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Mads Mikkelsen on Surviving the Polar Wilderness in ‘Arctic’

Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, best known for playing villains in “Hannibal” and “Casino Royale,” has a more nuanced role in Joe Penna’s “Arctic.” In the survival thriller, written by Penna and Ryan Morrison, and being sold in Cannes by XYZ Films, Mikkelsen plays a man stranded in the polar wastes after a tragic accident. Mikkelsen spoke to Variety about the movie, which is produced by Armory Films and Union Editorial.

How would you describe your character in “Arctic”?
He is you and me, he is everybody. Time has taken its toll on him being alone in the Arctic for so long. He doesn’t have a real past; you don’t get know much about him – does he have a family and so forth. We wanted him to be anyone who was trapped in this terrible situation.

What attracted you to the role?
I’ve read a few things like this before and they always fall into the trap of flashbacks, going down memory lane and a little of romance — for me that’s always disturbing for a story that is quite beautiful and radical in itself; we don’t need to add more emotions to that. Every time I turned a page I thought ‘Oh, please don’t let this happen,’ and it didn’t. It just felt as if [the writers] were in tune with the character while they were writing it, and [not just writing] what the audience wanted.

What part does the landscape play in the film?
It is the main character in many ways. It’s the thing that is unchangeable. I have no impact on the landscape, but it has enormous impact on me. I am a tiny person in the midst of the universe.

Is the landscape a hostile environment or is your character in tune with it?
Both. When we meet him, he’s been there for a while and it is kind of friendly, but he is sort of under siege; you could say he [feels] comfortably numb – he has come to terms with where he is and why he is there, and he is waiting it out. In some ways the film asks: “You can survive but does that mean you are alive?” When a second person enters the film the whole idea of being alive becomes very present.

Was it a difficult shoot?
This was by far the most difficult shoot I’ve ever done, which is saying a lot because I’ve done a lot of crazy stuff in my life. We had the nature, the wind, the snow, the cold; we had long hours of shooting and I was in every scene. It was brutal, not just physically but emotionally too — I was always on the edge emotionally. It was a very draining shoot.

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