Danish actor Mads (pronounced Mass) Mikkelsen first garnered attention at the global box office for his portrayal of Le Chiffre, the criminal mastermind who cried tears of blood—and pounded star Daniel Craig’s genitals in a memorable torture scene—in 2006’s James Bond adventure Casino Royale. The performer has since gone on to acclaim in projects as varied as the late and lamented NBC series Hannibal, the Oscar-nominated 2020 film Another Round, and as a possible foil for Harrison Ford in the fifth Indiana Jones film, which is due in 2022. For more on Mikkelsen, including the audition that he walked out on, keep reading.
Mikkelsen grew up in Nørrebro, a section of Copenhagen. Despite studying English in school, Mikkelsen told The Wall Street Journal in 2021 that much of his understanding of the language came from the Monty Python records his brother, Lars, brought home. American action movies—Bruce Lee was one of his favorite actors—were also helpful.
Mikkelsen got into the performing arts early, enrolling in gymnastics in grade school. According to Mikkelsen, it was not his finest moment. “You have to understand, gymnastics in Denmark was on a completely different level than the rest of the world in the sense that we sucked,” he told The New York Times in 2021. “I remember there was a Russian club coming to us as a friendship club, and it was just insane how good they were.”
Mikkelsen switched to dancing around the age of 17 and remained there for almost a decade, appearing in stage productions of La Cage aux Folles, Chicago, and West Side Story in Denmark.
When he began nearing age 30, Mikkelsen shifted away from dance to pursue acting at a drama school in Copenhagen. In his third year there, he was cast in the 1996 film Pusher, a drug dealer thriller directed by Nicolas Winding Refn. While most any aspiring actor would have been congratulated, Mikkelsen actually got reprimanded by the drama school, which forbid students to take projects outside of their accepted curriculum.
In 2000, Mikkelsen accepted a role in a police series, Unit One, that aired in Denmark. As is often the case with television, it made Mikkelsen immediately recognizable to people on the street. “Once I hit the TV screen, it was a very different story from one day to the other,” he told The Wall Street Journal. “Everybody recognized you on the street. My romantic idea about being an actor was shattered completely.”
While not quite on the same level of secrecy as a Marvel Studios film, at least not at the time, the script for 2006’s Casino Royale was still intended to be a for-your-eyes-only affair. But as he was preparing to audition for the role of Le Chiffre, Mikkelsen accidentally left his script behind on a plane. “I fell asleep on the plane, and I forgot it on the plane,” he told Vulture in 2021. “I am the reason why they put your name on the script. This is what they’re trying to avoid. I panicked. I was out of the plane. I’d walked maybe a minute or something. I realized, ‘Oh, no,’ and I went back, and they wouldn’t let me in.” Mikkelsen imagined the script was thrown away by airline workers; fortunately, he still got the job.
Marvel’s Fantastic Four comic has never had a considerable amount of success on the big screen, with a 2005 film and its 2007 sequel receiving a tepid reception and a 2015 reboot drawing outright disdain. Mikkelsen auditioned for the first incarnation—not, as one might suspect, for the role of villain Doctor Doom but for super-powered scientist Reed Richards, a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic.
It did not go well. “I know a lot of casting is just first impressions—is there anything there that reminds the producer and the director of the character they’re looking for?” he told Vulture. “But I find it rude to ask people to come into a room and say one line while pretending you have 80-foot arms like the rubber man. ‘Grab that cup of coffee over there’—it’s like, are you crazy? There’s not even a scene here. It was kind of humiliating.” Dismayed over his treatment as “the rubber man,” Mikkelsen walked out of the audition. The role went to actor (and friend) Ioan Gruffudd.
Mikkelsen has made five movies with director Anders Thomas Jensen, including 2021’s revenge thriller Riders of Justice. While their collaborations have been rewarding, Mikkelsen has said that they didn’t get off on the right foot. Speaking with Entertainment Weekly in 2021 about their first meeting in 2000, Mikkelsen noted that the encounter ended in a physical altercation.
“Anders in his younger days was very provocative and I have a big mouth as well,” Mikkelsen said. “We ended up in a fight. It was a party and we just ended up fighting on the staircase. So that was the first time I met him. A couple of months later he asked me to be in his film. I think the fight was kind of my audition. He’s calmed down a lot.”