Interview | Mads Mikkelsen on ‘Doctor Strange’ and Stealing the Millennium Falcon
Mads Mikkelsen, soft-spoken and classy, sits down on a couch next to you. You know him from his star-making turn as Hannibal Lecter in the acclaimed cult favorite TV series Hannibal. You know he’s got an important part to play in the upcoming Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And you know he just got done menacing Doctor Strange in the latest Marvel Studios superhero spectacular. What do you say?
Well, if you’re me, you sit right down and start reminiscing with a performer you’ve interviewed many times. Mads Mikkelsen is an inviting presence, with a kind and joking demeanor, who loves all the things you love but talks about them with just a bit more sophistication than you’re used to. He digs Marvel movies. He digs Star Wars. But he plays it cool.
Even so, he still wishes he’d stolen the Millennium Falcon off the set of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Sit back and enjoy my interview with Mads Mikkelsen – which contains some SPOILERS for Doctor Strange – about his most popular projects, old, new and coming up soon.
Crave: It seems like you’re having a lot of fun in this movie. What aspect of this was giving you the most joy?
Mads Mikkelsen: I mean, it’s Marvel. It’s a universe that you enter, and that gives you a span that’s a little different than it does in a realistic world, in many ways. And obviously the physical parts have been tremendously fun for us to do, even though it would have been easier when we were twenty-something. We had a big smile on our faces when we went home every night.
Did you have to do a lot of martial arts training?
Yeah, we did quite a bit. I think we started up a month, maybe five weeks before, and got the basics of all the moves we’d be doing in the film, and then we got into the actual fights, more specific. The first week was really, really tough because it was muscles you haven’t touched since you were a baby, right? It was fucking crazy. But we got better and better and it got easier and easier, and so it was just became a drug. It was so much fun to be a part of it.
And you had to do it in this weird eye makeup. Could you tell me about that? It looks like it didn’t restrict your vision much, at least…
It didn’t restrict anything, not even your facial movements. It was such a refined piece of work they did. It looks extreme but it doesn’t feel that extreme once you’re wearing it. It was just a very, very cool look they came up with and you have to see it really close-up. It’s like a painting that’s cracked, and it’s elaborate, and we’d spend a couple of hours, sometimes three hours putting it on. But there was no restrictions. The only pain was that obviously when we took it off our skin was not super pleased with it.
It’s so focused on the eyes, it seems to highlight the idea that your perception is altered in both a cosmic, mystical sense but also just the motivation for your character, which I thought was kind of the most interesting part.
Yeah, I mean for me and my followers it’s a sign, obviously, of being devoted the beliefs that we have. The end goal of what we want is not necessarily that much different from what Strange would love. It makes sense. I have a point. The means, obviously, the stuff we’re discussing here, can you do it like that? [Laughs.] Obviously my character thinks that’s the fastest and best way to do it, and he has some followers.
When we’re introduced to Kaecilius he’s stealing stuff, and he’s getting in battles, and it’s not until about halfway through the film that you’re forced to just sit there and talk about what you stand for. It seems like what you stand for, or what’s driving him, is a fear or anxiety about death. Is that it?
It’s not necessarily a fear. It’s more like it’s unjust. It’s dumb. [Laughs.]
The universe itself, and the way it works?
It completely is mad. Why should we walk this planet and then disappear? I mean, there isn’t an alternative. I think he’s not the only person who has asked himself that question! [Laughs.]
I ask myself that question every day.
And it’s like, what’s the purpose then? If there is an alternative – which there is – why don’t we go and grab it? So I don’t think it’s based too much on fear, it’s more based on… it’s unjust. There are other people around who are actually benefitting from eternal life, and so why shouldn’t we?
It’s a valid concern. I don’t know, it just seems to me from my perspective, a person in the audience, a weak human being with no magic who has no other option, I look what Kaecilius is talking about and it seems like such a fantasy. It seems like something like I would partake in because I’m scared of dying.
