In his home country of Denmark, Mads Mikkelsen is big. George Clooney big. He’s been voted “sexiest man in the world,” won the Danish equivalent of an Oscar and is the one star who consistently packs ’em in at theaters.
But as the James Bond franchise reinvents itself with “Casino Royale,” Mikkelsen will be transforming his international profile as well, thanks to a highly visible role as 007 archvillain Le Chiffre (played by none other than Peter Lorre and Orson Welles in previous versions).
“Nobody knows who I am here, so it’s definitely starting over in the sense of being known. But I’ve been doing this for a while now, so that’s fine,” says Mikkelsen, who also will be courting U.S. auds as a dreamy humanitarian whose sex appeal gets in the way of his change-the-world ideals in “After the Wedding,” Denmark’s official Oscar selection.
Since his American film debut in Antoine Fuqua’s “King Arthur” in 2004, the 41-year-old former dancer has just skirted Hollywood fame. His demo reel has made the rounds of top Hollywood casting directors, and the thesp was seriously considered for co-starring roles in “The Da Vinci Code” and “North Country.”
It was his part in Dogma 95 film “Open Hearts” that caught “Casino Royale” producer Barbara Broccoli’s attention. “We had to be sure that he could be a worthy opponent to James Bond,” says Broccoli, who uses words like “flawless” and “electrifying” to describe Mikkelsen’s performance. “I saw Mads in ‘Open Hearts’ and was impressed with his power and strength onscreen.”
“It definitely put him on the radar with people who didn’t already know him,” says his L.A. rep, Sandra Chang of Industry Entertainment. “The way this town works, everything is by list, and suddenly you wind up higher on the list.”
But Bond films don’t usually make stars out of their villains, says Box Office Mojo publisher Brandon Gray, adding that “Casino Royale” could serve as a nice platform to launch Mikkelsen in more traditional roles.
“A good example is Sean Bean,” says Gray. “He played the villain in ‘GoldenEye,’ Pierce Brosnan’s debut as 007. He didn’t go on to be a leading man in America, but he continues to be a very prolific actor, doing a lot of big movies.”
According to Mikkelsen, who has yet to choose another American project, finding the right material is more important than the fame. “I still have Denmark, and I’m definitely going to live and work there for the rest of my life,” he says. “Whatever happens outside of Denmark is just icing on the cake for me.”
The actor made his film debut in 1996 as a small-time hood/junkie in “Pusher.” For the next several years his films — including “Flickering Lights,” “Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself” and “The Green Butchers” — made the festival circuit. Back in Scandinavia, it was his perf in the 2000 gritty police drama “Unit One” that catapulted him to Clooneylike star status.
In addition to “Casino Royale” and “After the Wedding,” Mikkelsen has had a busy year abroad, starring in Peter Lindmark’s Swedish action thriller “Exit” and relationship drama “Prague” by Ole Christian Madsen.
“I’ve never thought about having a career, to be honest,” says Mikkelsen. “I’ve always tried to focus on the jobs and, hopefully, eventually that will become a career later on.”