Mads Mikkelsen Knows Exactly What Time It Is

The Danish actor has made a career out of playing madmen and psycho killers, but he’s not nearly as tightly wound as he seems.
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The Danish actor has made a career out of playing madmen and psycho killers, but he’s not nearly as tightly wound as he seems.

If anyone could scare the crap out of James Bond, it’s Mads Mikkelsen, the Danish actor whose sculptural, otherworldly visage has made him one of Hollywood’s favorite sociopaths. Playing Le Chiffre, the fearsome Albanian crime boss in Casino Royale, he shed tears of blood over a poker table and revealed a proficiency for bleak, ball-smashing torture methods. As the title character in Hannibal, the 49-year-old actor is even more powerfully creepy—a discriminating lifestyle connoisseur, superbly attired and coiled like a snake.

In real life, Mikkelsen says he’s actually a low-key sort of guy. While he enjoys donning a tuxedo for red-carpet events, it’s a rare exception. “We men try to be extremely casual, don’t we?” he says with a laugh. “We never want to admit to having vanity of any sort.” And whereas “Hannibal enjoys the finer things in life,” he notes, “I am probably just a consumer of stuff, without putting that much thought into it. I eat, I work out, I do things. I am not calculating in the least.” perhaps not, but Mikkelsen is an artist at heart. The former gymnast and dancer spent a decade performing onstage in productions like La Cage aux Folles and Chicago, honing a formidable physicality before turning his talents to acting. In Denmark, he rose to fame as a junkie in Nicolas Winding Refn’s ultraviolent cult flick Pusher, and later turned in an unforgettable performance as One Eye, a mute warrior who disembowels men alive, in the director’s brutal Viking epic Valhalla Rising.

Bryan Fuller, Hannibal’s executive producer, knew instantly when he’d found his cerebral, snappily dressed serial killer. “Mads is very unassuming, but he has a true rock-star presence,” Fuller says. “There’s something uniquely alien and attractive about him. People have said to me, ‘Mads is so unusual on-screen.’ I tell them, ‘You haven’t seen the half of it.’ ” Mikkelsen approaches the role not as a villain but as an ordinary man, albeit one with his own peculiar mind-set: “I simply look at him as a person who sees life differently.”

Photograped by Robert Nethery; Styled by Wayne Gross

Photos by Robert Nethery