The Bookish Life of Mads Mikkelsen

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Annika Barranti Klein

Staff Writer

Annika Barranti Klein likes books, obviously.   Twitter: @noirbettie

Mads Dittman Mikkelsen was born on November 2, 1965, in Østerbro, Copenhagen, Denmark. He is the younger of two sons born to Bente Christiansen and Henning Mikkelsen; his older brother Lars is also an actor and has appeared on Sherlock, House of Cards, and Star Wars: Rebels, among other media. Mads trained first as a gymnast and later in ballet, working as a professional dancer until 1996, when he began studying acting at Århus Theatre School. He married choreographer Hanne Jacobsen in 2000, but otherwise left dance behind once he began working as an actor.

Mads had almost instant international success in his early roles, including his first in Nicolas Winding Refn’s 1996 film Pusher. However, he did not become well known in the U.S. until his appearance in Antoine Fuqua’s 2004 King Arthur, in which he portrayed Tristan (among the many baffling decisions in that movie, Isolde did not appear), and as the villain Le Chiffre in the 2006 film Casino Royale, the 21st James Bond film, based on Casino Royale by Ian Fleming. In 2008 he reprised the role for the Quantum of Solace video game and at the launch of Swatch’s 007 Villain Collection. Yes, the watch company.

In 2010 he was appointed a Knight (Ridder) of the Order of the Dannebrog in Denmark.

In 2011, Mads got to chew on the scenery, including an airship, as villain Compte de Rochefort in the delightfully unnecessary Paul W.S. Anderson–directed steampunk Three Musketeers, based on The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas. From 2013 to 2015 he played Hannibal Lector on Hannibal, Bryan Fuller’s sexy take on the cannibal. The character first appeared in Red Dragon by Thomas Harris, and subsequently in The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, and Hannibal Rising.

Throughout his career, Mads and his family — wife Hanne and their two children — have lived in Denmark, and he has continued to work internationally. In 2013 he played the title character in Age of Uprising: The Legend of Michael Kohlhaas, based on the novella Michael Kohlhaas by Heinrich von Kleist. In 2015 he was the (admittedly un-bookish) titular “Bitch [who] Better Have [Rihanna’s] Money.”

The following year, probably because of the aforementioned music video, he was appointed a Knight (Chevalier) of the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in France.

In 2016, he played yet another villain as Kaecilius in Doctor Strange, adding the Marvel Cinematic Universe to his long list of conquered (er, as an actor) worlds. The same year, he joined the Star Wars cinematic universe as Galen Erso in Rogue One, marking one of his biggest (arguably) non-villain roles.

In 2018 Mads had a supporting role as a priest in At Eternity’s Gate, a movie about the later years of Vincent Van Gogh’s life. Although based on an original screenplay, the film borrows a theory from Van Gogh: The Life by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith, who speculated that his death was not suicide but an accidental shooting by some boys playing nearby. The following year he starred in Polar based on the graphic novel Polar: Came From the Cold by Victor Santos. That film appears to be his lowest rated on Rotten Tomatoes, at 19%. Yikes.

In 2021, Mads played yet another villain as the mayor in the Doug Liman–directed Chaos Walking, based on the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. He also was announced to replace another actor in Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore, playing Gellert Grindelwald, and as yet another villain — a Nazi seeking to use the moon landing for his own gain — in Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny (not based on a book, but surely you can see how the Indiana Jones movies qualify as bookish nonetheless!).

Mads Mikkelson has won several acting awards and been nominated for even more. He’s been cast in several upcoming movies, but I think we can all agree that we’d most like to see him in another bookish role…