Mads Mikkelsen Talks DEATH STRANDING, How To Kill Zombies, And A Little Movie Called ROGUE ONE

In which Scott asks Hannibal what he does on his days off.

Author's Note: over the weekend, I attended the Rogue One junket in San Francisco, where I had the opportunity to interview several key cast members from Gareth Edwards' upcoming film. In conducting these interviews, I decided to take a slightly different approach from my peers: rather than shotgunning the standard series of Star Wars-related questions across the table, I opted to engage in more casual, freewheeling, Star Wars-tangential conversations. Enjoy.

How you doing today?

Very well! Oh (Mads notices that I'm recording via an iPhone app designed to look like a tape recorder), look at that!

Yeah. Isn't that fancy?

That's cool.

Y'know, I don't often get intimidated by actors, but you strike me as kind of an intense dude.

(Laughs) Oh, yeah?

Yeah. Do you think you're an intense guy?

I hear it. And I've learned it, that apparently I have this effect on people. But I don't know that I feel that way. I just get very engaged in things that I do. Sometimes that becomes a little overwhelming for people (laughs).

Perhaps that's the influence of Hannibal.

Maybe it's Hannibal.

I tell ya what, though, Men And Chicken did go a ways towards making you seem a little less scary.

(Laughs) Well, yeah. He's intense, but in a different way.

What do you do to relax? Like, what's your day off like?

Sports!

Really? What kind?

I bike. I play tennis. I box. I play all kind of ball. I mean, anything with a ball.

Makes sense. You've got a history of being a physical dude. You were a dancer--

Yeah, and a gymnast. 

I'm sure you've been asked a million times now about what drew you to the Rogue One role, so I'll spare you that. I'm more curious about what it's like when you get contacted about being in a movie like this, where it's this giant pop culture machine. When it happens, is there pressure, or any concern about how becoming a part of this huge mythology will change your life?

Well, yeah, that could be part of it. But I've sort of thrown that feeling away years ago. Hannibal was a big reason for me to throw that away. By then you'd seen a couple of very talented people play that character to perfection, and if we were to just run around fearing that constantly you'd never get anything done.

With Hannibal, we decided that we had the opportunity to do something else. It's a show, it's a different animal, it'd have a long run. We could save the energy of the character for a long time. And once you did that, you can start working freely. And you have to do that.

So, yeah, there's a lot of responsibility. But it should not be a cloud on you. You should be free. You should respect it, but be free. If you're not free, you won't be able to move.

So you were excited?

I was very excited! I thought it was super cool. And about time!

(Laughs)

It's not every day you can be a part of something you actually grew up with, y'know? Not a lot of those around. Maybe the Bond films, I guess. But done that, been there. But something that you grow up with and it's still around when you're an adult? That's rare. And then they ask you to be a part of it? That's even more rare.

Who was the first person you told after you got the offer?

Uhhh...I think my wife? I guess? Then my son and my daughter.

Man, they must've been so excited.

Oh, yeah. All of a sudden, it made sense to them, what I'm doing for a living.

More excited about this than Men And Chicken, I'm guessing.

(Laughs) Well, I think they're proud of their dad being an actor, but there's also a lot of it that they have no interest in.

Or that they couldn't see, right? I mean, I don't know how old they are...

They've seen pretty much everything at this point. But there were definitely certain things in the beginning that...y'know, they didn't see.

After Doctor Strange and Rogue One, what do you enjoy the most about big, blockbuster filmmaking versus something smaller? What's the most appealing thing about that to you as an actor?

The possibilities of doing something with the film that the wildest imagination couldn't come close to doing back home. Obviously we're talking big-scale sets, tons of extras, CGI on a level we just can't do, creating universes and fantasy films that is simply out of reach for us - that is definitely the bonus for an actor coming from Denmark.

Is it just crazy walking onto a set that's just, y'know--

It is! The first time you step onto one of these sets you're like, (scoffs) this isn't happening. You've got ten budgets of Danish films right here (laughs)!

Right. And the iconography of it is just ... like, if I had to go into work one day and all of my co-workers were extras in Stormtrooper outfits, I think I'd just be blown away by how surreal that is.

It is surreal! Over there (he points behind me) you can hear Mr. Ben Mendelsohn talking about his first encounter with Darth Vader. That's completely crazy, y'know? But that fan hat has to come off pretty quickly. You have to dig down and get it done. We are in that environment as an actual thing. We cannot be looking at it. We have to throw it away. Then on your smoking breaks or whatever you have, you can step back and look at it and enjoy it, but while you're doing it, no.

I think, for someone on the outside looking in, it's hard to even wrap your head around what that'd be like.

