Mads Mikkelsen is not a Method actor. "I don't buy into the concept of being immersed in the role," he admits. "I take the work seriously, and I will always do everything to stay in character while we're doing it, but I'm not going to force my family to call me a different name or anything. That's just pretentious."
His clear-cut approach to his craft may come as a surprise to those familiar with the complex, psychologically demanding roles that the Danish actor is best known for. Yet, acting wasn't a lifelong dream for Mikkelsen. A former gymnast, he worked as a professional dancer for nearly a decade before deciding to pursue acting in 1996. That same year, he made his big-screen debut in director Nicolas Winding Refn's first film, Pusher.
In the years since, Mikkelsen has starred in Oscar-nominated films including After the Wedding (2006), A Royal Affair (2012), The Hunt (2013) — all of which were Denmark's selections for the Oscars — and 2020's Another Round, which won Best International Feature Film. He has also dipped his toes into nearly every major Hollywood franchise, including Indiana Jones, James Bond, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Star Wars, and the Wizarding World.
Mikkelsen's latest, the historical epic The Promised Land, sees him playing a war veteran who sets out to conquer Denmark's inhospitable heath. The film reunites the actor with his A Royal Fair director, Danish filmmaker Nikolaj Arcel, and Mikkelsen says being able to jump back and forth between work in Hollywood and his home country is "a luxury."
"I not only enjoy it — it's an enormous privilege," he muses. His schedule being as busy as it is also requires Mikkelsen to bounce quickly from one role to the next, a process that he says is surprisingly "easy" for him because he doesn't let any one role consume his life. "Some actors that do that are very good, and some actors that do that are very bad. It's really got nothing to do with the quality of the work. I'd rather just be a professional liar. That's my job."
Below, Mikkelsen shares with A.frame his five favorite films, including the Martin Scorsese masterpiece that made him want to become an actor.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Paul Schrader
Obviously, Taxi Drive is a fantastic film. But when I saw it as a young man, I was used to seeing movies where Charles Bronson comes in, he kills the bad guy and cleans everything up, and it was always super cool and I loved it. So, I actually thought Taxi Driver was going to be a Charles Bronson film but with a guy named Robert De Niro. That’s what the poster made it look like, and the movie just blew my mind.
I'd never seen anything like it. I didn't like the character, then I liked him, then I didn't like him again. I was constantly being thrown back and forth, and when I stepped out of the movie theater after it was over, I was shell-shocked. I didn't want to be an actor at that time. I had no dreams of doing that. But ever since I saw Taxi Driver, I've always tried to create that kind of dilemma in the characters I play. I never play them completely good or completely bad. You have to realize that there's a human being in there, always. I think Taxi Driver is a brilliant film, and it completely changed my perspective on filmmaking.
Directed by: Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen | Written by: Adolph Green and Betty Comden
Singin' in the Rain is one of my favorite films. When I was a kid, I remember watching it and it all felt so effortless. It's so charming. Everybody in it is so charming, and the film is so good. The way they sing and dance is astonishing, and eventually, you find out that Gene Kelly was a perfectionist. He was so ambitious, but it comes across on-screen like they're all playing a game! I just love it. It makes me smile every time I see it, and I do watch it again once a year, every year. It remains just as charming as ever.
Directed by: Krzysztof Kieślowski | Written by: Krzysztof Kieślowski and Krzysztof Piesiewicz
It's technically 10 films, but I have to include the Dekalog. As an actor, I watched the Dekalog in drama school, and I was blown away. The films are so brilliantly made, and they're so surprising. There are maybe 50 actors in it that I'd never seen before, and they are all out of this world, and I've never seen any of those actors again. They just appeared in those films, and that was it. Everyone involved was from Poland, and they knew what they were doing. They made masterpieces.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola
Apocalypse Now had a big, big impact on me. I think it's out of this world. As a film, I love everything about it — obviously, Coppola’s direction, but also the way that the film took off and he couldn't control it. It probably ended up being very different from what he intended, but the performances in it, the cinematography, and the locations are all perfect. Let's not forget the music, either, which is also amazing. It's a masterpiece. I can't watch it every year like I do with Singin' in the Rain because it’s too heavy for that, but it's absolutely fantastic.
Directed by: Elem Klimov | Written by: Ales Adamovich and Elem Klimov
One other film I won't watch too many more times in my life — because it's even heavier than Apocalypse Now — is Come and See. It's a Russian film about the Second World War, and it follows this young man as he grows up very quickly. It's an absolute masterpiece, and it's something that not a lot of people have seen. It's very hard to watch, and it's not aiming to be. There's just something about the way they made it. It's not to shock us, but it does horrify you. It's a fantastic film.
I have to say: I'm so happy I included Singin’ in the Rain, because every other film on this list is pretty dark!