TV IS THE NEW CINEMA: The Mikkelsen Brothers and the New Global Face(s) of Television

Television
by David Chute
July 31, 2013 7:04 AM
3 Comments
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Mads and Lars Mikkelsen

The producers of the BBC's global hit "Sherlock" have announced that the the central bad guy of the show's upcoming third season, squaring off against Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Holmes and Watson, will be Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen. Although he's been working in Denmark since 1995, Mikkelsen is best known here for playing mayoral candidate Troels Hartmann on the 2007 "Forbrydelsen," the original Danish version of "The Killing."

Which means that there are now two Mikkelsens with high-profile English-language TV gigs, as kid brother Mads Mikkelsen spent the past year nailing the role of eminent psychiatrist and noted gourmet Dr. Hannibal Lecter, manipulating and framing for murder the photogenically frazzled Will Graham (played by Brit Hugh Dancy), on NBC's excellent "Hannibal."

American TV has imported so many storylines and so many performers in recent years that the trend has become almost a running gag among observers of the medium -- and for observers of movies, too, now that both Superman and Batman are both Brits. An explanation occasionally offered is that manly men in the classic heroic mold are few and far between among recessive American thespians. When an impressively forceful and confident leading man you've never heard of turns up on a show, such as Robert Taylor on A&E's solid contemporary Western procedural "Longmire," it's a matter of course now that he will turn out to be from somewhere else.

Damian Bichir in 'The Bridge'

The track record of these wide-net adaptations of formats and importation of actors from all over has so far been pretty good, although some glitches do arise.

FX is currently adapting my favorite Scandinavian drama series, the Danish/Swedish co-production "The Bridge" ("Bron/Broen"). They are doing, for the most part, an exemplary job, except for one small bump, which they may have backed into, precisely by doing their level best to remain faithful to an admired source. (Spoilers.)

In both "Bridges," a bisected body is discovered on a span concocting two countries, and the crimes is investigated by a mis-matched cops from those countries, Denmark & Sweden and Mexico & the U.S., respectively. In the FX adaptation, the Oscar-nominated actor Demian Bichir plays Marco Ruiz, a homicide cop from Juarez, teamed with El Paso's Sonya Cross, portrayed by German actress Diane Kruger. The new "Bridge" takes full advantage of its setting on the contested U.S./Mexican border but is otherwise a close remake of "Bron/Broen."

(A French/English adaptation, co-produced by Sky Atlantic and Canal+ -- which because there's no equivalent bridge will be called "The Tunnel," as in Folkstone to Calais -- is in the works.)

Already familiar with the story, I missed something in episode three of "The Bridge" that my daughter noticed because she was simply watching along. When Marco, visiting a key witness played by Annabeth Gish, responds to her overtures and begins a (highly unprofessional) affair, the offspring was horrified. "I don't believe this would happen," she said. "Marco would never do this."

And she has a point: Bichir is a fine actor but he's playing Ruiz as such an upstanding, salt-of-the-earth honest policeman, perhaps feeling a responsibility to counter the stereotype of bribe-taking Mexican fuzz, that his behavior in this scene feels arbitrary, an imposition of a pre-existing plot beat on this new character.

Kim Bodnia, who played the Danish cop in "Bron/Broen," is a different kind of actor. He broke through in Danish films co-starring with, as it happens, Mads Mikkelsen, in the scabrous "Pusher" trilogy of Nicolas Winding Refn. Bodnia brought a glint of mischief-making anarchy to the role that made his misbehavior seem plausible. 

I don't think this small obstacle to our full emotional commitment to "The Bridge" is entirely Bichir's fault. Actors have different strengths, and one of the key responsibilities of a director or showrunner has to be to respond to what the performers bring to their roles as written, making adjustments if they are called for. Perhaps, at times, departing from a revered source is the best way to honor it.

Case in point: The U.S. version of "The Killing" has truly come into its own only in its current, first-rate, third season, which tells an original story not adapted from the Danish. Both Mireille Enos and Swedish-American import Joel Kinnaman are doing great work playing variations on the new iconic central figure of the police procedural genre, in all its many global manifestations, a character that a friend refers to as "the suffering cop," doubled over with anguish at the ugliness of the world. (Last Sunday's "Killing" 3.10, one of the darkest regular episodes 

of a television series 

I've ever seen, had Linden and Holder gazing into the abyss.)

No indication yet, by the way, exactly what Lars Mikkelsen's villainy on "Sherlock" will entail, although it's been pointed out that his character's name, Charles Augustus Magnussen, is too close to be accidental to Charles Augustus Milverton, a professional blackmailer in one of Conan Doyle's strongest Holmes stories. The detective famously declines to intervene when Milverton is killed by one of his victims.

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3 Comments

  • Ummm | August 1, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    Hey,

    You kind of attributed "HANNIBAL" to ABC. It's an NBC show.

  • DavidC | August 1, 2013 5:13 PM

    "Kind of?" More like totally.

  • Holly | July 31, 2013 9:23 AMReply

    Spiderman is also played by a Brit.

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