The end of last night’s official screening of the film “Promised Land” at the Venice Film Festival was followed by a prolonged, warm applause. Do you struggle every time for the reactions of the public and the critics?
I’m not one of those people who won’t sleep to read the first reviews to hit the internet, but every bad review bothers you. You trust your instincts, but we make films to touch the audience, so their opinion is extremely important, and you can’t ignore the critics, who don’t disagree so much with the taste of the average cinephile. Ultimately, though, if the room is happy, your mission is accomplished.
Have you ever been unsatisfied with a performance, despite positive feedback?
It’s inevitable I think. My biggest weakness as an actor is that I am extremely persistent. I study a role, make some decisions, always in agreement with the director, and defend them to the end. Most of the time everything goes well, other times I find that I was in the wrong tone. Of course it’s happened to me… I’ve also happened to shoot a scene in a way that I’m not entirely sure is the right way and it turns out to be the highlight of the film. The dance at the end of “White Bottoms” for example, didn’t seem like a good idea to me, although I really like physical expression in acting. I admire silent comedians and especially Buster Keaton, who I can’t get enough of watching. The director Thomas Vinterberg insisted, however, and urged me to improvise. So I decided to let go and follow his idea, which turned out to be wise.
Captain Ludwig Cullen was a real person. Did you do a lot of historical research on how to approach him in the film?
I am passionate about the story and always look for all the details of my films. I discover amazing things, such as the fact that until and after the middle of the 19th century people did not kiss in public. In Japan, in fact, until the end of World War II. So the heroes of an 18th century film cannot be pervasive. Or that hitting a “naughty” child at the time of the film, in 1750, was perfectly acceptable to everyone. We wondered about this because today it is considered completely anti-pedagogical, almost barbaric. But then it was happening and that’s why there is a similar scene in the movie.
Mands Mikkelsen at the Venice Film Festival, with director Nicolai Arcel and his co-stars Amanda Collin and Simon Benenberg to his right.
Aside from suggestions for script details or elements of your character, do you have a say in directing decisions or the choice of your co-stars in “Promised Land”?
I could never do the latter. If they ask me, I will of course say my opinion about a colleague, but that’s it. Casting is not my job, nor is directing, of course. And I always discuss my role thoroughly with the director because we cannot be on different wavelengths. If we tune in, then there won’t be any big conflicts, just possible minor problems in a scene or two which are usually very easily resolved.
Have you ever thought about getting behind the camera? Or write a script?
No, I wouldn’t be good. I can offer some help at the script level by making comments that might improve it. Mainly in regards to my character. However, it is impossible for me to write an entire script from start to finish, let alone direct it.
In the “Promised Land”, in addition to Danish, you also speak German. Did you find it as easy as English, which you have spoken in many of your roles?
Playing in English seems easier to me. On the other hand, thanks to the film I remembered my German again and felt a bit at home. There is a strong “Germanness” in Danish and most Scandinavian languages, so on the one hand I found the German language difficult, but on the other hand I felt that I understood deeply what I was saying. I’m not just spouting rants.