About 18 minutes into Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, Martin (Mads Mikkelsen) starts to cry. They’re quiet tears, just brimming on his eyelids—I’m not sure they even fall—but he doesn’t try to hide them from his three concerned friends, who are gathered around a restaurant table to celebrate Nikolaj’s (Magnus Millang) 40th birthday. It struck me, watching this scene, how rare it is to see men cry at the beginning of movies. Typically, male tears have to be “earned”: they’re shed at a film’s climax, after immense emotional turmoil, and they’re loud. Mikkelsen allows Martin to be delicate and vulnerable right from the very start, something male characters, and male actors, are rarely allowed to be. Of course, as is the crux of Vinterberg’s film, Martin’s vulnerability is only possible because he just downed a shot of vodka.
Mikkelsen is an international star who’s been in almost every big franchise you can name (Marvel, Star Wars, James Bond, and soon, Harry Potter) and headlined a cult TV show (Hannibal), but in Another Round he goes home to Denmark and gives one of the best performances of his career. “Rarely do you have a character with such a long journey,” Mikkelsen told us of playing Martin, and his complex performance makes Martin’s huge character arc incredibly moving. He starts off as a depressed history teacher who’s lost his mojo: Mikkelsen strips away his inherent charisma in early teaching scenes, in which his painfully slow and monotone delivery puts the students to sleep. But when Martin and his friends embark on a boozy experiment—will maintaining a 0.05% BAC (blood alcohol concentration) during the day make them happier and more successful?—Martin gets his groove back. Mikkelsen’s movements become faster and more energised as Martin rediscovers his love of his job, and rekindles his relationship with his wife.
We spoke with Mikkelsen over Zoom about playing Martin in Another Round, a part that Vinterberg wrote for him after their first collaboration on The Hunt in 2012. He touches on the rehearsal process of Another Round, making films in his home of Denmark, and how his dance and gymnastics background informs his acting approach.
The Film Stage: What excited you about playing Martin?
Mads Mikkelsen: The pitch was years before. [The characters] were working different jobs originally—they weren’t high school teachers. I was in an airport working in the control tower, which obviously was a funny idea, if you start drinking there. Once the script came my way, I wasn’t surprised that it was about life and embracing life in all sorts of manners. That’s what I love about Thomas’s [Vinterberg] stories: ordinary people who are placed in extraordinary situations.
When you first got the script, before rehearsal, how did you prepare to play Martin?
Mostly by having a lot of talks with Thomas and his co-writer, Tobias Lindholm, to make sure that we were on the same page. Something interesting about this character is that he moves a lot, from A to B to C. Rarely do you have a character with such a long journey, and thanks to the alcohol, we see him in an enormous variety of situations. It was an interesting character to play because there’s so many situations he’s in.
We knew we wanted his batteries to be recharged through the alcohol and his socializing more and more. We looked at the different scenes and worked out what kind of level he was on. Obviously we had the levels of 0.05% [BAC] or 0.1% to lean up against. But in general, it was all about how loose he is, how confident he is in different situations, and when does it cross the line? When does he lose it a little? We did a couple of different variations of all the teaching scenes to make sure we didn’t overdo it or underdo it, so in the editing room we had something to work with.
I really loved those scenes of Martin teaching his history class, as his lessons get more and more exciting. What was it like to shoot those scenes and get that room of teenagers riled up?
They were very enthusiastic, because they’d seen quite a lot of me being the world’s most boring teacher. So we kind of took them by surprise without rehearsing too much, even though they obviously knew what the scene was about. We did the scene a few times and we actually shot [their reactions] first just to see their surprise at the change of gear. It was great. It was a little like flying. This man all of a sudden rediscovered why he liked his job, and that was absolutely wonderful.
I know you and the other main actors in the film did some rehearsal to work out how to play drunk, but I gather you also did other rehearsals just to work on your characters and their relationship to each other. Can you talk a bit about that and how it was helpful?
We had a boot camp for drinking and we had a boot camp for the script. [Laughs] Most of it was already in the story, and we knew each other well enough to know how to approach each other and find the little details so that it comes across that we know each other. There weren’t a lot of rehearsals in that way.
