I hold the Danish thespian, Mads Mikkelsen, in high regard. I think of him as my nation’s finest actor, but also possibly the finest actor of his generation. He has proven himself both in his home country, overseas, and even in Hollywood. He’s a Bond-villain, a Marvel supervillain, and Hannibal the Cannibal. But he is also so much more than that. He is a skilled actor of many talents, who can be more than just a villain. He’s a star. Today, let’s take a trip through Mads Mikkelsen’s glorious career, as I rank his ten best roles and performances.
Unit One – #10
- ‘Allan Fisher’ in Unit One (Series) (Original Danish Title: Rejseholdet).
Honestly, I wasn’t sure what to go with at #10. I debated placing Anders Thomas Jensen’s Flickering Lights or Nikolaj Arcel’s A Royal Affair here, but, in the end, I went with the remaining performance that means the most to me. And, at the end of the day, I have a soft spot for Unit One. This was the show that made me a fan of Mads Mikkelsen. He was, quite frankly, the reason why I would return to the show time and time again. As Fisher, he showed early signs of the kind of magnetic actor he would become.
Pusher – #9
- ‘Tonny’ in Pusher I & II.
Before Nicolas Winding Refn teamed up with Ryan Gosling for the films Drive and Only God Forgives, he introduced Mads Mikkelsen to the world. I haven’t seen these films in more than a decade, but they do stick with you. There are times when I still think back to that image of a younger bald Mads Mikkelsen in the streets of Copenhagen exercising his raw acting talents. His growth as an actor was highlighted in these two films, and, as #10 and #9 suggest, I highly recommend that fans of Mikkelsen return to his roots to experience the Danish star at a very different time in his career.
Adam’s Apples – #8
- ‘Ivan’ in Adam’s Apples (Original Danish Title: Adams Æbler).
I really want Mikkelsen to star in an American Coen Bros. comedy. If you doubt that he has the comedic gifts to pull it off, then you have to check out the films that he has made with Danish writer-director Anders Thomas Jensen. In Jensen’s films, Mikkelsen is often seen playing colorful oddball characters, and he is absolutely terrific in this black comedy. Mikkelsen plays an oblivious priest in the film, and I think he is the reason why this film works so well. Mikkelsen’s dynamic with Ulrich Thomsen is solid, and his great deadpan delivery is one of the reasons why this Jensen comedy is so memorable.
After the Wedding – #7
- ‘Jacob’ in After the Wedding (Original Danish Title: Efter Brylluppet).
Susanne Bier’s After the Wedding was perhaps always fated to be remade. It is a moving film about family secrets that ended up being nominated for an Oscar, but it will now probably primarily be known as the film that Bart Freundlich’s 2019 remake was based on. This, of course, always happens when influential American producers like what they see overseas. But I urge fans of Mads Mikkelsen to check out this Susanne Bier film. Mikkelsen’s performance is perhaps more understated than his co-stars Rolf Lassgård and Sidse Babett Knudsen, but, as fans of the great Dane know well, Mikkelsen can do a lot with nonverbal communication. This is actually a film that I think about quite a lot, even though I’ve never mentioned it on the blog before.
Casino Royale – #6
- ‘Le Chiffre’ in Casino Royale.
Though it is perhaps not his breakthrough role when you look at his entire career, Mikkelsen’s role in Casino Royale was the one that catapulted him into relative stardom. Mikkelsen’s Bond-villain is, in my mind, the single most memorable villain in Daniel Craig’s time as James Bond, at the very least thus far, and that’s not just due to the character-shaping make-up. Mikkelsen walked in the footsteps of Peter Lorre and Orson Welles and, ultimately, reshaped the public perception of the Le Chiffre character. His great performance is one of the reasons why Casino Royale is remembered fondly.
The Green Butchers – #5
- ‘Svend’ in The Green Butchers (Original Danish Title: De Grønne Slagtere).