It is, it is. But then, we've been doing this for some years. So there are certain things that we now take for granted as part of our work where, the first time we encounter it, it's a little, "Oh my god!" But now we just take it for granted because it's part of our work. 

Do you think you'd ever get to a point with it where everything would be just part of the work? Where none of it's impressive anymore?

No, I think I can always be impressed. And I think that's good. To be impressed by colleagues or directors or sets or the costumes. We should always be able to be impressed. 

What's your least favorite part of the job?

(Thinking) My least favorite part of the job...

Lemme come at it from a different angle. I'll give you a for-instance.

OK.

Whenever I do these things, I always feel really bad for the actors. Because if I had to sit where you are, answering the same questions from one person after another for hours on end, it'd just drive me nuts.

That's part of the job. This part I don't mind it at all. I mean, I'll put it this way: I definitely wouldn't mind only doing it for two or three days. The problem is we do it for weeks. And you have to refresh your way of answering. But I can do that.

I think maybe, though, that sometimes being part of a big machine doesn't necessarily mean you're part of a fast machine. There's a certain energy when you do this stuff where you're on kind of a roll, and you want to keep the momentum, and you cannot always do that on big-scale films. If you want to re-set a scene, it might take half an hour to get all the extras (back in place), or rebuild that wall before we break it again or whatever. That's frustrating when we can't keep that momentum. But when that happens, you've just gotta stay in the zone, be ready in half an hour to go again. I would love it if we could magically do that faster.

So you've been in two of this year's biggest movies - I mean, whatever happens, Rogue One's gonna be huge - and you've done a slew of smaller indies. And now, just recently, we found out you're getting into video games, with Hideo Kojima's Death Stranding.

Yeah, yeah! Really, I am.

I'm sure you can't talk much about the plot, but--

No, but (laughs), it's very intricate. I mean, you know (Kojima). He's a very brilliant man. I mean ... the stuff he told me? I only understood some of it.

(Laughs)

There was a lot of (mimes being baffled) "What?" I have to see it before I understand. Because with Death Stranding, he's creating something completely new.

Were you familiar with Kojima before you got the call? I mean, are you a gamer?

Not as a gamer. But then people told me and showed me things, and I was like, "Oh, yeah, I've seen that before." And when I told my son he was like, "What?!" (laughs)

I bet. "You gotta do this!"

Yeah, absolutely. But I also saw the trailer he had done with Norman Reedus, and I thought that was spectacular just from the standpoint of an actor. The emotion, the feeling of it, the sensuality in what he does. Without even being a gamer, I was like, this is crazy, what he's doing. I loved it.

I almost feel like I just want Kojima to make the leap to making films, y'know? I know that's not interactive, so it's an entirely different medium, but--

Well, in a way, he is making films. He's creating his own worlds.

Fair.

And he's letting us be the director, in a way. 

Most, if not all, of your work in Death Stranding is going to be motion-capture.

All of it, yeah.

You don't have extensive experience with that, I'd imagine, right?

Well, I did some motion-capture on Rogue One, and some on Doctor Strange. There were certain things that we had to use that for, that had to be replaced. I mean, you can do a lot stunts, you know? We can fall from four floors. But we can't do it for one hundred floors. So for that, we did some motion-capture. For those last ninety-six floors (laughs).

Right.

So I've done some, but not as much as I'll do on Death Stranding. This is all in.

So what kind of muscles does that flex that normal acting doesn't?

It's very different. You're alone, there's nobody to interact with or react to. It's just green screen and electronics. And it's also the opposite of acting sometimes, because we have to do everything in super slo-motion (Mads begins making exaggerated facial expressions very, very slowly), which is not normally what we do when we act. Usually, to a degree, we are trying to hide it! So it's really quite opposite. But once you get into that training, it's really quite interesting.

What genre have you not worked in that you'd really like--

(Interrupting, somewhat excitedly) Zombies!

Really?

Haha, yeah.

Really?

Yeah! I love zombies.

What's your favorite zombie thing?

I do love watching Walking Dead. I do. There's something so fascinating, where (Mads is getting very excited) when the zombies are moving sufficiently slowly, you actually want to live in that world, you know?

Really? Why?

Because you can just fucking chop the shit out of them!

(Hard laugh)

But you should always be aware! Don't get too close up! Because that's when (Mads mimes biting someone's neck as a zombie) that's when they come.

Yeah. You fooled yourself into thinking they're not a threat.

(Gleeful) Right!

So you prefer the slow zombies to the fast zombies? 

They are quite fascinating, the fast ones. Like World War Z. But it's also too scary, man (laughs). That's too fast for me. I wouldn't stand a chance.

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