We did improvise once in a while just to add a little spice to it. Those were just little things that bound us together. Me and Thomas’s character went way back, and the other two we met maybe a little later. We just wanted to make sure we had the same background story, so at least we had something to build on. It wasn’t necessarily something we would touch upon later in the story—it’s just nice to have it.
You get to explicitly use your dance training in the final scene of Another Round. In general, do you think your background in dance has informed your work as an actor, and how you approach your characters physically?
I’m sure it has, but it’s one of those questions that’s impossible to answer because I’m not sure if I would have done the same without having a past as a dancer. I was also a gymnast, which really comes in handy when you’re doing stunts. You can do quite a lot of flips without hurting yourself completely.
I do approach characters [by asking] what’s his speech, what’s his weight, is he slow or fast? I might have done that without being a dancer; I’m not sure. I think a little about it and then I kind of try to let my body take over. If you think too much about it while you’re trying to do something physical, you end up doing something that’s not working. You have to let it go a little, try to get it down in your body and see where it takes you.
This guy’s a little tired and his batteries are almost drained, so obviously he’s not the fastest man in the world. I’ve played other characters who just always want to be somewhere else, constantly, non-stop, his hands and feet jumping non-stop. It becomes a very manic character because of that energy he has.
What characters have you played that fit that mold?
One of the characters I did early in my career was a guy called Tonny in a film called Pusher. He couldn’t sit still. He was annoying everyone with his foot constantly going up and down. You know when you sit next to someone and you can feel the whole floor moving because he’s so nervous? That just landed there without us even talking about it.
I guess Martin, at the beginning of Another Round, is physically the polar opposite of your character in Pusher.
You’ve made films in multiple languages. How is it a different experience working in a second language versus making a film back home in Denmark?
I would be lying saying there was no difference. The approach to the characters is not different, but obviously it’s my language, it’s my stories, it’s my friends, so it does become home. Home turf. That doesn’t necessarily make it much easier, but it makes it recognizable. I think 15 years ago I did my first film abroad, and since then it’s been one here and one back home and back-and-forth. It’s not been a chunk in Danish and then a chunk abroad.
You’ve worked with Thomas Vinterberg before. What do you get out of working with a filmmaker like him who you have a long-lasting relationship with?
This is actually only the second time I’ve worked with Thomas [after The Hunt in 2012], but we’ve known each other since we did the first film seven years ago, so we’ve become really good friends in the meantime. That is just nice. We’re skipping all the polite stuff. We can actually say stuff to each other without any fear of hurting each others’ feelings or stepping on each others’ toes. We can get to the meat of it. The first time you work with other people, you try to feel out each others’ energy. Politeness is part of it as well and should be a part of it. But the second time, you can skip that.
Was The Hunt written for you as well?
I believe it was. He did approach me… [Laughs] He might be lying. He might have asked four other people! But I think it was written for me.
What was the most challenging scene to shoot in Another Round?
A lot of the scenes became quite challenging because disaster struck in Thomas’s life quite early on in this. So scenes we thought would go in one direction became heartbreaking to play. We had to look at each other and say we’re going down the wrong track here, we’re just being overwhelmed by the situation, let’s try a different approach. A lot of things became lighter and more beautiful than we anticipated.
Do you have a favorite scene in the finished film?
I have quite a few scenes that I think are great—besides the ending, which I think really folded out beautifully. I’d say the scene where I see my friend for the last time. I’m at his place and I’m trying to tidy up a little. He stops me at the door and tells me he doesn’t want me to come around anymore, and that it’s fine, he’s OK, and that he’s cheering for me and my wife. I think that was a really beautiful scene. Thomas Bo Larsen was astonishingly good in that scene.
Was it exciting to finally get to use your dance training in a film?
I haven’t done it in a film. I think it was a little exciting. Part of me was a bit ambitious dance wise, and I knew that I shouldn’t go down that path, because the character hasn’t danced since 25 years ago, so we can’t have a man who’s in shape for that. But there was a little part of me that was like, “Ah, if I’d just worked out two more weeks I could have jumped much higher and it would have been much cooler.” [Laughs] But I’m glad we went the route that we did.
Another Round is now playing in theaters and Virtual Cinemas and arrives on VOD on December 18.