Danish Bad Guys

The golden age of Dogme opened a door to the world for Danish actors. Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Zlatko Buric, Jakob Cedergren and their Danish agents sketch their own part in the current trend – a trend that also has Ulrich Thomsen featuring in Berlin’s opening film "The International".

A Russian mobster, a corrupt tycoon, a PR guy named Otto – a growing number of Danish actors are showing up in the credits for international features.

Often, international producers are casting Danish actors as villains. Nikolaj Lie Kaas had his international debut in 2006 playing a Russian mobster in "Pu-239", directed by Scott Z. Burns, and currently, he can be seen as Mr. Gray in Ron Howard’s "Angels & Demons". Curiously, in Denmark, Kaas has often played the role of insecure, sensitive men, as seen in the Dogme films "The Idiots" and "Truly Human".

“People used to ask me if I wasn’t afraid of being typecast, but I knew that would change eventually,” Kaas says. “I’m happy playing villains, and I’m sure a lot of other Danish actors would be, too, because we never get to do that in Denmark. We hardly have any villains in Danish films.” Zlatko Buric in Nicolas Winding Refn's Pusher photo Jens Juncker-Jensen

Zlatko Buric in Nicolas Winding Refn’s third installment in the Pusher trilogy, I’m the Angel of Death. Photo: Jens Juncker-Jensen


Kim Bodnia "Delhi Belly" (Abhinay Deo)
Zlatko Buric "2012" (Roland Emmerich)
Jakob Cedergren "Rage" (Sally Potter) MAIN COMPETITION
Jesper Christensen "Quantum of Solace" (Marc Forster), "Storm" (Hans-Christian Schmid) MAIN COMPETITION
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau "New Amsterdam" (Fox TV)
Trine Dyrholm "The Unseen" (Erik Poppe)
Thure Lindhardt "Angels & Demons" (Ron Howard)
Nikolaj Lie Kaas "Angels & Demons" (Ron Howard)
Mads Mikkelsen "Die Tür" (Anno Saul), "Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky" (Jan Kounen)
Ulrich Thomsen "The International" (Tom Tykwer) OPENING FILM



One of the few true villains Danish cinema has produced is Zlatko Buric’s drug kingpin Milo in Nicolas Winding Refn’s "Pusher". The Croatian-born actor’s international career picked up a steam after that role, and he may currently be seen as a corrupt Russian tycoon in Roland Emmerich’s action film "2012".

“The Danish films I have been in all put a heavy emphasis on the character’s psychology. Not so in 2012, where my expression is a lot stronger. They are two different things, of course, and both are interesting, but I’m thrilled to be in a production of this scale,” Buric says.


On the other hand, Jakob Cedergren, an actor known for playing tough guys in Danish films, was not slotted as a villain in his English-language debut, "Rage", directed by Sally Potter.
Jakob Cedergren in Dark Horse photo Henrik O. Rasmussen
Jakob Cedergren in "Dark Horse". Photo: Henrik O. Rasmussen

Cedergren first attracted international attention for his leading role in Dagur Kári’s "Dark Horse", which won Un Certain Regard at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. That same year, Cedergren was elected Shooting Star in Berlin and is now returning to the festival with "Rage", which is running in competition. Cedergren plays Otto, a PR guy for a big fashion house, in a film exclusively consisting of monologues.

“When I saw that my character’s name was Otto, I asked Sally Potter if the part was intended for a German. It was. So I asked her if I should work on my German accent. Don’t bother, she said, just use the accent you’ve got. So, in the film, I have a Scandinavian accent,” Swedish-born Cedergren says.


Several other Danish actors can currently be seen in international productions. Jesper Christensen is playing a Bond villain in "Quantum of Solace". Thure Lindhardt, like Nikolaj Lie Kaas, has a part in "Angels & Demons". Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is starring in the American TV series "New Amsterdam". And Ulrich Thomsen is featured in Tom Tykwer’s "The International", which opens the Berlin Film Festival.

Beyond the obvious reason – the international success of Danish films – wider distribution has been crucial Danish Bad Guys to the increase in international roles for Danish actors, the Danish agent Anne Lindberg suggests.

“These days, Danish producers and distributors are much better at getting their films out in the world. Danish actors are picked more frequently, because Danish films have more exposure abroad, but also because of the massive work that agents do,” Lindberg says. Her clients include Nikolaj Lie Kaas and Jakob Cedergren.

Ulrich Møller-Jørgensen, director of the Danish Art Management agency, agrees: “The advice given to Danish actors has undergone a professional upgrade. Ten years ago, when I started my agency, there were hardly any other managers out there. Now there’s a lot, and more actors are getting better advice,” Mølller-Jørgensen says. His clients include Mads Mikkelsen and Zlatko Buric.

Also, the generally high quality of Danish actors plays a part, says Sten Hassing, a partner in the Danish management agency Team Players.

“A lot of Danish actors speak fluent English. They’re highly educated, with a good, four-year degree, and are getting a lot of work in Denmark – in film, on TV and the stage. For those reasons, they have a good reputation abroad,” Hassing says