You’re not good looking. You have an interesting face."
"Mikkelsen does not have the natural good looks of a Brad Pitt or a Sean Connery. But he most assuredly has an interesting face."
This is how one Scandinavian actor introduced the other at the 2011 European Film Awards in Berlin. Mads Mikkelsen, the 46-year-old Danish actor whose many distinctions include playing a Bond villain, received the European Achievement in World Cinema award from Stellan Skarsgård, his 60-year-old Swedish colleague who easily commutes between European art films and American entertainments. At the ceremony, Skarsgård ribbed Mikkelsen with the line that would top every Danish news site in the days that followed: "You’re not good looking."
Of course he’s good looking. His high cheekbones, cool gaze, dramatic Cupid’s bow and charming wolf smile suggest an underlying desire to pull every woman into bed and thoroughly and passionately sink his teeth into her throat. But of course his friend and roaster Skarsgård is right, too. Mikkelsen does not have the natural good looks of a Brad Pitt or a Sean Connery. But he most assuredly has an interesting face.
That was evident from Mikkelsen’s first starring role, as Tonny in Nicolas Winding Refn’s breakthrough film "Pusher" (1996). However emphatically Kim Bodnia, as Frank the pusher, stomped on Mikkelsen’s face, raging at his perceived betrayal, he could not prevent the ladies from being drawn to its graceful poetry.
Ever since, Mikkelsen’s face has proven itself to be interesting and versatile enough to effortlessly travel in time and space – from comedy to ultraviolence, from the Danish drug underground to rarefied Parisian artists’ circles, from NGO worker to supervillain. One moment he is playing the genius Russian composer Igor Stravinsky having sex with the fashion guru Coco Chanel on a piano bench in Paris, in "Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky", the next he is splintering the bones of barbarian warriors as the proto-Viking One-Eye in Refn’s "Valhalla Rising". He shined as Niels, the sensitive doctor in Susanne Bier’s Dogme film "Open Hearts", and as a kind friend to starving Indian children in another Bier film, "After the Wedding". Most recently, he scorched the screen as Rochefort, the swashbuckling bad guy in "The Three Musketeers". Mikkelsen’s face has travelled way so wide and far that his 16 years on screen seem like a very short time to fit it all in.
Of course it doesn’t carry a whole movie. Mikkelsen doesn’t just pose like Alain Delon and let everything else fall as it may. He is an actor who knows when to power through, who was ready to learn Russian and French and how to play the piano for the role of Stravinsky. Nor does a rundown of Mikkelsen’s choice of roles reveal a stuck-up star who is afraid of new challenges or upsetting his career by throwing in with unknown directors. In 2012, he will be appearing as a 17th-century rebel in "Michael Kohlhaas", by the French director Arnaud des Pallières. Further ahead, he will be playing a meteorologist stationed in Greenland during World War II, in "War Below Zero" by the Icelandic director Ágúst Gudmundsson. He will be starring as a kidnapper of small children in a Western-like New Zealand setup, in "The Stolen" by the British director Niall Johnson. Finally, we will get to see him in two Danish productions – in Thomas Vinterberg’s "The Hunt", as an innocent man on the run, and in Nikolaj Arcel’s "A Royal Affair", as an 18th-century Enlightenment man.
"I sit there in the dark and I watch you, I listen to you, and I am sucked into your face and into your eyes, and I am very happy," Skarsgård went on in Berlin, when he was done rating Mikkelsen’s appearance. Florid speechifying is part of any awards show, of course, but most of us, women and men alike, know what he means. Watching those cheekbones, that Cupid’s bow, that wolf smile as they travel from film to film, through time and space, is, simply, endlessly interesting.