Playing convincing villains and complex characters is no easy task, but whenever Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen pops into the screen, he makes it seem effortless. From diving into major franchises like Fantastic Beasts and James Bond, to participating in critically-acclaimed indie productions set in his home country, Mikkelsen has proven himself worthy of praise and recognition. After all, reincarnating an iconic role like Hannibal Lector or filling in for Johnny Depp amid a third installment of the Harry Potter spinoff is challenging. Yet, the actor doesn’t fail to display his utter ease at using his serious facial expressions to his favor. A. O. Scott from the New York Times even referred to him in an article as “a star, an axiom, a face of the resurgent Danish cinema”.
As we wait for more upcoming performances that never cease to impress, here is a trip down memory lane to Mads Mikkelsen’s most memorable performances to date.
Pusher and Pusher II (1996 and 2004)
Mikkelsen’s multiple accolades began with his breakout role in a pair of Nicolas Winding Refn productions. Back then, the actor wasn’t well-known outside the Danish film scene, having participated in a just few low-budget projects. With a buzz cut and a fresh face, he took on the supporting role of Frank’s (Kim Bodnia) best friend and drug dealer associate Tony. Troubled and impulsive, the character goes through thick and thin navigating Copenhagen’s underworld alongside Frank as they try to pay their dangerous supplier, Milo (Zlatko Blanc). Pusher’s successful turnaround helped set the tone for both Mikkelsen and Refn’s promising careers, and Mikkelsen’s performance in the second film garnered the Best Actor Award at the Bodil Awards, Zulu Awards, and the Robert Festival Awards.
Casino Royale (2006)
Slowly transitioning from indie projects to blockbuster franchises, it would be hard to disregard Mikkelsen’s brilliant performance in 007’s Casino Royale. Arguably one of the best antagonists within the Daniel Craig run as Bond, his character Le Chiffre was the perfect balance of a cold-hearted terrorist and a meticulous poker player. Just staring at his scarred eye already gave viewers the chills. Mikkelsen definitely established his name in Hollywood as an actor worth noting, and brought to life one of the most iconic Bond villains in recent memory.
A Royal Affair (2012)
Despite consolidating his career abroad, Mikkelsen continued to excel in Danish films. In A Royal Affair, Mikkelsen portrayed King Christian VII’s royal physician Johann Friedrich Struensee. While taking care of the mentally ill ruler, Johann gets romantically involved with the king’s wife Caroline Matilda of Great Britain (played by Alicia Vikander). Marking one of the few times that Mikkelsen was part of a historical drama or let alone played a love interest, this film demonstrated his versatility on screen. The production even received an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 2013.
The Hunt (2012)
Released in the same year as A Royal Affair, The Hunt gave Mikkelsen one of his best leading roles to date, displaying a deeply moving depiction of a teacher who is wrongfully accused of abusing a child. As the character’s life turns 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 can maneuver different personas with precision. After all, it was nice to see him embrace a vulnerable role and show that he can be the victim from time to time. Landing multiple nominations for his performance, he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival in 2012.
Anthony Hopkins delivered an iconic portrayal of cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lector in The Silence of the Lambs—an award-winning performance that few actors would want to try and follow. Despite having to live up to that performance and Hannibal’s cultural impact on psychological thrillers, Mikkelsen not only accepted the challenge of reviving the villain in the NBC series Hannibal, but he also succeeded in honoring his 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 Royale, then they will be even more blown away by Mikkelsen’s capacity to incorporate someone that is so unapologetically evil.
When actors play a lead role in survival films, most often than not, they must tackle a one-man show. That is the case for Mikkelsen in Joe Penna’s 2018 production Arctic. In it, Mikkelsen plays Overgard, a pilot whose plane crashes into the frozen tundra, and must find ways to keep him and another passenger alive. Although this type of genre is hard to keep viewers compelled, Mikkelsen’s character draws the audience in with his survival instincts and eagerness to carry on despite the unfavorable conditions he is facing. His performance allows the audience to put themselves in his shoes and question what they would do if they were in a similar situation.
Another Round (2020)
Last but not least, Mikkelsen’s latest collaboration with Danish director Thomas Vinterberg (who worked with him in The Hunt) featured another outstanding performance from his two-decade-long career. As a teacher that lacks any motivation inside the classroom, Mikkelsen’s character Martin decides to team up with a group of his teaching colleagues and raise their alcohol consumption per day to test if it will boost their energy as teachers. Although things seem to lighten up at the beginning of the experiment, their drinking habit goes overboard when the dosages increase uncontrollably.
Throughout the film, Mikkelsen displays the boredom of feeling settled down at work, the momentary vigor from alcohol’s aid, and the downfall when drinking casually becomes an addiction. Despite not landing an Academy Award recognition for his performance, his work in Another Round did earn him his first BAFTA nomination as Best Actor in a Leading Role, and once again earned Denmark an Oscar for Best International Feature Film.