Last August, while director Louis Leterrier’s Clash of the Titans was filming at Shepperton Studios, I was invited – along with a few other online journalists – to visit the set. While there I was able to speak with a number of the actors and after the jump you can read the interview with Mads Mikkelsen. Even though most of you will only know Mikkelsen from his work in the last two James Bond movies (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), he’s a huge star in Denmark (his home country), where he’s been the lead in a number of films.
Let’s just say he’s a great person to play one of the supporting characters.
Anyway, during the interview, Mikkelsen talks about the challenges of making Clash, working with Sam Worthington and the rest of the cast, his look in the film, the original film, and so much more. Hit the jump to check it out:
As always, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here.
And if you haven’t seen the teaser trailer for Clash of the Titans, I suggest watching this before reading the interview.
Here’s the synopsis:
In Clash of the Titans, the ultimate struggle for power pits men against kings and kings against gods. But the war between the gods themselves could destroy the world. Born of a god but raised as a man, Perseus (Sam Worthington) is helpless to save his family from Hades (Ralph Fiennes), vengeful god of the underworld. With nothing left to lose, Perseus volunteers to lead a dangerous mission to defeat Hades before he can seize power from Zeus (Liam Neeson) and unleash hell on earth. Leading a daring band of warriors, Perseus sets off on a perilous journey deep into forbidden worlds. Battling unholy demons and fearsome beasts, he will only survive if he can accept his power as a god, defy his fate and create his own destiny.
Question: Can you talk about your look in the film?
It’s a Greek look. No, I mean, at beginning of the whole thing, we got a look like as close as we can to what we imagine they looked like in those days, hence the Lincoln beard. Long hair. He’s got a scar on his face there. He’s been in a lot of battles. Ex-warrior, now heading towards retirement. So that’s what we based it on. But basically we are the warriors so we’re wearing the uniform, which is a skirt and an armor.
He’s a new character?
Draco. I wouldn’t know. I haven’t seen the original. I think there’s something that kind of reminds us of the same kind of character, some kind of mentor in the first one, but I haven’t seen it so I can’t really answer that.
Then could you talk a little bit about your character, who you play?
Yeah, he’s the leader or the general of the honor guard, the bodyguards of the princess, basically. And then, as I said before, he’s heading towards retirement, together with a couple other of the guys, and some of the other guys are so young they’ve never been in battle. So it’s an honor guard, and so, at this time when we meet him, we are going on a journey with Perseus, which reluctantly we don’t want to go. I have a different plan to save the princess. I think we should hide her in the woods and wait ’til the storm’s over, but we got orders so we have to go with him.
So what’s his relationship with Perseus like? Do they fight over who’s the leader?
No it’s not a “Who’s the leader?” thing. We know from the very beginning, we know pretty fast that he’s a demigod. So I mean there’s no way I can compete with that anyway. But what I do need him to do is to bring up that god side in order for us to succeed in this mission. Or let’s put it this way, even if he brings the god side, we have a very small chance, but that is the only thing we can do. And he’s very reluctant to do that. He wants to stay a man. He wants to do this as a person. And of course, that doesn’t really give good odds for me and my soldiers.
So what was the physical preparation?
We just turn up in really good shape for first of all, and then we started looking at specific fights. We didn’t do a general boot camp. We were going straight for the specific fights. Me and Sam had something together and the scorpions and Medusa, so we went straight for the specific ones.
Can you talk about some of the rigors of shooting? Did you have to deal with a lot of conditions?
Yeah, I mean, you’ve seen the set over there, beautiful, and we dealt with a lot of giant fantastic sets — the Stygian Witches place and the Medusa’s place. They look fantastic but they also, they were also very difficult to work in. I mean, it was wetted down so it was slippery, there was lot of gravel all the time, so every time we rehearsed something, it was like, “This is easy, we can do that,” and we come in there, “Oh my God, how are we going to do that?” So it was very challenging but it was great because it was real. We really, really fell all the time and hurt ourselves and it looked great. And the toughest place would have been, I would say, Tenerife where we were facing a lot of volcano gravel coming into the sandals and just constantly every time we fell, we hurt something, cut on the bone or, but it was fun.
