Marvel Comics readers may not recall Kaecilius as one of the Master of the Mystic Arts’ more dangerous antagonists, but that impression will change dramatically when he appears on the big screen in “Doctor Strange.” After stints as 007’s foe Le Chiffre and the insidiously intellectual Hannibal Lecter, actor Mads Mikkelsen knows his way around a memorable bad guy, and hopes to burn Kaecilius into the imaginations of MCU fans.
Mikkelsen’s occupying a rarefied space in the Hollywood franchise pantheon these days. Along with his head-turning appearances as the Bond baddie and the iconic cannibal, the Danish actor is stepping both into the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as that legendary galaxy far, far away with his turns in both “Doctor Strange” and the first “Star Wars” standalone movie, “Rogue One, And with his old “Hannibal” showrunner Bryan Fuller taking on “Star Trek: Discovery,” he concedes he may even have an open door into that futuristic world as well.
In a one-on-one chat with CBR, Mikkelsen reveals his approach to crafting standout bad guys, and how he’d already been imagining himself in some of the rich fantasy worlds he now inhabits every since he was a child.
CBR: As you’ve told me before, this is the kind of job that the little kid in you just get super excited about. Tell me about connecting with that enthusiasm, in the sense of “I get to go and play like a full-on comic book style character,” but also you still have to play a character. How do you merge those two desires?
I mean, obviously, just being a stunt guy in the film would have been [great] – I mean, I’ve always wanted to be a stunt guy, so I would have said yes anyway, but that wouldn’t have fulfilled the question. I think it’s a great, great story. I think it’s a fantastic part. Doctor Strange is a fantastic part, and it’s very hard, or literally impossible to imagine anyone but Benedict to be able to go from this arrogant person who ends up embracing, not only himself, but also the world in a different way. So, I thought it was a beautiful strong script, solid. A
And then I thought that the character of Kaecilius – I mean, his means might be wrong, but who doesn’t want to make it a more beautiful place? Who doesn’t want to make it a greater world? I mean, honestly, we all do, and every war is fought like that, right? There are sacrifices down the road to make it a great place. So, I think it’s quite modernistic terms and that part of the character is obviously super interesting, but the flying kung fu part is also way cool.
What was your favorite day on set, as far as just all the fun stuff? And then what was the most difficult or the most challenging day on set?
I think it was all challenging because it was tricky stuff to do. It was – everything was upside down, the mirrors, you know, and we had to go and look at the previews they had made, like a little animated versions of the shots for us, and for themselves, to understand how is this connecting, right? So, if you’re upside down, and something is tilted over here, and Strange is attacking, is he coming from that side, or that side, now where is he now? He’s gone. You know, we have to figure it out, right? That was tricky.
The stunts themselves were tricky, but we had a great fight sequence, me and Benedict, that went on for three weeks – which ends up with me in the Crimson Bands –and I thought that whole scene was so well written, and I loved doing it. We did it in a day, or half of a day, or something like that, and that was a great day, I thought.
It was Kaecilius, I think, who became quite emotional with his passion for his beliefs. So it’s also a very important moment for Doctor Strange where he’s actually listening to the echo of his own words, right? It’s actually his character is making sense and he’s in doubt. So it’s a very crucial moment for Doctor Strange to make up his mind: are you joining or are you not joining, right?
A good hero and a good villain have to have great chemistry opposite each other. It’s almost like a romance, but inverse. Tell me about finding that with Benedict, how you guys were going to come at each other in these different scenes.
East-peasy. I mean, the biggest fights we had were with each other, right? So we spent a lot of time in the rehearsing, doing that with the stunt guys and the kung fu experts. So obviously, we found each other really fast there. We also had some interaction, acting-wise, of course. So we just spent a lot of time, and obviously Benedict, his hands were full. I had a little more extra time to rehearse. He was constantly shooting, right? It was very intense when we were doing the rehearsals, and that’s the way you find each other. You find each other in the rehearsing process, and it was super easy.
I mean, it’s not always that the villain and the hero have a lot of encounters. Sometimes they’re just surface, and around the circle, and eventually they meet in the end, but we had some big meetings, and he’s just a fantastic actor. He’s such a dedicated man. He will take up any task and do his very best, and I mean if he’s a scientist, if he’s a magician, he will just dig into it, and it’s just a dream to work with him.
Was “Doctor Strange” in the stack of comic books that you read as a kid?
What did you love about it as a kid? What kind of captivated you about it?
I was surprised it was from ‘63, the first time he appeared. I think I read it in the early 70s, and I might have been seven, eight years old. Obviously, I loved the fighting scenes because I loved the magic and the colors. The colors were crazy, right, and it was surreal.
