Playing compelling villains and complex characters is no easy task, but every time the Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen appears on the screen, it makes it look effortless. To dive into big franchises like fantastic beasts and James Bond, to participate in critically acclaimed independent productions set in his home country, Mikkelsen has proven to be worthy of praise and recognition. After all, reincarnating an iconic role like Hannibal Lector or replacing Johnny Depp in the middle of a third part of the Harry Potter fallout is difficult. Still, the actor doesn’t fail to flaunt his complete ease in using his serious facial expressions in his favor. AO Scott of the New York Times even refers to him in an article as “a star, an axiom, a face of reborn Danish cinema”.
While we wait for more performances to come that never cease to impress, here’s a trip down memory lane to Mads Mikkelsen’s most memorable performances to date.
Pusher and Pusher II (1996 and 2004)
Mikkelsen’s multiple awards began with his breakout role in a pair of Nicolas Winding Refn productions. At the time, the actor was not widely known outside of the Danish film scene, having only been involved in a few low-budget projects. With a fashionable cut and a new face, he took on the supporting role of Frank’s (Kim Bodnia) best friend and associate of drug dealer Tony. Troubled and impulsive, the character goes through thick and thin as they navigate the underworld of Copenhagen alongside Frank as they attempt to pay off their dangerous supplier, Milo (Zlatko White). PusherMikkelsen and Refn’s successful turnaround set the tone for Mikkelsen and Refn’s promising careers, and Mikkelsen’s performance in the second film won Best Actor at the Bodil Awards, Zulu Awards and Robert Festival Awards.
Casino Royale (2006)
Slowly moving from independent projects to successful franchises, it would be hard not to consider Mikkelsen’s brilliant performance in 007. Casino Royale. Without doubt one of the best antagonists of the Daniel Craig run as Bond, his character The Cipher was the perfect balance between a cold-hearted terrorist and a meticulous poker player. Just looking at his scarred eye was already giving viewers chills. Mikkelsen definitely established his name in Hollywood as a stellar actor and brought to life one of the most iconic Bond villains in recent memory.
A Royal Affair (2012)
Despite consolidating his career overseas, Mikkelsen continued to excel in Danish films. In A royal affair, Mikkelsen portrayed King Christian VII’s royal physician, Johann Friedrich Struensee. While caring for the mentally ill ruler, Johann becomes romantically involved with the King’s wife Caroline Matilda of Britain (played by Alicia Vikander). Marking one of the few times Mikkelsen was part of a historical drama or even less played a love interest, this film demonstrated his versatility on screen. The production even received the Oscar for best foreign language film in 2013.
The Hunt (2012)
Released the same year as A royal affair, The hunt gave Mikkelsen one of his best lead roles to date, displaying a deeply moving portrayal of a teacher wrongfully accused of abusing a child. As the character’s life is turned upside down, viewers can’t help but feel sympathy for him. Often playing villains on screen, Mikkelsen confirmed to audiences through this film that he could maneuver different characters with precision. After all, it was nice to see him take on a vulnerable role and show that he can be a victim once in a while. Garnering several nominations for his performance, he received the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.
Anthony Hopkins delivered an iconic portrayal of cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lector in Thesilenceofthelambs– an award-winning performance that few actors would want to try and follow. While he had to live up to that performance and Hannibal’s cultural impact on psychological thrillers, Mikkelsen didn’t just accept the challenge of bringing the villain to life on the NBC series. Hannibal, but it also manages to honor its predecessor. Mikkelsen’s version of Hannibal captured more of the character’s personal life by showing him ravishing gourmet-style human flesh while being actively involved in the murder investigation against him. If viewers were already a fan of his work in Casino Royalethen they will be even more blown away by Mikkelsen’s ability to incorporate someone who is so evil.
When actors play lead roles in survival movies, more often than not they have to tackle a one-man show. This is the case of Mikkelsen in Joe Pennaof production 2018 Arctic. In it, Mikkelsen plays Overgard, a pilot whose plane crashes in the frozen tundra, and must find ways to keep him and another passenger alive. While it’s hard to keep viewers in this kind of genre, Mikkelsen’s character pulls audiences in with his survival instincts and eagerness to keep going despite the adverse conditions he faces. His performance allows the audience to put themselves in his shoes and wonder what he would do if he found himself in a similar situation.
Another Round (2020)
Finally, Mikkelsen’s latest collaboration with the Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (who worked with him in The hunt) delivered another standout performance in his two-decade career. As a teacher who lacks motivation inside the classroom, Mikkelsen’s character, Martin, decides to team up with a group of his fellow teachers and increase their daily drinking to test if that will boost their energy as teachers. Although things seem to clear up at the beginning of the experiment, their drinking habit goes too far when the doses increase out of control.
Throughout the film, Mikkelsen shows the boredom of feeling settled at work, the momentary vigor of the help of alcohol, and the downfall when drinking casually becomes an addiction. Although he didn’t win an Oscar for his performance, his work in another round earned him his first BAFTA nomination as Best Actor in a Leading Role and again earned Denmark an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film.