Also the altitude?
The altitude was a different thing. We heard about it. We thought it wouldn’t be a big deal, but the second you stepped out of the car, you could just feel it. But I’m a smoker, so I had an advantage.
So how much of the stunt work were you actually able to do yourself?
I think actually I’ve done it all. I don’t think there’s anything I haven’t done. It’s been a priority for the stunt guys that if they could make us do it ourselves and look good, that’s what they were aiming for. Obviously if it didn’t look good in the end, or [was] too dangerous, they would take over. And the stuff I’ve done has been pretty tough but not dangerous. They’ve allowed me a chance.
But they’d actually be there, just in case?
Oh yeah, the stunt people teach us to do it, in either case, and they, we always have them dressed up in, in case that something turns up wrong. And yeah, it’s been great fun for me. I used to be a dancer and I’m an ex-gymnast, so when you do a film like this you really get bitter if you don’t get to do any of the stunts. So if I wasn’t allowed, I would probably have been begging.
I didn’t really say that. Yeah. It was really fun. I mean, the first couple of days when we were having dress rehearsals and the first camera test when we were standing there without the beard, without the long hair, we seemed a little lost, lost in the costumes. But once we got back together a month later and looked at each other it was really cool. It became a normal day at the office, putting on the dress, the armor and the scars. And everybody was playing around with their swords even though we weren’t doing any fighting that day. It’s like having a gun on the set. Everybody touches it. So its been a lot of fun.
When did Louis tell you you had to grow a beard and how long did it take?
It was obvious from the beginning. There’s not a lot of people who did not have a beard in those days, at least what we think. So it’s kind of the equivalent of what we picture the period to be. We have some of the younger guys who don’t have a beard but I can’t say I’m young anymore so I’ve got a beard.
Is there a plot reason why Sam doesn’t have a beard?
Well, first of all he’s slightly younger than me and the rest of the guys here and he’s coming straight out of a boat. He’s been isolated in this other world of fishermen. And also hence the hair. He’s done it for practical reasons as a fisherman. That was the way they were doing it. And for other reasons, he might not have had long enough hair to put on some extensions. But it’s a good choice. It makes him stand out compared to the other guys.
We’ve heard that Louis is a very hands-on and active director. Could you talk about working with him?
Oh yeah. Well he’s very hands on. I mean the first time I met him he was talking about the script. He almost forgot I was there because he was sitting in this hotel lobby and all of a sudden he was up running around playing one of the monsters and doing something and he realized people were looking at him. He gets very, very much into it when you talk to him about these things. He’s very much hands on. He tries everything out that we’re doing just to see if it’s possible, if it’s workable. Can we do it a different way? He walks the path and, yeah, he’s very much hands on, a lot of energy. There was like two or three weeks in Wales that he was working on first and second unit. That means he was working 18 hours a day and then got home and saw the rushes and I don’t think he slept for three weeks. But you couldn’t see it on him. He’s very enthusiastic.
Was this a part that you went after or one that came to you?
It was a part that came to me, yeah. I hadn’t heard of it so it came to me. Louis had seen me in different films and he wanted a fairly white, European cast, so he was looking at other people he’d seen in European films before and then luckily he had seen some of my films.
Can you talk about the working relationship with Sam?
Yeah. I mean Sam is upcoming, he’s a big star now, but first of all he’s an actor who likes to go down and discuss the scenes and try the scenes out with you and so am I, so we’ve been spending a lot of time with Louis and before we shot the scenes, trying out things and making sure is this the right way to solve it? Is there a better way? Can we go a different way to solve it? So it’s been very productive. Almost like working on a very small scale film once we got to the scenes.
There can’t be much time for improv, so how much time did you spend before getting yourself ready?
Either we do it the day before or we do it in the morning and waste some time there, but we’s rather do it in the evening so we’re ready. Improv? No. First of all, we are talking in a special tone, certain words you can’t use, certain ways of saying things you can’t do in a film that’s historical. So improv,no. Physical improvisation, could be there, but in terms of saying stuff, we have to have that nailed.
What’s been the most challenging action sequence?
