided to pursue a career as a thespian, Mikkelsen was a gymnast and dancer — in that order.

In an interview with Design N Trend (via BuzzFeed), Mikkelsen revealed that he became “a dancer out of coincidence, a little like I became an actor out of coincidence.” As he explained, he trained as gymnast when he was a child, and was spotted by a choreographer who “needed somebody in the background to do jumps and flips and s**t.” By that time, Mikkelsen had clearly begun to develop an interest in the opposite sex. “I did the math: there were a lot of really hot chicks, and not a lot of boys around,” he said. “I stayed with that for awhile, eight or nine years.”

Ultimately, he told the Globe and Mail, he gravitated toward acting when he realized he “was more in love with the drama of dance than the study of it.” 

Mads Mikkelsen better have Rihanna's money

In addition to movies, TV series, dance performances and beer commercials, Mads Mikkelsen can also be seen in Rihanna’s 2015 music video for her track “B***h Better Have My Money.” In the video — which The Atlantic described as “a violent revenge fantasy… intended to provoke outrage” — Mikkelsen plays the titular “B***h,” also identified as “the accountant.” 

When he was first approached about appearing in the video, however, Mikkelsen admitted that he didn’t really know much about Rihanna. 

“I wasn’t really aware of who she was so I had to double-check with my kids,” he said in an interview with ShortList. ” And they were screaming in my face: ‘You f**king moron! Don’t you know who she is?? If you don’t do this I’ll kill you.’ So I’ve heard a few things. I think she varies a lot; she has a broad palette of different styles. But I have a soft spot for ‘B***h Better Have My Money’ because, after all, I am the b***h.”

Making movies has taught Mads Mikkelsen a lot of lessons

Mads Mikkelsen has made a lot of movies, and he opened up to Moviemaker about the 10 things he’s learned from filmmaking. Among the most important lessons, he explained, was to work with good directors. “Don’t settle,” he advised. Those directors, he added, should be ones who heed the ideas and opinions instead of dismissing them summarily. “Even if they don’t always use them, they should always respect them,” he explained, admitting that when he was still a fledgling actor he “was lucky enough to have been ‘brought in,’ and to have my voice heard as an important part of the creative process.”

He also shared a bit of esoteric advice. “Let whatever project comes your way be your ambition,” he said, sharing that becoming an actor was never “a childhood dream,” but something that he fell into. “Everything that has happened to me has been coincidental,” he said. “But the longer I’ve been doing this, the more ambitious I’ve become.” Not a bad way to go about your life. 

Mads Mikkelsen believes he can be 'annoying to work with'

Mads Mikkelsen told the Globe and Mail that he doesn’t see himself as one of those “tortured” actors who demands “my family call me Hannibal.” However, he admitted, “I take my work enormously seriously. When I do something, it has to feel right … I can be fairly annoying to work with. No compromises, let’s put it this way. Compromises are from hell.”

One of his more “annoying” traits, he explained, was that he tends to ask “a million questions, and I insist on having answers.” This, he said, is because he needs to understand “what the director wants. Some are very much in their head, and I need to force it out of them. I can’t just play around for eight hours and see if something happens. And I’ve called people in the middle of the night because there’s something I’ve been thinking about that we’re shooting the next day.”

Mikkelsen insisted that he doesn’t see himself as being “intimidating,” but understands how others may form that impression. “I never see that myself, but I hear it once in a while,” he added. “Hopefully, people figure out that I’m doing it all for the film.”

Comic books are important to Mads Mikkelsen

When it comes to his artistic influences, Mads Mikkelsen has made no secret of his love for comic books and kung-fu movies when he was growing up. “[I was] a complete addict. I spent half of my life reading comic books and the other half pretending I was Bruce Lee,” he told Backstage OL while promoting his role in Marvel’s Doctor Strange. “So you can imagine when I got the phone call of doing a Marvel film and doing flying kung fu, it was like ‘Finally!'”

He also addressed his affection for comic books in an interview with Polygon. “It is an enduring love,” Mikkelsen explained. Comic books, he said, can provide “an escape for a lot of people; it was for me as a kid as well. You escaped into fantasy and you could be any one of these guys.”

As for Bruce Lee, he described himself to ShortList as being “a dedicated fan. I kind of dressed up like him and I certainly believed that I had his skills as well. Him and [silent film comedian] Buster Keaton were two enormous icons when I was a kid.” 

Mads Mikkelsen is a knight on and off the screen

In the 2004 feature film King Arthur, Mads Mikkelsen played Sir Tristan, one of the legendary knights of King Arthur’s Round Table. Just a handful of years later, Mikkelsen became an actual knight, recognized by the French government for his achievements in cinema.

As Denmark’s The Local reported, in 2016 he was made a Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters at a ceremony in Copenhagen. When conferring the honor on Mikkelsen, France’s ambassador to Denmark, François Zimeray, praised Mikkelsen as “an all-round actor, whose face tells it all: the hardships and joys of life.” Zimeray went on to celebrate the actor’s willingness to “[take] a risk every time he embodies a new character,” and then compared his performance style to that of “a man on the edge of the abyss.”

Accepting the honor, Mikkelsen referenced his upcoming role as a member of the jury at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival, which he described as heralding the beginning of “a new chapter in my love story with France.” 

