Rogue One star Mads Mikkelsen: 'I have no idea where I'm going to end up'
As 'Rogue One', the latest instalment in the 'Star Wars' series, is released, Mads Mikkelsen tells Bryony Gordon why he's unfazed about starring in one of the biggest film franchises in the world
Mads Mikkelsen is very good at being bad. He was the Bond villain who wept blood in 'Casino Royale', the cannibalistic title character in 'Hannibal', and played Benedict Cumberbatch's nemesis in Marvel's 'Doctor Strange'. But now the 51-year-old Dane is entering the world of George Lucas, with a leading role in 'Rogue One', the first in a new series of 'Star Wars' spin-off films.
What he can tell me about his character is somewhat limited, given the lock-and-key element to anything set in a galaxy far, far away. Is he… "Is he a man?" Mikkelsen says, smiling, when I try to prise some information out of him. "Yes, he is. And he's a father. He's the father of (leading lady) Felicity Jones and he's a scientist. He's a man working on something that can change the world completely."
It is, Mikkelsen says, a very different kind of movie from 'The Force Awakens', the instalment directed by JJ Abrams that was released last year to universal praise. 'Rogue One', which is set after the terrible prequels but before 'A New Hope' (the very first film, from 1977), is the baby of the British director Gareth Edwards.
"Mads is phenomenal,"' Edwards says. "He's a very, very smart guy and he has a very good sense of storytelling. He was a really good ally in that we tried to create a situation whereby even though there were about 400 people on set, we would be able to create a little bubble around the camera.
"Just the cameraman, the sound guy, me and the actors. We could convince ourselves at times that we were making a much more intimate film. And that's what we wanted to try to combine: the sort of emotions and performances you get from a smaller and more independent film, but with the backdrop and epic scope of a blockbuster."
Mikkelsen seems remarkably unbothered by the fact that he is about to be at the centre of one of the biggest movie franchises of all time. Even the secrecy surrounding it has amused him. "Normally you get sent the script, but this was encrypted with passwords," he says. "It didn't include the last seven pages."
He would not call himself a 'Star Wars' geek, but he is a big fan. What he likes most about the films is that they are so much more than science fiction. "That's the reason it has been so successful - it keeps being something we can relate to. They are family films, family stories. They are about lost fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, and that is universal."
What he loves about this film is that, even with CGI, "you didn't have to go full ballistic at a tennis ball on a stick, pretending it was a giant scorpion, you know?"
"Sure, this had the budget of 10 Danish films, but we kind of forgot it. We were out there on location, in the pouring rain, Gareth on the floor with us, forgetting everything."
Mikkelsen came to acting when he was almost 30. He was born in Copenhagen, the second son of a nurse and a bank clerk (his brother Lars has starred in 'The Killing' and the Irish production 'What Richard Did').
Growing up, Mikkelsen took an interest in gymnastics and dance. "Through that I discovered theatre. I was more in love with the drama of the dancing thing. I did little parts in some productions and loved it, so I applied for drama school and I got in. It was four years of education. In the middle, I did an audition for a film and got it."
That film was his fellow Dane Nicolas Winding Refn's internationally successful 'Pusher', in which he played a drug dealer. "That was a revelation. I graduated when it came out. I did not have to go out and knock on doors for that reason. So that was cool."
Mikkelsen was with his wife, the choreographer Hanne Jacobsen, by this point, and they had a young daughter, Viola, now 24 (they also have a son, Carl, 19). He believes this grounding worked in his favour.
"I was always a very energetic person; I am still a very energetic person. There were a lot of things I needed to have a base for before I could make up my mind about what I liked about drama. I was able to pinpoint what I loved about films because I was a certain age. I learnt what was not me.
"You say, 'To be frank, I suck at it. Let's move on.' So I think it was good for me that it happened later in life."
Mikkelsen has no plans for 2017 yet. "I don't have a goal; I don't have an ambition. My ambition has always been the project I am on.
"This sounds pretentious. The pretentiousness is that I just see a little too often that people have been ambitious in their careers. This is what they want to do, and all these little things are just stepping stones to get there."
He looks me straight in the eye.
"But you will never get there (like this). You will always be a little off target. And this will have just been in vain then. So, why don't you just make this project your favourite project in the world? Then the next one.
"Then all of a sudden everything has been worthwhile. That has always been my philosophy. And so I have no idea where I'm going to end up."