Exclusive Interview: Mads Mikkelsen on The Hunt and Hannibal
Mads Mikkelsen has woven in and out of my personal film history. When I started researching Nicolas Winding Refn, I saw Mikkelsen in the films Pusher, Pusher II and Valhalla Rising. Of course he also played the classic Bond villain Le Chiffre in Casino Royale. Now he’s on TV every week as Dr. Hannibal Lecter on NBC’s “Hannibal.”
I got a chance to interview Mikkelsen for his latest film, The Hunt. It’s a Danish film about a very serious subject, and provided the perfect vehicle for an in-depth discussion about Mikkelsen’s work. He stars as Lucas, a schoolteacher falsely accused of molesting a kindergartener. Even though he is proven innocent, the accusation itself turns the whole town against him. I woke up early Wednesday morning to speak to Mikkelsen out of New York, and we went well over our allotted 20 minutes discussing the film’s themes and Mikkelsen’s craft. The Hunt opens in select theaters this weekend.
CraveOnline: This is a very tragic story for Lucas. What is the joy in getting to play him?
Mads Mikkelsen: Well, joy is a big word in that sense. It was a tragic story. It was a heartbreaking thing to read and a very frustrating thing to read. I guess the joy of bringing that to life on the big screen is that I think we’re telling an important story, something we need to talk about as people. We have to discuss these dilemmas that we are considering in the film. So that is the joy, and as an actor, I think it’s joyful to be part of a film where it’s almost like a portrait. You go to sleep with this guy and wake up with him, so we can start feeling his struggle instead of just seeing his struggle.
Important is a big word, and I agree it’s an important issue and a dramatic issue. What makes that entertaining as well? Because you don’t just want to be important.
No, obviously if there was just a political message, we would do something else. We are filmmakers and we are specifically trying to entertain people. So that is our first job but if it was as simple as we had a political message, it would be much cheaper to just stand up on a box and say out loud. Obviously we are filmmakers and we have suspense in the film and we make it into a piece of drama. That is sometimes a better way to sell the message than just stand on a box and speak out loud.
I think that’s why I use the word joy, because even though it’s a frustrating and tragic issue, I think it’s provocative that you get to explore it in an art form.
I totally agree with that. I think it is. I agree it’s important as well. Every film doesn’t have to have that weight but when you deal with a subject like this, it is luxury that we can sing about it instead of just saying it.
Is there ever any hope for Lucas? Is vindication even a possibility?
Well, we always knew that this film was going to end tragically in the sense that life will never be the same for him. That was never an option in the script, never an option for us. It would never go back to what it was. There will always be that little shadow hanging over him and the guy at the end is a symbol of that. He has to move on. This life is over.
Why didn’t he decide to leave sooner?
Well, we had that discussion in the beginning a lot. Exactly how and when do we want him to stand up for himself, in what way, in what manner? Leaving the city and saying, “Guys, I haven’t done anything. I’m now going to leave you. You can sit here with all your fake dreams” just felt a little cowardly. There’s something cowardly about it. Him insisting on staying was more like a stubborn hero thing. Obviously, he realizes at the very end that he couldn’t do it.
Ideally I think we all hope we could forgive people for an injustice, so maybe Lucas is trying to live that ideal.
I think ideally we can. If a guy has been accused of robbing the local bank, the second they figure out it wasn’t him, he will get a shoulder pat and a beer and everybody would laugh and say, “Hey, for a minute you got me there. I thought you stole my money.” That’s not what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with kids and when we’re dealing with kids, people become irrational and it becomes all emotional. My character is insisting on fighting this with being rational and being civilized, and this is a fight he cannot win.
Was it important that he stood up for himself in the supermarket when they refuse to serve him?
To a degree. It’s an interesting thing. We could have left him just walking out of there and it wouldn’t have been wrong. It might even have been more right. I think there was something in all of us, including the audience, that we wanted him to “Come on, for once, do something.” That’s the first time and the only time in the film that he behaves uncivilized and interestingly enough we’re applauding that. We love it. We thought it was great. That means that we liked Lucas to be uncivilized. We think that he should fight in an uncivilized manner, and that’s very interesting. As writers and actors, we felt we needed it and I think the audience really cherished it as well.
It’s a release for us, but then you realize it didn’t do any good.
Well, it didn’t necessarily do anything good but it didn’t do anything bad. These guys are not in the circle of trust. These guys are on the surface. They are people who heard the rumor and react like people probably would if that was the local rumor. So they are not important for him, for the story. It was merely a little sign of him for the first time not dealing with this in a civilized manner, and interesting enough, we loved it and I’m sure the audience does as well. The next step starts when he goes into the church. He’s approaching it differently. He just wanted to show the community that he belongs here and he’s allowed to come here. What happens in the church I think catches him with surprise as well. He didn’t plan it to go that far but he couldn’t help it.
Reading the script, did Lucas’s reactions surprise you at all?
Yeah, I was quite frustrated when I read it because I wanted him to do more, I wanted him to react. When we discussed that back and forth, I realized that he is reacting right away. He’s confronting the woman in the kindergarten right away. He’s confronting his friends right away and he’s saying he didn’t do it right away. But strangely enough, the doors are just closing in his face. The snowball is already running. He can’t really do anything else. Then I said, “What else should he do? Should he hit his friends? Should he hit the little girl? Should he hit the woman in the kindergarten?” That’s the beauty I think, and the frustration of the script. They’re all right. He can’t put his anger anywhere because he’s fighting an enemy he can’t see.
How about throwing his girlfriend out instead of trying to convince her that he’s innocent?
Well, I think that’s quite a human reaction. We didn’t want him to be going by the book constantly. It’s devastating for him that his girlfriend is asking him this question. It’s devastating. I mean, if my wife asked me a question like that, I would throw her out. Maybe not for the rest of my life but I would immediately do it as a reaction to “are you seriously asking me this question? Get out of here.” I think it’s a very human reaction. I don’t know if it’s going to benefit him but I think it’s human and it’s dramatic. His problem is obviously if he screams out loud, he’s guilty. If he’s quiet, he’s guilty. He’s constantly guilty. It doesn’t matter what he does.