Mads Mikkelson once crashed his rare motorcycle

In addition to comic books and Bruce Lee movies, Mads Mikkelsen is also an aficinado of vintage motorcycles, and owns one of the world’s rarest. “I’ve got a 1937 Nimbus, a Danish bike. It looks like something Steve McQueen would ride,” he revealed in an interview with The Times. “I love the freedom of it and it doesn’t go quite as fast as a modern bike, which pleases my wife.”

However, it’s a pretty safe bet that Mikkelsen’s wife, choreographer Hanne Jacobsen, was not so pleased when he crashed the bike. “I stopped at a red light and the next thing I knew there was a car driving right in front of me. I crashed into it and went flying,” he said in a 2012 interview with Scan Magazine. “Somehow I managed to flip in the air and land on my feet. I’m not sure how I did it but it might be the fact that I have a gymnastic background.” Talk about sticking an impressive — and ostensibly life-changing — landing. 

The acting bug bit two members of the Mikkelsen family

Mads is not the only famous Mikkelsen to appear in film and television. He brother, Lars Mikkelsen, is also an actor. His list of roles includes the Putin-like president of Russia in Netflix political drama House of Cards, villainous media mogul Charles Augustus Magnussen in BBC’s Sherlock, and Stregobor in the small screen adaptation of The Witcher. Given that both brothers wound up becoming in-demand Hollywood actors would indicate that they came from some sort of a showbiz background. Lars Mikkelsen, however, insists nothing could be further from the truth. 

According to a profile in The Guardian, the siblings’ parents were a bank employee and a nurse. “It’s crazy, I know,” Lars told The Guardian. “We tend to attribute it to a rebellion. Mads was a street-dancer and I was a juggler originally. The ’80s was a good time to try whatever appealed to you. The young generation now are pushed into further education, which I think is a bad thing. We were freer.” And hey, it sure seemed to work out for both of them.

Mads Mikkelsen has built up an enviable net worth

Mads Mikkelsen has been in some pretty big movies, which would suggest he’s had some pretty big paydays along the way. According to Celebrity Net Worth, Mikkelson has built up a tidy fortune estimated at $14 million, with his movie and TV work bolstered by such sidelines as being brand ambassador for Carlsberg beer.

Throughout his career, Mikkelsen has ping-ponged back and forth between smaller, independent films and massive Hollywood blockbusters, being paid accordingly. 

As he explained in an interview with Reader’s Digest, he enjoys being able to have the financial freedom to take on a job that, even if it doesn’t pay a lot, will offer him value in other ways. “It’s always a balance,” he explained. “Certain things that pay you a lot don’t interest you, but certain things that pay you a lot do interest you. And, of course, certain things that don’t pay much also interest you, and vice versa.” He acknowledged that he is “lucky” to be able to do the things he enjoys “because not everybody can do that” in his line of work. “But so far I haven’t done anything that I didn’t like doing,” he said. 

Arctic made Mads Mikkelsen feel like he 'was going crazy'

Moviemaking is usually a communal, collaborative endeavor, with actors surrounded by dozens if not hundreds of crew members who aren’t seen on camera yet contribute to creating the final onscreen product.

Yet there was one movie that Mads Mikkelsen made that made him feel so solitary he feared he was being pushed toward madness: Arctic, in which he played a man stranded in the remote frozen north after a plane crash. As Mikkelsen told the Independent, he spent the first part of production filming scenes by himself until actor María Thelma Smáradóttir showed up, playing a woman who barely survives a helicopter crash and is rescued by Mikkelsen’s character.

Mikkelsen said Smáradóttir’s arrival was “the happiest day on set” while making Arctic. “I had spent so much time alone at that point, I was going crazy,” he shared. “Having an actor to talk to and go through ideas with was just a gift from heaven. And obviously for the character himself, it was also the best day of his life.” As tragic as the circumstances surrounding her character’s arrival were, her presence was “a gigantic gift.” Clearly, Mikkelson was thrilled to put his days of ice-olation behind him. 

Mads Mikkelsen isn't into video games, but he is in one

It’s not uncommon for actors to voice characters in video games, but Mads Mikkelsen went above and beyond for Death Stranding. In the game, from acclaimed video game creator Hideo Kojima, Mikkelsen plays a mysterious figure alongside star alongside star Norman Reedus of The Walking Dead.

What makes Death Stranding so groundbreaking is the incredibly lifelike digital representation of the actors — which, in addition to Reedus and Mikkelsen, include Léa Seydoux, Margaret Qualley, and others — and required the actors to perform with numerous motion-capture sensors attached to their bodies.

In an interview with GQ, Mikkelsen admitted he’s “not a big gamer,” but his son is. “It was like the coolest thing he’d ever heard,” he said, describing his son’s reaction to learning he’d be meeting with Kojima. “Never mind all the films that I’ve done that I thought he’d find cool. This was the coolest thing.” After discussing the project with Kojima via Skpe, “I decided, on the Skype call, Let’s do it. I’m not sure what it is, but it sounds as if it’s going to be fun. And then we started working, and I found myself in a green room in a helmet.” Suffice to say, he was game.

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