Yeah, I mean you can always put fear in there but I think, in his words, it just doesn’t make sense. It simply doesn’t make sense that it’s like this. Why wouldn’t we just hook up togetherer and change this? Obviously we have to get rid of some people in our way but I mean, the goal justifies the means, and once we’re there, like any good dictator, the world will be perfect. Right?
You have a group of followers in the film. We don’t get to know them terribly well but the implication is that you spend a lot of time together. Do you establish relationships with those actors, or do you feel like Kaecilius is more of a General and less of an alpha male within a group of friends?
He’s the alpha male. He’s also willing to sacrifice his own people if that serves the cause, right? As a person, as an actor, I get to know them very well. We’re hanging out every day, training every day, working out every day and doing the fights together. So yeah, they became close friends of each other and me, and because that was basically my group I was doing everything with them until we met somebody who was the enemy, right? So on a personal level I got to know them. Kaecilius probably keeps them at an arm’s distance just for the sake of that day when he has to get rid of some of them.
So it looks, at the end of the film, like we may have seen the end of Kaecilius. But I don’t know, have you gotten superhero movies out of your system? Or would you want to explore more in this genre?
No, this was super fun. I’ll jump on board any time if that’s the case. And as you say, it’s a Marvel film. A lot of things can happen! He’s not what we call “dead dead.” He has moved. [Laughs.] And you can always move again. So you never know!
I know you can’t talk a lot about Star Wars…
Of course not. But can you tell me what that experience is like, of being cast in Star Wars, of being on the set of Star Wars? Does that feel different than any other movie, or as an actor, is it just another job?
It is another job, and we try to make any job intimate and make the scenes as if this is what it’s all about, and then obviously there’s something around us that is called Star Wars, right? And we have to respect that but we also have to try to make the scenes work as independent scenes. But obviously the difference is that you’re walking around a large 50-feet table where all the Stormtroopers helmets are lying and the guns and lightsabers, and you go, “Wait a second! That IS a lightsaber! Yeah!” So obviously you’re in a universe that is so iconic that it’s hard to ignore it.
When you’re on that set do you resist the urge to grab a souvenir when no one’s looking?
I did resist it, but it was hard. There was a lot of stuff you want to put your hands on, and never let go again.
Is there one that you wish you could go back for? “I should have taken that lightsaber?”
No, I think I’ll just go for the Falcon. [Laughs.]
The whole Millennium Falcon? Just in your backyard?
It’s so tricky to bring it, to sneak it out when the guard doesn’t see it.
“Hey Mads, the Millennium Falcon is missing. Can we take a look at your backyard?”
Obviously we’re all hoping someday Hannibal will return.
I’ve talked to Bryan Fuller about it and it sounds like he has wonderful ideas. Is there update on that, or is it still just “Hopefully one day?”
No, I think Bryan will not update when there are just ideas and rumors. I think he will update when there’s a little more specific [information] coming that way. I think we’ve talked about that before. It’s out of our system. We left it somewhere where we are very proud of it, and it’s a brilliant, clever, clever show in my opinion and I think that we all felt like that. So obviously now, including Bryan, we’re doing different things. But if he picks up the phone one day to try to gather the group I think that everybody would love to.
One thing I never asked you before was, over the course of Hannibal, did you get to be a better cook?
Not necessarily. I learned certain things, actually. There were certain things that she was very smart, Janice [Poon] who was teaching me and doing all the recipes together with José [Andrés]… so yes, I learned certain things but the actual flavor of the cooking and stuff was her business. I was a fairly good chopper, but now I am an insanely good chopper with a knife, and I can flip stuff and catch it with knives.
All those little tricks we did ourselves. Eggs up, catch it there. It was really fun.
Top Photo: Jeff Spicer-Getty Images for Disney
William Bibbiani (everyone calls him ‘Bibbs’) is Crave’s film content editor and critic. You can hear him every week on The B-Movies Podcast and Canceled Too Soon, and watch him on the weekly YouTube series Most Craved, Rapid Reviews and What the Flick. Follow his rantings on Twitter at @WilliamBibbiani.