I don’t think I was old enough to get the deeper level of philosophy: “Oh, let’s do it this way.” I was not old enough, and it’s quite intellectual, as well, and it’s something that you can embrace better when you’re a teenager, or even older, but I just loved looking at them, and seeing the drawings which are so immaculate, and it was this completely different universe, than anything you’d ever seen in the Marvel Universe, right? So it was part of my growing up, as well.
How much did the stuff like that that you read as kid influence the path you ended up on as an actor?
It’s so hard to know exactly what happened and why you end up doing what you do. As a kid and growing up in Copenhagen, a working class area, there was nothing indicating that you would be an actor. Actors were people who were born into it, or either kids of actors. So, I had no idea that you could be an actor.
I had never had a dream about being an actor, but in many ways I lived in that world with films and radio theater. I listened to that a lot, and I read a lot of comics. So somehow my imagination was already gone when I was a kid, and I ended up being an actor, but it was not until I was mid-20s that I realize, “Oh, there’s a school where you can actually apply for it,” you know? But before that, I had no dreams with acting, nothing. I just identified with the things I saw, not the actors, but the actual characters, right?
How different was your role and your experience on “Rogue One” from “Doctor Strange?”
Quite different, quite different. I’m way more physical in “Doctor Strange,” that’s for sure, and it is a man who has a plan. He has an engine. There’s a lot of gasoline there. He’s going somewhere, whereas my character in “Rogue One” in many ways is stuck in the dilemma that is terrible. So he does have an engine, but he doesn’t know how to ignite it.
Tell me the similarities and the differences in making a Marvel movie and making a movie in the “Star Wars” years.
Size is a similarity. I mean, the size is enormous, compared to anything we do back home. It’s 500 people at breakfast: “Good morning, good morning, good morning…” This is mad, of course!
And also the iconic world they’re in, both of them. I mean, you’re crossing a table with, I don’t know, hundreds of Stormtrooper helmets on it, and then you realize, wow, Stormtrooper helmets, I want to touch one, right?
So it’s an iconic world, and so is the Marvel world. And but they are two different animals, two different species, right? Because the Marvel are kind of like every film is like you see here. It’s like trying to make their own film. They try to keep that Marvel feel, but they also want to – you know, justify each individual comic book who had their own flavor, and their own tone, right? Whereas, the “Star Wars,” obviously tries to renew it, or go back a little, but it’s within the “Star Wars” world, right?
Was “Star Wars” a huge thing to you in your youth?
An enormous thing. I was – again, I was a little too young to see the first film. So, I caught the train later on. My brother saw it, and he was very dedicated to it, and we had people sleeping outside the movie theaters to get tickets as well. It was an explosion of the movie world, all over the planet, yeah.
What do you want to do with the opportunities that a movie like this film is going to create, that “Star Wars” is going to create in your career?
This sounds a little pretentious, but I don’t have any career plans or career ambitions. I’m super ambitious every time I take on a job. This is what I do. This is the dream project, for now, for this moment, but I think that if you tend to sketch your future, in terms of career, you will always be disappointed. It’s never going to go where you want it to.
I look at this way, what comes my way that I like, I say, “Yes, please – let’s do it,” and what I don’t like, I say “No thank you,” and that eventually creates a career, as opposed to trying to manipulate it yourself.
You’ve mentioned that when you’ve played villains, you always try to see why they think they’re the hero. Do you try to distinguish each villain from one another? What are sort of the ways you go about that?
I mean, there will always be some crossed paths, right? Benedict got the same question about the arrogance of Sherlock Holmes and this character, and obviously, there are similarities, but there are many more differences between his character of Sherlock and Doctor Strange, right? And so that’s the thing. It’s bound to cross, but you have to find what is there – what is the individual touch?
Obviously, here it’s easy-peasy because it’s the Marvel Universe, and we’re dressed like we are, we look like we look, and so there’s always the difference there. Hannibal is the fallen angel. He is something completely different than anyone else you’d ever meet, right? So the similarities are probably that I try to find the two sides of the coin. Yes, they’re doing stuff we shouldn’t do, but they have a point, right? And that’s what I’m trying to look for.
And with “Hannibal,” have you had any discussions with Bryan Fuller recently? Is there any movement toward being able to reprise that role?
I think Bryan is keeping the cards close to his body. I mean, he’s busy now doing “Star Trek,” obviously, and if there’s something new happening he won’t tell us until it’s a little more confirmed. So, right now, radio silence.
How eager are you to finish that character’s story?
That’s a never-ending story in many ways. So, we could have finished the first, or the second, or the third season, but we’re eager enough to think it was such a fantastic project that I’m sure everybody would jump on board again if it happens.
Do you want to do “Star Trek” too? Do you want to jump onto the show and maybe do a guest stint?
I don’t know. I’ve never really been into “Star Trek.” I haven’t really watched it. So, I think I have to watch it before I answer that question. But working with Bryan is always a dream.
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