Mads Mikkelsen comes across as a painfully serious actor. In both his European movies (he's from Denmark) and his more famous mainstream roles (he's played memorable baddies in "Casino Royale" and, more recently, "Doctor Strange"), he comes across as a pillar of professionalism and a kind of laser-focused intensity. So it's somewhat surprising that he would follow-up "Doctor Strange" with "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story" (opening this weekend). Maybe this is his "fun run."
In "Rogue One," Mikkelsen plays Galen Erso, a scientist recruited by the evil Galactic Empire to work on a weapon of huge scale and destruction–the Death Star. But, of course, he's a complicated man and his commitment to freedom and his daughter, a young Rebel named Jyn (Felicity Jones) leads him to smuggle crucial information out of the Empire's steely grip. From there, things get really hairy.
When I sat down Mikkelsen at Lucasfilm to talk about all things "Rogue One," he was surprisingly warm and open. We talked about his "Star Wars" fandom, whether or not the movies were as big in Denmark, what it was like doing "Doctor Strange" and "Star Wars," and whether or not he'd have dressed as an Ewok if they had asked him (the answer is yes).
What did "Star Wars" mean to you?
I caught that train late. I was 14 when I first watched the movies, back-to-back, thanks to a rental box set on VHS. And I'm not sure why I saw it late but I was blown away and ever since then I was a fan.
Culturally, is it as big a deal in Denmark?
It is. I think that was the first time I had ever heard of people sleeping outside for a couple of days just to get tickets. That was the only time I had ever heard of that, besides the Beatles.
You've compared your character to Oppenheimer, in the sense that he's this scientist who has amazing knowledge but is using it to questionable ends. Did you reference that directly?
Well, it's an obvious thing. You have a nuclear power, you have such wonderful thing that can solve the energy problems of the world. On the other hand, it can do something else. And deep down I believe this guy wants to solve the problems of the universe but he's not dumb, he knows how it can be used. He does get cold feet eventually. But, at the same time, like any good scientist, he's also f*cking curious. Because that's his nature -- he's a scientist. So he bails and they bring him back and that's when the sh*t hits the fan. And now I'm in a giant dilemma.
He's a very morally complicated character. And, in that introductory scene between you and Ben Mendelsohn, there's some real acting going on.
Was that part of the appeal for you -- to get to do scenes this meaty in a big spectacle?
Maybe not. I've been in these movies before, and I've seen "Star Wars," obviously. But I knew that Gareth [Edwards] wanted to make a grittier version and that he wanted to bring it back to the original feel of the films, make it character-driven, and I think that was one of the biggest appeals of this film. But to be honest the second they said "Star Wars," I said, "YES!"
You could have played an Ewok.
Whatever! Put a helmet on me!
You talk about gritty ... and that introductory scene you guys are so wet. Was it uncomfortable?
I was colder than our dear Ben Mendelsohn was because he was wearing his f*cked-up rain-proof cape. I was not. But it was raining heavily on Iceland. It was beautiful, it was great for the film, I love Iceland, but I couldn't wait to get into the studio and do some of the other scenes. And that's when they came up with the idea that the big screen on the platform should be in the rain. So it was raining indoors for two weeks. I didn't have one scene where it didn't rain.
Did it add to the performance?
It added to your flu. But it's a great look. It's a great look when it rains.
Was there a lot of the movie that was explained to you, since it wasn't there?
Actually, it wasn't too tricky. A lot of it was built. We had a platform that was 400 meters long. It was f*cking gigantic. We had a lot of the stuff. And, obviously, we were outdoors in Iceland and had a lot of the stuff. There was very little CGI in my world that I needed to be told about. Obviously, an airplane comes or whatever but that's easy to imagine. There was definitely less CGI.
You were also in "Doctor Strange" earlier this year, which is a testament to how much Disney loves you.
They love me! I love Disney!
Was it satisfying to see all of those insane visual effects pulled off?
That was cool. But that is CGI in a way that we can only hope that this is what it's going to look like. And what if they run out of money? What if it looks like a little rabbit jumping around and nothing happens. But, luckily, it blew me away. It was diving into a universe that we'd never seen before.
These movies are very, very different, but they're both huge movies. Was that part of the appeal for you?
That's true. These two films are things that we could never dream about doing back home. So the appeal of doing these films is that I will never get a chance to make films like that unless I do them here.
But does doing these movies offer their own unique challenges?
Oh sure -- challenges and benefits. There's always obstacles on all films, whether it's a small kitchen sink drama or whether it's a big-budget film. You always have to get around those and fall in love with the project. You have to want to see the film yourself in order to commit to the project. And I desperately wanted to see this film.
Do you approach them any differently?
Not too different. The bible is still the script. This is where we start, this is where the discussions with the writer and director and fellow actors comes from, and then we make it as intimate as we can even though we're standing in a "Star Wars" film. We try to make it real. These characters belong in a "Star Wars" universe so it's real to them. We shouldn't make it unreal either.
Can you talk about working with the other actors?
Well, Felicity is just a wonderful, talented actress who possesses the ability to be very powerful and very fragile in the same situation. And the camera loves her. I also got to work with two other versions of her, at four years old and eight years old. And me and Ben spent a lot of time together. He's a lovely man -- so funny, so intelligent. There's never a dull moment on set when he's around.
You've been in a James Bond movie, a Marvel movie, and now a "Star Wars" movie. Is there any franchise you'd love to be a part of?
What about "Hannibal"? Oh, I've done that! No ... I'm very pleased and very fortunate to be in these things. It's always a surprise what time will bring. It's always a surprise. I'm trying to avoid being ambitious with my career like, "Oh, I want to do that!" Nope. What comes my way that I accept to do becomes the most important job. I become extremely ambitious on the project. I'm trying to make the stepping stones the most important thing.
Have little kids started to recognize you from "Doctor Strange"?
Some have. Scarily enough, some have recognized me from "Hannibal." Talk to their parents! But "Star Wars" will change that. There's nothing like having kids as fans. It's just fantastic.
"Rogue One: Star Wars Story" is out Friday.