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Mads Mikkelsen: "Benedict Cumberbatch is like Doctor Strange, in a way"

Bond baddie, Hannibal cannibal, Cumberbatch nemesis and soon-to-be Star Wars rogue. But what’s to fear from Mads Mikkelsen?

His ‘sinister gravitas’ won Mads Mikkelsen the role of Kaecilius, the key nemesis of Benedict Cumberbatch’s Doctor Strange in Marvel’s latest movie, said the film’s executive producer Stephen Broussard.

The 50-year-old Dane certainly has form as an antagonist, having played a villainous banker in Casino Royale, the eponymous cannibalistic psycho killer in Hannibal, and a dastardly accountant called out by Rihanna in the Bitch Better Have My Money video, to name but three…

The Big Issue: What is the key to creating a compelling opponent?

Mads Mikkelsen: In Doctor Strange we are dealing with an antagonist – or the villain, if you prefer – that has a point. It is brainy. There’s a lot of philosophy in this, isn’t there? Kaecilius wants to create a beautiful world, much better than it is now, where people are not suffering, there is no pain and we get a little bonus called eternal life. I think this makes him quite compelling. I don’t see what the issue is, why are you all against him?

Well, without going into spoilers, some of his methods are questionable…

Exactly, his way of getting there is immoral. A lot of sacrifices on the way. But there are always sacrifices in a good fight, that is how he sees it. Even Doctor Strange thinks Kaecilius may have a point. If you make the villain a mirror reflection of the hero, then you really have something.

Did you take much convincing to join the Marvel universe?

Not a lot. Nothing, actually. This is Marvel, it is Benedict playing Doctor Strange, and there was flying kung fu. What is not to like? I loved it. I’m a very physical person, I’ve done gymnastics all my youth, so it is a big part of me to throw myself into all the stunts.

Did you pick up any injuries?

Tonnes. If you do the same move, land on the same elbow, eventually it is going to hurt, right? It is impossible not to bruise yourself. That is fine. I loved the weeks of bootcamp to nail the fight scenes. We learnt our moves, worked with the stunt guys, but eventually me and Benedict had to do it for real. We had to find each other’s dance, because every individual has a different rhythm. We had some great fights and took good care of each other. But we also got a couple of real punches in each.

This is Marvel, it is Benedict playing Doctor Strange, and there was flying kung fu

How was sparring with Mr Cumberbatch?

Benedict picks things up so easily. It is ridiculous. He is like Doctor Strange in a way. If there is something he can’t get his head around he keeps going until he has sorted it. And when you put on the costume and make-up, it is a carte blanche. It allows you to go into that universe.

We’d love to see a straight drama with this cast – could you dig that too?

I make straight drama in Europe, with fantastic actors from Scandinavia. So it is not that I miss out. And I would love to do a straight drama with these guys. But I am very satisfied with doing flying kung fu with them as well!

With all the CGI, how do you visualise your surroundings when you are flying through different dimensions?

We had an animated version of all the physical scenes, to get the geography right. ‘Oh, so he is upside down and I am running along the wall, when I go around that corner, he is on my left?’ But nothing came close to the final result, which was just mesmerising. I was blown away. One of the best signs as an actor watching a film is that you forget you are in it. This film took me on a ride. Right now, they are so good, they can move the bar whenever they learn something new. Only the pen could make these worlds; now they have the ability to put it all on screen. Nothing is stopping it.

Talking of unstoppable, don’t you help build the Death Star in Rogue One [picture above, trailer below], the upcoming Star Wars film?

That is what people say, let’s see what happens.

Star Wars is another big world to enter…

It is enormous, right? Star Wars is the iconic stuff you grow up with. It feels surreal to be part of it and doesn’t make sense, but I’ll take it! We shot Rogue One first, then Strange. It is all about scheduling, and if you throw enough money at it, the post production work can happen really fast.

Do you want to escape back to reality after all this?

There is a reality within this universe. It can never be the same reality as you get within the small budget Dogme film, but we play on the same instrument. We still bring honesty into what we do.

You’ve been at the forefront of Danish drama for two decades – and it looks like it has never been stronger, on TV and in film?

I am pinching myself. When is it going to stop? It seems they keep producing things that have an interest around the world, so we will milk that cow as long as we can. There was a generation of filmmakers who came through and all wanted to change things. In Denmark, the film is the director’s and for that reason, they are solid, strong pieces of art. We started putting Denmark on the map, the work started travelling, and then the actors started travelling as well. We have been rolling since then.

Your brother [Lars Mikklelsen, aka The Killing’s Troels Hartman] has also taken on Cumberbatch, as Charles Augustus Magnussen in Sherlock. Do you need to join forces to take him down?

We haven’t got together to talk about that yet, but I think that has to be the final outcome. Because we can’t do it with just one of us. We have to team up. And I’m not even sure that two of us can take him down. I will have to call up some other Danes…

Doctor Strange is in cinemas now

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