Mads Mikkelsen's Party Dancing in 'Another Round' Is the Best Scene of the Year
In Thomas Vinterberg's new movie 'Another Round,' the frequent villain dusts off his dancing shoes.
Fall into a YouTube rabbit hole and you can find examples of a pre-fame Mads Mikkelsen dancing. The man who became famous playing fearsome villains like Hannibal Lecter and facing off against James Bond in tense games of poker can wield jazz hands with the best of them. Mikkelsen hadn't busted out steps like that in ages when director Thomas Vinterberg came to him with the concept for the final scene of Another Round, the drama now available to watch on VOD.
In the film (one of our favorite movies of the year), Mikkelsen plays Martin, a high school history teacher in a rut, who, along with three of his closest friends, decides to test a theory from Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud that human's blood alcohol level is naturally too low. Martin and his pals all start drinking over the course of the day in an experiment that proves both successful and disastrous. Without giving away too much of what happens: Martin, by the end of the film, is left at a crossroads, and surrounded by his partying former students (and lots of booze), he starts to dance. He leaps and tumbles to the sounds of the song "What a Life" by the Danish band Scarlet Pleasure. It's quite simply the most exhilarating moment you'll see on any screen all year.
Speaking via Zoom, Mikkelsen walked me through the process of making that scene. He also got into his thoughts on acting drunk and the luxury of portraying real people versus wizards.
Thrillist: You and Thomas Vinterberg have worked together before and had a very fruitful collaboration with The Hunt. How did he approach you with the idea for Another Round?
Mads Mikkelsen: It's been a strange, kind of dancing around the bush for the two of us. We started out approximately at the same time. I was in a different club with Nicolas Winding Refn at the time with the Pusher films and he was part of the Dogme brothers. And Lars von Trier was there. There were like four or five little strong groups at the time and we were just heavily trying to find what we were doing and we were apparently defining ourselves from what we didn't do. We didn't do what the other guys did. It took us a while before we started peeking on each other's work and going, "It's not that bad, I kind of like this guy." So eventually, we knew each other for quite a while, he approached me with The Hunt, and I fell in love with that project and with him.
Shortly after The Hunt, actually, he pitched this idea of the Norwegian philosopher. The story wasn't there. He had some ideas of the characters. All of us were not high school teachers. We had different jobs; my job was to be in the control tower in the airport, which could obviously create quite a few laughs. Eventually, he wanted it to be this community of friends. He wanted it to be a film about friendships, and it would be easy to pull it off if we were gathered in the same job. That was the first pitch I had, but I also instinctively knew that those were funny ideas based in something that will always, in Thomas' world, be about embracing life. So sure enough, when I saw the script after quite a few years, that's what it had become. So we went for it. And it was a wonderful journey, and for many reasons a heartbreaking journey, but the end result was part of all that.
What do you mean by heartbreaking?
Thomas lost his daughter [during] shooting. And she was part of the film—she was playing my daughter. It's not a secret, it's been out. He doesn't want it to be about that, but the film is dedicated to her. For that reason, it became a journey we did not anticipate. It was always about embracing life, to a degree, but it became much more so after that happened. It was strange to do the film, but for him, it was after a break of three or four weeks between, he just wanted to do that for her.
What was your personal interest in this Norwegian philosopher's theory? Did you have any thoughts in relation to the idea of alcohol that it brings up?
Well, I'd never heard of the guy before, and I never heard about the theory either, but once I heard I was like, "yeah, of course, it's obvious." Alcohol has been around for six to seven thousand years for numerous reasons: to get closer to the spirits of the gods or to lift the conversation, to become creative... it's always been there and there must be a reason why it's been there for that many years. We all know the feeling of picking up that phone and making that call you wouldn't have dared to do if you were totally sober.
Thomas enjoys to ask a crowd of people: How many of you met your spouse when you were absolutely sober? How many of you took the first step? There's obviously something magic about it. There's also the other side of coin—we all know it. There have been numerous films about the dangers of drinking. That was never the mission. The mission was to spread some light on the other side. We have both sides, of course.
How did you think about portraying the danger and the fun of it at the same?
We had the other side coming so we could easily let go. In the beginning of the experiment, everything just kind of goes smoothly. It works. My character, for one, instead of being a zombie, he starts remembering why he was a good teacher and what he was good at. We all wish we could do that without the alcohol. But this time, they tried it with the alcohol and that was the energizer, the kickstarter. It was a little bit like—I don't know if you play darts. Have you played darts?