I would say it’s one of the scorpions. One of the scorpion fights. There were like five in this tent and I had to, first of all I tried to fight in the conventional way, doesn’t work, so I jump on his back and try to ride it as a bull and I was sitting on that — we had a gimbal for that — I was sitting on that scorpion for I think a week and had a very, very long left arm when I was done. It was very tough. But it looks cool.
You mentioned you hadn’t seen the original in the beginning, but did not feel like seeing it after you were cast?
I’ll definitely see it when we’re done with this, I can see it tomorrow as well, but I don’t have it. I’ve done it a couple times when things were based on the book or previous films. I don’t read the book and I don’t see the films because this is what we’re doing. We’re doing this script. This is what we have to discuss and if you read a book you might be disappointed if this part is not in there. So for me, it’s focus on what’s in front of you and if you like that, keep working on that.
Have you done any research on the history or the mythology?
No, it is mythology. I mean I know a little about Greek mythology. It’s not that far away from the Nordic mythology. We’ve got all the gods who have human qualities — greed, love, hate. I think it’s a very interesting period. But I didn’t do any exact research on it because what was in the script, as I said before, was built on the mythology and then if I came and said, “Oh I know a lot about Hades,” it wouldn’t really help me and my character in this situation.
Louis put together an international cast for the journeymen. What’s it like working together?
No, it was great. I mean, from the Irish guy, Liam, you learn to swear a lot. And [from the] Australian guy you learn to drink a lot. You know, they’re all actors and they’re all based in the same route. It’s been really fun. We have a great mix of different people. We’ve got one from Israel, a Christian guy from Israel. You’ve got Maloud, who’s French Muslim. It’s been really fun to hang out with all these guys.
Have you had a chance to hang out with all of them?
Oh yeah. I mean, Tenerife, we spent like six weeks together and that was a gift from the gods, you can say, because it really shook this team together. Not only the journeymen, but all the actors and all the stunt guys, we were constantly competing about something in the evening, finding something to compete about. Just to show each other the bruises and the cuts and compare. And, and it was really like going to school with all of these men.
What did those cuts and bruises consist of?
All kind of things. I mean, elbows and knees are always out there, you know, that’s where you land. Right? That’s where there’s a rock that finds your elbow somewhere. And it’s not doing it once, it’s doing it 10 times, because you’ve got to do the fall again and again. So once you start hiding that elbow, it comes on the other one and you just look ridiculous sometimes. But in the morning it’s fin, we have to do it again. And it kind of, the whole discussion kind of stopped when Buster, one of the stunt guys, he made a giant roll down the cliff. When we saw him immediately we were like, okay, I’m not going to say anything.
In a project like this where everything is bigger and larger than life, what’s the challenge in making things feel real?
Obviously we were not dealing with real history, in the sense that I’ve never seen a giant scorpion like that, and Medusa doesn’t exist and its gods, but having said that, it’s always finding that level of how realistic can you go in your scenes when you’re discussing things mano a mano and, and how much should we level it to fill the form of the rest of the film? So it’s always a constant debate on where you want to go with it. We felt fairly realistic in some of the things, but having said that it’s always been carried by the style as well. It’s not a Dogme style. But we could get fairly realistic in some of the fights at least and some of the dialog but we’re not using the modern words of course.
The original “Clash of the Titans” was a favorite when I was a kid. For you, what were some fantasy or bigger movies that you grew up with?
I was not into sci-fi, science fiction at all. I was into some of the old pirate films with Burt Lancaster and stuff. I liked them. I like “The Three Musketeers.” I like those kind of cool things where they were having a robe and a sword. I got a sword this time, no robe, though. I don’t know the titles in English of the old pirate films. He was doing a couple of films –
Yeah. Those kind of things. I love watching it. Tt was classical fairy tale action. It wasn’t in-your-face but it was something I could really relate to as a young kid. You wanted yourself to be part of that, you know?
I’m curious how long you’ve been wanting to shave the beard?
Since I got it. No, I’ve had a beard like this four or five times in my career and then, and it’s good. I like it for the part, but it comes to a state where you’re like, “This is it. I’ve got to get rid of it now. I can’t sleep on this side, can’t sleep like that.” But it will happen soon.
