I think Mikkelsen succeeded in making Le Chiffre ever so lightly sympathetic - at least during the Poker Match. If we imagine, as Mikkelsen did, that he was a street orphan who made himself rich, you can see his fear at losing it all. Of course, it quickly becomes clear that in order to make his fortune he became a very bad person, so that brief touch of sympathy is quickly washed away...
And I didn't even recognize him from King Arthur.
by Joe Nazzaro
Playing high-risk poker, Mads Mikkelsen takes a big gamble in the deadly game with James Bond.
Another Mads(man) trying to take over the world? Nope. Casino Royale's Le Chiffre wants to win the Texas Hold 'Em poker game.
No James Bond adventure would be complete without a larger-than-life villain, but no scoundrel has had as strange a history as Le Chiffre, 007’s nemesis in Casino Royale. Originally created as a Russian agent and baccarat player in Ian Fleming’s 1953 novel (the first Bond book), the character was played by Peter Lorre in an episode of the TV series Climax a year later, and then Orson Welles in the 1967 Casino Royale film spoof.
The latest performer to essay the villainous Le Chiffre is Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen for the 2006 version of Casino Royale, which reboots the Bond franchise with Daniel Craig stepping into the role of 007. This time, though, the somewhat dated aspects of Communist Russia and baccarat have been dispensed with in favor of more contemporary elements. “First of all, he’s a money launderer for terrorist organizations around the world,” explains Mikkelsen, “so he doesn't have a political agenda. He doesn’t care; he’s just in it for the money. Le Chiffre is also a vain character. He enjoys being behind the scenes, not too much out there, and he doesn’t like the Sun. Le Chiffre is like a vampire who stays indoors. He wants to remain unrecognized.”
Photo: The stakes are high—really high—for Le Chiffre, who must recoup the money he has lost. Laundering funds for terrorist organizations can be a dangerous job.
Unlike a number of Bond villains—who have been somewhat lacking in depth apart from their obvious motivation to rule a big chunk of the free world—Mikkelsen insists his character is more than a mere cardboard cut-out. “Actors always try to make their characters more than one-dimensional,” he '' says. “We try to give them two faces, so the baddies have to be likable and the goodies have to be unlikable. We have to find that dualism somewhere, so I tried to make Le Chiffre sympathetic in my world, even though what he’s doing isn’t especially sympathetic—and that’s the job of the actor and director working together. You have to look at different films in different ways. In some movies, you try to make the small characters really realistic, and in others, you don’t. I think we achieved making Le Chiffre slightly likable, but we’ll have to wait and see.”
So how does one go about making a terrorist money launderer into a sympathetic person? “Well, the story does some of it for you, and if the script is good, it will do that too,” Mikkelsen remarks. “If not, you try to do it with little details and pauses or the energy in the character. The thing is, you have to be smarter than your character all the time. You have to see what their mistakes are, and normally the character doesn’t know them himself, but the audience does. That’s why it’s nice to scream at a character, ‘No, go this way, not that way! ’ In that sense, you have to analyze them, but the character doesn’t have to be aware of them himself.”
Photo: Before he hit the casino table, Mikkelsen sat at the Round Table as Tristan, one of the knights in Service to King Arthur.
Like many actors, Mikkelsen often creates an intemal backstory for his character, which doesn’t necessarily get seen on screen, but helps to flesh out the role. “I do that all the time, but I think every actor does the same thing,” he notes. “Even with the character I played in [the popular Danish crime drama] Pusher, we don’t really know anything about him, but we feel that we know everything about him, so I could make up my story about what his childhood was like and everything else, even though it was not necessary in the picture. I try to do that every time, whether the script is focused on his whole life story or not; I’ll add some-thing in my own head. In Casino Royale, I pictured this guy as an orphaned Street kid, maybe since he was four. Le Chiffre is a real survivor; he comes from nothing, and suddenly he becomes filthy rich as he starts going bad. That’s [how I imagined] his story.”
Not surprisingly, playing a high-profile character in the latest Bond outing marks a career milestone for Mikkelsen, who remembers seeing a number of the previous 007 films while growing up in his native Copenhagen. “When I was a kid, I watched them if they came to Denmark, which almost all of them did,” he recalls. “I’m not a freak or an expert, but I’ve seen most of them. The Bonds I remember best were the ones with Jaws, because he was such a scary guy.”
The Danish-born Mikkelsen began his professional career as a gymnast and dancer before turning his attention to acting. “When you’re a dancer, nobody knows about you,” he candidly comments. “I wasn’t there advertising that I was a dancer, but when I went to drama ' school, people were interested—quite quickly—in me working in films. I’ve always been in love with movies, and the fact that you can drag the audience to you instead of going all the way out to the audience—the transition wasn’t hard at all.” After graduating from the Arhus Theatre School, Mikkelsen appeared in a number of stage productions before moving on to TV shows such as the popular police drama Unit 1, which earned an international Emmy for Best Drama Series. “I was working in films at the same time as I was working on this TV thing, but moving back and forth wasn’t a big problem for me,” says Mikkelsen. “I haven’t done TV since then, not because I don’t want to, but because that was kind of enough. You tend to get identified with one character after two-and-a-half years, and I like to do a variety of stuff.”