No, I've never played darts.
Okay, do you play pool?
Well, if you play pool on kind of a regular basis, there is that fantastic zone. Two beers and everything just works out, you're just in the zone. Eight beers, and it's a catastrophe. Nothing is in the zone. And zero beers, you might not want to play pool at all. It's that thing that the philosopher talked about where it's just in the zone. Obviously, for a lot of reasons, it's very difficult to stay like that for an entire day, because it's a lot of drinks, and find that fine balance. They approach it with the enthusiasm of teenagers and kind of forget about the dangers, at least in the beginning.
The end sequence is so incredible. At what point did that come about?
I believe it was in the script. We wanted to have that ending of: Is the man flying or is he falling? Thomas always wanted to see me dance. I haven't done that for 25-odd years, maybe 30 now. I was very lucky from the get-go. I don't mind dancing, that's not the case, but I wanted it to be heightened like a magical moment, like a dream sequence. Like he saw himself dancing immaculately, but when the rest the rest of the crowd saw him it was not that cool. It was kind of pathetic. And Thomas was always listening very politely and he was always nodding, and he said, "No Mads, you are dancing, for real." Eventually, I just said, "well let's go for it." I regret to say it, but he was right. I couldn't see it for me, but once we did it I felt that it was the right thing.
You started as a gymnast and a dancer: Had you kept up with it at all?
Never, never, never, at all. I never danced since. I've been very physical, I do a lot of sports, but it's obviously very different than dancing because there's a certain flexibility you lose right away, and a bounciness you lose right away when you don't do dance. I was obviously ambitious on behalf of the film and the character, but at the same time, it was a tiny fraction that was the old dancer Mads, who was also ambitious a little. So when we did a few of the takes, I was like, Jesus, I remember I used to jump much higher than that, what's happening? But obviously the right thing was to be ambitious on behalf of the character, and the character had not danced for 25 years either.
What was the choreography process like?
It was a little all over the place, actually, because we didn't exactly know what the scenario was. We knew there were some young people at a graduation party. We saw the location, we knew there was cobblestones, so that was always going to be a tricky thing. I hooked up with a friend of mine, a fellow actor. The last thing I did in theater was a suicide dance for eight minutes, which was very brutal and very dramatic. I thought we could figure something out that might fit into this world. And then later on we swapped over to a more contemporary young girl who had some cooler steps and ideas. I came up with some ideas as well. It was not a lot of steps. We wanted a base for it and then improvise from there.
What about the gymnastic elements? How did you retrain your body to get into that?
I stretched a little, just in order to not get too injured. That was it. I didn't go into serious training at all. We came to terms that that it was more about what was internally happening in his life at that point. He just lost someone he loved very dearly and just regained someone that he loved really dearly. It was two complex emotions going against each other at the same time. We wanted to focus on that energy and not so much on the dance itself.
You said you don't know whether he's flying or falling. Did you have an interpretation of where he goes when he leaps, metaphorically?
We had more material. I dive. It's quite a high jump actually because the water is 20, 25 feet under me. I go into the water and there's a camera down there which films me sinking and films his face. That option was always there, but when Thomas saw the material he was like, "no way, this man is flying." And then people can make up their own mind.
What is it like coming back to Denmark and making a film with Thomas after a run of big studio projects?
Everything was wonderful about it. The wonderful script, the wonderful Thomas, my wonderful colleagues. Just coming back home to tell our stories in my language. It's just luxury.
What do you mean by luxury?
There are certain things that are kind of just a given. It's a given that it's my language. It's a story I recognize. It's a given that it's my friends I'm working with. There's a lot of things you don't have to pay attention to when you are doing a film. You just morph yourself into it and start working. Whereas, obviously, when I meet a ton of new people on a big budget film in America, you don't start from scratch, but in a certain way, you do start from scratch. I have say hello to everyone. I don't know anyone. It's not my language. "Sorry for the funny accent, let's deal with that," and so forth. I tremendously enjoy doing that because there are films we cannot make in Denmark that I'm part of abroad, which I think is a fantastic option as well, but it's not a secret that it's to a degree easier to come home as well.
