He went on to play a Bond villain in "Casino Royale," and survived fighting green-screen scorpions in "Clash of the Titans," the mark of a true star. He can be dangerous and violent, deranged and funny, mighty warrior or tender lover. He likes to strip away extra layers to the lean meat of a performance. After nine years as a dancer, "emotional stuff gets in my body somehow," he says. "I see so many cases where if you chase the dream you can't catch it but if the dream is in the work, you will sleep a happy man."
"Everything I've done is a stepping stone to what I do today," he said at the Telluride Film Festival, where he had a tribute and spoke to me on the flipcam (below). He was about to move with his family to Toronto for a year to play the title character on "Hannibal." On the NBC TV series, "we get away with a lot," he said.
He's performed credibly in Danish, French, Russian and English. Now Mikkelsen is on the cusp of global stardom, having won the Best Actor prize at Cannes in 2012 for his penetrating portrayal of a decent school teacher whose life is shattered when he is falsely accused of being a pedophile in Thomas Vinterberg's "The Hunt" (2013), cowritten by Tobias Lindholm ("A Hijacking"). One spreading lie throws his community into a state of hysteria as his friends ostracize him and the teacher fights back against the witch-hunt alone.
Mikkelsen's last film, the Danish hit "A Royal Affair," was also nominated for an Oscar. It tells the true history of an enlightened intellectual doctor who not only took care of his country's addlepated king, but slept with his wife. Both Magnolia pick-ups played at last year's Telluride and Toronto Festivals, but Denmark held back the release of "The Hunt," which won the Best Screenwriter prize at the 2012 European Film Awards, until July 2013.
Now "The Hunt" is a strong contender for this year's foreign Oscar. (See also our interview with director Thomas Vinterberg, here.)