Mikkelsen earned acclaim for his edgy portrayal of a low-life junkie and drug dealer in director Nicolas Winding Refn’s Pusher films. “They were so different that making the transition was easy,” he states. “It’s dangerous for some actors when they get stuck there, but I was fortunate enough to get offered different material. The original Pusher was my first film ever, and I guess many people my age just wanted to change Danish film in those days, so we went out and did movies for no money—it was pure energy. I think we succeeded in changing things—not only me, but many other actors, directors, camera guys and writers. And if we can keep that on track for some years to come, that would be great.”
Over the last few years, Mikkelsen has continued to build up a body of quality work, including the lead role in Open Hearts (which earned him a Danish Academy Award nomination), I Am Dina opposite Gérard Depardieu, Shake It All About, Flickering Lights, Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself, The Green Butchers (another Danish Film Critics nomination) and Pusher II, reprising his role from the 1996 original and picking up a handful of awards in 2005.
Mikkelsen began grabbing international attention the previous year with King Arthur, Antoine Fuqua’s retelling of the Knights of the Round Table legend. The actor played Tristan opposite Clive Owen’s Arthur. “I don’t know if I’m necessarily moving into bigger films, because I’ve never looked at my career as a career; I’ve always looked at the work,” he reflects. “I’ve really enjoyed the work and being part of those changes back home in Denmark, so every time I get offered something, I never regard it as, ‘Oh, where will this take me?’ I don’t care about that. If you start thinking like that, you’ll always be disappointed in life. But if you focus on the job, you’ll be happy in the end.”
Maybe so, but it would be difficult to argue that Mikkelsen’s higher profile didn’t make him a more appealing candidate when the Casino Royale producers began searching for their new villain. “There’s a great deal of focus on Danish films these days— not necessarily by average people around the world, but it has been a big thing in the movie business for the last five or six years,” he explains. “So if they’re casting for foreign or European actors, they’ll definitely take a look at Danish films, and that’s how this came about. The casting director saw some of my movies and introduced me to Martin Campbell, the director, and a couple of the producers. They had seen the Pusher films and a darker picture I did called Open Hearts.
Photo: To better understand Le Chiffre, Mikkelsen created a backstory for the character. “I pictured this guy as an orphaned street kid,” he says.
“Originally, I had to audition, but I couldn’t make it a couple of times because I was working on a Danish movie in Prague, so instead I had a meeting with Martin and [producer] Michael Wilson. After that, I did go to an audition, all dressed up in a suit, ready to film with Daniel, but he was busy doing something else. I think they had already seen enough, though, so they just offered me the part. At the first meeting, they gave me the script and I read the whole thing and really liked it. It was a real page-tumer, which is rare.”
As the new Bond villain, Mikkelsen spent the next several months traveling back and forth between the production’s international locations. “I was in two places in the Czech Republic, and I was in London as well,” he says. “No Bahamas for me, but I really enjoyed the areas we went. I was in the Bahamas last year for a film festival, so I’ve already been there, and it was fun.
“I still remember my first day, for many reasons of course. We had a scene on a giant boat—which was inside the studio—and it was on some kind of mechanical system that went up and down so we didn’t have to play the waves. When we completed the scene, I got up to leave the room, and suddenly I felt this boat moving and I thought, ‘Wow, this is a Bond set!’ Normally, you would have people out there pushing the boat, but we had a machine doing it. So that was awesome.”
He has high praise for his on-screen nemesis Craig. “Daniel is a very funny guy, and he felt really comfortable in this part. He had a good time,” Mikkelsen offers. “Daniel works with his fellow actors, so if there was a scene with him and me, we would sit down with Martin and make it work and maybe add a few slight changes. He’s extremely focused and disciplined, which is what actors should be. Sometimes you work with people who are big stars or are becoming big stars and that can create problems, but Daniel was always focused on the work. I think he’s ready for this.”
And so is Mads Mikkelsen, who is looking forward to public reaction to Casino Royale. “The interest is already enormous, and it has been a great process. I’ve met so many fantastic people—the actors, director and crew—and it has been nice to experience how a big-budget film can feel just like a small-budget one. For me, it’s all about the work.”
Photo: A Knight to remember. Casino Royale may be the film that propels the Danish actor to movie stardom.
[Source: Starlog January 2007 P. 76-78. Design Layout Helner Fell. Copyright © 2006 O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All rights reserved. Starlog is a registered trademark of O'Quinn Studios, Inc. All Casino Royale Photos: Jay Maldment/Copyright © 2006 DanJaq, LLC and United Artists Corporation. King Arthur Photos Copyright © 2006 Buena Vista Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved.]