In these big budget films, you've played a lot of—
Well, yes. But I was going to ask: Is it also a luxury to play someone who is not a wizard or a cannibal?
Absolutely. Genres are so very different. We don't have a strong tradition, we don't have a budget that can match anything over there, so we don't do genre films that much back home. I would say if I was doing The Hunt or Another Round four times in a row, I would also crave to be a wizard or have a sword in my hand and sit on a horse. It's a different kind of acting which is also very very satisfying. For me, it's interesting because I'm never asked when it's the Americans, but all the French people ask me: What do you prefer the European or the American film? I always say, to the almost always French journalists: I never get that question in America, isn't that interesting. No? I did not grow up watching French films, I grew up watching American films. If I don't have to choose, I'm a really happy man. As long as people will call me from different parts of the world, it's a privilege.
You've also done video games recently with Death Stranding, and you've worked with Rihanna.
It's interesting what's come my way. With the video game, [Hideo Kojima] is the godfather of video games, and I was like, who am I not to try this experiment? And he was fantastic to work with. Same thing with Rihanna. I have no idea why she called me. I think she's amazing. And I was like, "yes, if I can be a fly on a wall and help you out there, I'll do my very best." For me, acting is a lot of things. I don't approach it differently doing a Thomas Vinterberg film than I do sitting on a horse with a sword. It's the same approach. I'll try to take it as seriously as possible within the framework that has been created around the film.
How did you approach playing drunk?
It's one of the tests for an actor: Can you play drunk? Then you can act. And it's true to a degree. I think everyone has learned the trick now that, when you're drunk in that way, you don't want other people to see it. You're trying your best not to be drunk. That's the idea. And we also know that from our personal lives. It's a classic. Everybody has an approach to that. As you said, we go way beyond that. We go Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin drunk here. That's the tricky part.
The cure for, as an actor, to be afraid of doing that was we downloaded a lot of videos, and for a certain reason—I'm not sure why, it tends to be Russians who are filming themselves when they are absolutely soaked. And some of those films are insane. It's amazingly fantastically funny to watch, and they always have a mission. You know, trying to put a lock on a bicycle, and nothing works. Once we saw that and got inspired, we can go further than we fear to do because this is insane.
Did making the film change the way you think about drinking at all?
Not really. I think the film is much more about life. It's much more about embracing life. It's much more about the train might have left you. You are standing left over at the platform watching the train just leaving you, which is the case with these four characters. But don't look into the past and regret. Don't look into the future and hope it will be greener the next day. What about the present? What about this job? What about this job? What about this wife? What about these kids? Isn't there something beautiful here that you forgot to embrace?
I think the film is much more about that than it is about alcohol. The alcohol is just a kickstarter to tell that story. But no, it didn't change my view on alcohol. I think in general—this can obviously change from project to project—but I think in general we have to be smarter than our characters. Even if we play Albert Einstein, we have to be smarter in the sense that we won't be smarter on his home turf, but we might be smarter than his mirror image, his reflection might not be as clear as it is in the actor's portrayal. So for that reason, the alcohol part was not an eye-opener for me.
How does being smarter than your characters work when you're playing an evil genius like Hannibal?
It's a very good question. There's hardly any place I can squeeze in and be smarter than him. The only place I can do that is his vanity. He is simply not aware that he's vain. He has a vanity that will be his downfall. I was always aware that his vanity would be his Achilles' heel. That's where I was smarter than him. We will put the knife in there, Bryan Fuller and me, when it's time.
You're still talking about doing more?
Yeah, it's an ongoing project. I mean, we don't know where it's going to end up. It's all about finding a home. But I'm sure everybody would like to join that little family, at least to round it off in the way we want it.
Well, I think I have to let you go, but I keep watching that final scene of Another Round, and I have that song stuck in my head.
That's a great song. We have time for this, this is a funny little story. We were trying out different songs and nothing worked and all of a sudden this one came along. It was Thomas's wife who sent it. My daughter said, "Oh, you're working with this song." It turned out my daughter was a good friend of the lead singer and the entire band when she was in high school. To round out all of this, I have taken [the lead singer] from a party with my daughter, and driven him home with a box of beers. He was so drunk but he still insisted on keeping his box of beers. It's a beautiful loop on this story that this guy, when he was a teenager, I drove him home twice when he was absolutely soaked.
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