Mads Mikkelsen on ‘Rogue One,’ His ‘Doctor Strange’ Villain,’ and ‘Hannibal’ Season 4
Mads Mikkelsen has always been good at playing bad. He’s turned human organs into dinner-party delicacies, whipped a naked Daniel Craig with a giant rope, and been tortured by Rihanna. Now the Danish actor can add one more evil deed to his acting resume: Creator of the Death Star.
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mikkelsen plays Galen Erso, the scientist who gave the Galactic Empire their most powerful weapon. But Galen isn’t necessarily a bad guy. He gives cargo pilot Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed) a secret message to deliver to Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker). Galen’s estranged daughter, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), and a crew of Rebels get word of the message, and set out to steal the Death Star plans.
I caught up with Mikkelsen at the Lucasfilm Campus in San Francisco to talk about the new Star Wars movie and his mysterious character. He also told me his interpretation of the Hannibal Season 3 finale and teased the return of his Doctor Strange villain.
You’ve played so many great villains before, but Galen isn’t so much a bad guy as an anti-hero.
He’s definitely not a villain, but he’s a scientist. Scientists have a curiosity and sometimes they get tunnel vision. Sometimes they don’t listen, they don’t see clear. They just keep going because they’re curious. I think he’s one of those characters. Brilliant man who’s not seeing the writing on the wall, where this is taking us. He does believe that what he’s doing now can make the world a better place. He’s aware that it can do something else as well, but he ignores it.
How was playing Galen different for you compared to playing straight evil villains?
I’ve tried to make all my straight evil characters dualistic. If you take a character like Hannibal who’s very, very complex. I definitely don’t see Hannibal as evil. I see him as a man who embraces – he finds beauty in places where the rest of us find horror. But he’s a lover of anything beautiful, right. So he’s a very different creature. Obviously, going back to Doctor Strange, [Kaecilius] is on the wrong side, but he does not see it like that. He’s fighting for eternal life for anyone, and that doesn’t sound evil in his ears. Actually not even in my ears. So you have to find something, you have to find that mission. You have to figure out, what is their mission? I don’t think theres any war in the world, in the past or present where one side will declare “Hey, we are the evil ones.” They always believe they are heroes, both sides.
Galen is drawn to the science, but what does he believe in?
One thing we have to understand, is that the Dark Side or the Empire, they are the state. They don’t see themselves – I mean I grew up, I’m a member of the Empire. I work for the Empire. There’s light, love and families there as well. This is the other side, right? There’s nothing in there that indicates that I’m working for the dark people. No, no, he’s working for humanity, that’s what he believes, or the whole universe.
It seems like Galen shares some similarities with J. Robert Oppenheimer, in how he created the bomb then later spoke out against more powerful nuclear weapons. Was there any historical influence behind your character?
No, but we mentioned and talked about him. He’s definitely a man to talk about. It’s not the first time it’s happened in history. The problem with things like that, you can’t not invent it. Once it’s invented, it’s not going to go away, it’s there. But sometimes – they call that, “Well I’m so far ahead of everybody else here. And if I’m not doing it, someone else is doing it. So I might as well be the one doing it.” That’s a strangely interesting, narcissistic side of some scientists.
I read that you didn’t grow up watching Star Wars or James Bond. What has it been like as an actor to enter franchises you weren’t as familiar with? Does it give you a blank slate to approach them with?
Yeah, that’s a little weird. But at the same time, I did grow up with it, just not at the same time as everybody else. I caught the train when I was 14,15 and little later than the rest of the gang, but I loved what I saw. But I missed out on the whole hype because I saw it back home on VHS. Right, it was like, “Oh, too late.” But it is amazing to be proud of something that you actually grew up with, that was there when you were a kid and is still around. And, “Oh, I’m an actor now. Oh, I’m getting offered a job in this crazy thing!” That is surreal, that is really weird. There’s not a lot of things you can do that with because there’s not a lot of things that have survived for decades.
I know that Alan Tudyk got to do some improv with his character. Did you get any opportunities to play around with that?
Yeah, I think we had quite a lot of that. Especially Felicity was playing my daughter, but I also play with two other versions of [Jyn], four years old and eight years old. There I had to improv a lot. It’s difficult to make little four year olds act the way you want, or say their lines without stiffening up. So it’s basically my job to make them feel at ease and play it out so they forget what they’re doing, then all of a sudden you get some beautiful moments with them. So there’s a lot of improv in those scenes, but there was a general sense of freedom in what we did in some of the scenes. When they’re big and dramatic and action heavy, you can’t improv. You have to run that way and then check your right [side], unless you want to be blown up.
He had pitched for us what that idea was and we loved it. We actually thought we were going back and doing it. It was the first time that we were very sure that we were coming back. The other [seasons] we didn’t think we were coming back and we had another chance. But the fourth time was like, yes, money in the bank here we go. And then they canceled it. So we were quite surprised. So let’s wait and see, cross our fingers that the man will come back and do it. If he does it, I think we’re all on board.
What would be your dream scenario for Season 4, an area you’d want to explore about Hannibal?
Silence of the Lamb is obviously very interesting, but we also all know it very well. I think Bryan has been magically good at creating something out of the material that’s there, but going somewhere else with it. I just jump on that train when he starts writing because I have an idea of what he’s doing but you can never fully imagine where he’s going because he’s a very surprising man.
Season 3 ended on a literal cliffhanger. What’s your interpretation of the ending? Do you think both Hannibal and Will survived?
It’s a very classic ending. A very Sherlock Homes and Moriarty ending. Yeah, they can survive. Of course they can. It’s movie magic. If they’re lucky enough to hit one of the soft rocks down there, we’ll see. Hannibal is full of surprises, maybe he had something up his sleeve there. Could be anything.
At the end of Doctor Strange, Kaecilius turns into particles and becomes trapped in Dormammu’s realm. But we exactly don’t see him die...
No. That’s the point.
Do you think there’s potential he’ll return to the MCU?
In those worlds and universes, everything is possible. If I wanted to come back, yes. I loved doing that. That was also really a childhood dream. I’ve loved Bruce Lee since I was a kid and I loved Marvel since I was a kid and all of a sudden I was doing both in one film. I really enjoyed it. So if they want to bring me back and do some flying kung fu, I’m game.
Before you got into acting you studied ballet and were a dancer. Would you ever do a musical or dance in a film?
Yeah! It would take a little practice to get back to there, but yes I would say that we don’t make too many musicals in films anymore, right? I’ve done a lot of musicals as a dancer before, but if a really good idea comes up when dance is required in some sense, and I find that interesting, yes I will jump on board right away. But it’s gotta be soon, I’m not getting younger. [Laughs]
Is there an ideal musical you want to bring to the the screen?
No. I’ve done a few things. No, it’s been done. I love doing and watching West Side Story. And Singing in the Rain is a classic, but there’s no reason to revisit that. They did it.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hits theaters December 16.