The Green Butchers is one of the Anders Thomas Jensen black comedies that has captured the interest of Danish audiences. Although The Green Butchers may not be the most well-known of his films, this very Danish take on Sweeney Todd gave Mads Mikkelsen plenty to work with. Sporting his acting career’s worst haircut, Mikkelsen plays the pedantic and thin-skinned ‘Sweaty’ Svend, a Danish butcher who teams up with Nikolaj Lie Kaas’ Bjarne to open a butcher shop. As the Sondheim reference may have given away, they eventually start to sell ‘unauthorized meat,’ so to speak.
This is definitely not Mikkelsen’s most lauded or well-known performance, but it may be his funniest. There are so many memorable lines from this film, and his performance proves that this silver fox can play pretty much anyone and do a terrific job. You have to see this absurd performance to truly believe how much of a left-turn it is for Mikkelsen, but, trust me, he’s phenomenal. Of course, it’s also fun to think of the fact that before Mikkelsen became Lecter, he had already played a character who liked to work with, ahem, ‘unauthorized meat.’
Arctic – #4
- ‘Overgård’ in Arctic.
Joe Penna’s directorial debut film Arctic didn’t exactly get a lot of attention when it was released and that is a real shame. It’s a survival story about a Dane stranded in the middle of nowhere. Due to the increasingly problematic situation in the cold wilderness, Overgård has to try to find civilization, even though his predicament may seem like a lost cause.
Mads Mikkelsen walked in the footsteps of several other notable actors who, over the years, have taken on mostly silent roles and delivered incredible physical performances. Mikkelsen’s performance as Overgård is harrowing and moving, and, like I wrote in my review of the film, “his outstanding work is the backbone, the muscle, and the heart of Joe Penna’s Arctic.”
Hannibal – #3
- ‘Hannibal Lecter’ in Hannibal (Series).
The decision to let Mads Mikkelsen play the charming but dangerous forensic psychiatrist is arguably one of the best casting decisions for a television series in the last decade. I remember being over-the-moon excited when it was announced. He may have originally gotten the role because of his experience as a popular and memorable James Bond-villain, but what he actually gave to the show was immeasurable. Although we may all always think of Sir Anthony Hopkins as the Hannibal Lecter, Mads Mikkelsen made the character his own during his time on the show.
Mikkelsen brought a devilish charm and a magnetic other-worldliness to the storied character. Actually, I doubt that the show would’ve ever become as much of a cult-hit as it eventually became were it not for Mikkelsen and his performance, which should be thought of as one of the most iconic television portrayals of a character originally made popular by literature or cinema.
Another Round – #2
Thomas Vinterberg’s latest film is flat-out fantastic. Like I mentioned in my review, it is, at the time of writing, my favorite film of 2020. It is a powerful film about alcohol, life, and rejuvenation. The main cast all give great performances, and Mads Mikkelsen proves that, like they say with fine wine, he has aged well. Mikkelsen shows off one of his hidden talents in the film’s closing moments, which are both intoxicating and electrifying.
It’s strange to watch Mikkelsen play such a grey and tired character in the film’s first scenes, but the veteran Danish actor sells these scenes like he knows that life all too well. Every tiny movement he makes carries weight as he starts to gain some kind of youthful exuberance. It was a joy to watch his character come alive as the film progressed.
The Hunt – #1
With #1 and #2, I’ve made it pretty clear that I think Mads Mikkelsen is at his best when he teams up with Dogme 95-co-founder and director Thomas Vinterberg. The Hunt, or Jagten, must be one of the most talked-about and most praised Danish films of the last twenty-five years. The Cannes Film Festival was right to honor Mads Mikkelsen with their Best Actor-Award for his performance as Lucas, a pre-school teacher who is wrongly accused of sexual abuse.
The film deals with the mass hysteria that ensues once he is accused, and the film shows what it is like to be ostracized by your friends and your community. Mads Mikkelsen’s performance is not just moving, it is both heart-wrenching and upsetting. In my mind, it is not just Mads Mikkelsen’s best performance, it is also arguably the best male performance of the previous decade.
– Article Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.