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Mads Mikkelsen Tells His ‘Billy Elliot’ Story at Göteborg

GOTEBORG —  The excitement was palpable on Thursday in the Stora Theatern, when Göteborg Film Festival artistic director Jonas Holmberg appeared on stage to present Danish actor right before the screening of the Academy Award-nominated “The Hunt,” which still drew astonished gasps from the crowd. Quickly advertising the actor’s latest film “Arctic” (“It’s all about Mads Mikkelsen. Since almost everything else is white, it’s very easy to see him”), Holmberg welcomed director Thomas Vinterberg, arriving in town mere minutes before the event.

“I am very proud of ‘The Hunt.’ The only sad thing about it is that the reality is much worse,” he said. “But there is beauty in this film, and one of the beauties is Mads Mikkelsen, even though we tried to give him some glasses and a weird haircut. It was possibly the best collaboration I have ever had.”

“This city is actually where my career started,” Mikkelsen shared later in conversation with Dagens Nyheter’s film editor Helena Lindblad, referring to his short-lived stint at a local ballet academy. “It was kind of a ‘Billy Elliot’ story – I was from a working-class background and I couldn’t tell my friends I was a dancer. Then, many years later, it was my first film festival. We didn’t win anything, but we were among adults who made real films. And here I am, receiving this award.”

It was in fact his non-acting background that got him his first role inNicolas Winding Refn’s “Pusher.” “Nicolas hated actors. Hated! But somebody told him there was this guy in drama school that nobody could understand.”

As the evening went on, Mikkelsen discussed a career spanning over 20 years. One that included “Casino Royale,” “After the Wedding,” “Royal Affair” and “Hannibal,” mentioned to a cacophony of loud cheers from “fannibals” in the room.

“Once we had foie gras on set and it was so good we deliberately fucked up our lines with Laurence Fishburne to eat it again,” gossiped the actor, also addressing his tendency to play characters with eye issues. “If you want to make a drastic change to somebody’s face, you go for the eye. If you try to do something to somebody’s lip, everybody goes: It’s gross, I don’t want to watch that.” But even with such blockbusters under his belt as “Doctor Strange” or “Rogue One,” he wasn’t trying to differentiate.

“In Europe, I always get this question about the difference between European and American cinema. I didn’t grow up watching French films; I grew up with Bruce Lee. I don’t want to pick. Most actors are like that, they are just not brave enough to say it.”

Still, with his new collaboration with Vinterberg shaping up into an ensemble film about “the beauty of drinking alcohol,” Mikkelsen isn’t quite done with Denmark just yet. “It was a pure time,” he said, referring to the years when Dogme 95 made its mark on the world. “We were not hot, but we were young. We thought people were watching us and that’s the most important thing for a filmmaker today: You have to make your film. If it doesn’t work, you are to blame. But if it does, you are the hero. That’s what Dogme was all about.”

With references to Swedish culture garnering spontaneous applause from the Göteborg audience, Mikkelsen also professed his love for actor Max Von Sydow. In 2010, they voiced “Moomins and the Comet Chase.” “They decided to have all these Scandinavian actors speaking English with their funny accents. Now I always say I made a film with Max Von Sydow, even though we never actually met.”

But the name he kept on mentioning the most was that of Martin Scorsese. “I don’t like ‘Taxi Driver’ – I love ‘Taxi Driver.’ I am watching a guy I don’t like and then later I like him, and then I don’t like him again. That’s clever filmmaking,” he added, before answering questions from the crowd, when he suggested his key concern in acting.

“What we have right now is an identity war and I am not interested. We want each other to be individuals, not a part of some group that’s being oppressed. I dive into my character – I am not sending a message.”

The Nordic Honorary Dragon is given to inspiring Nordic filmmakers whose works deserves particular attention. It was awarded for the first time in 2014 to Baltasar Kormakur, later joined by Liv Ullmann, Susanne Bier and Alicia Vikander.

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