When will you shave it and what will happen if you have to do reshoots?
Uh, hopefully we won’t. I won’t be shaving it for… When I do the last day we’ll wait a couple days for the rushes to be cleared and if there is a reshoot, it will not happen until a couple months from now and people will be scattered all over anyway so they will have to find a time and a place to do it, so that will probably be a false beard then. I did choose not to have one. Some of the other guys had a wig or a false beard, but I find it very annoying to focus on that when you’re doing a film of this, of this size. You’re jumping around, your wig is always a little like this and and if you’re wearing a false beard you start talking like this because you’re afraid of losing it. You’re too aware of it, so I just went for this one.
Is there a particular accent you’re all sharing?
I think we’re going for what we call a Neutral English. Nobody knows what it is, but it will be not Australian, not American, not Irish, definitely not Danish, something they call neutral, where the, where they don’t have sounds that are very specifically Irish or very specifically Danish or American or whatever. I’ve just been telling the guys to hang in there because I’m doing the Greek one, nobody knows where it’s from. So, so we’ve had a lot of fun with that. but we’re trying. We’ve got a dialogue coach that’s just keeping an ear on it, and then if its too much this-and-this we’ll try to correct it.
You’re all going to have consistent accents?
I guess we will. It’s always difficult when you’re dealing with people from other countries. We’re trying to find a mutual thing, but at the end of the day it also kind of ties you up to be thinking about that constantly, so we hope we did it alright, but we’ve got some time to ADR it as well.
What are you most looking forward to seeing finished, with all of the CGI and whatnot?
Obviously in some of the scenes we’ve done, but also a lot of the stuff we’ve not been part of at all. All the gods things with Ralph Fiennes and Liam Neeson, we haven’t seen any of that. I look look forward to seeing the set and seeing how the gods look, because we have a fairly good idea what our stuff is going to look like, but I have no idea what they’ve been doing so that’s going to be great to see.
Had you had the chance to do green screen to this degree previously?
No, no, never. And I’ve been the lucky one as I said before. When I was fighting a scorpion I had a gimbal. I was the only one. The rest of the guys were fighting a tennis ball that was just flying around. I think the only thing that was actually a green screen thing was the Medusa. That’s the only thing that was a tennis ball for me, so I’ve been one of the luckier ones. I mean the witches were there. They were dressed up. I don’t know if you’ve seen pictures of the witches. It was absolutely outstanding. When we came to the set, it was fantastic. They didn’t even present us. It was just in the rehearsal, they just came out of the hole, these witches. It was like, “Oh my God,” what they look like. It was fantastic.
You said earlier that you learned to swear from the Irish guy and drink from the Australian guy. What would they say they learned from you?
Both. Yeah, I don’t know. A little of both. I mean I like drinking and I like swearing, but the Irish guy definitely beat me in the swearing department. So I picked up on that.
You’ve been on a few locations already. If you could go back to one, which would you go to?
That would be Tenerife. We had a great time there. We really, all of us really had a great time shooting there. It was a tough place but we also enjoyed it a lot. As a location or a studio thing, a set, that would be the witches’ place. I thought that was outstanding.
You said you didn’t see witches until the shoot. Was that done on purpose?
No, I don’t think so. I saw some costumes and drawings and stuff and then we came in and I think they were a little late with the car or something and then it was just, “Let’s do rehearsal” and we walked in and didn’t know where the people were and all of a sudden they came out of this hole. I don’t think it was deliberate. It was just a little misunderstanding but it was really, really cool.
Did the scope of the movie astound you at some point?
Yeah. That one over there. [Points at the nearby set.] We passed that a couple of times months ago when we were shooting in the woods over there and we saw construction of it from the backside and It looked fairly big, but we had no idea what it was. I saw that the last week. I came in and had some scenes in there and it was really, really beautiful. And the details of it, we walked around in the city, around the corner, it was a little basket here, somebody’s been painting — something that will never be seen in the film probably, but they make sure every corner was taken care of. And the basilica, the big temple, the palace, stunning, stunning place — Giant, giant figures of female statues with a little light coming out and it’s unbelievable.
Do you become accustomed to the scale of a movie of this size?
Well we do. After a little while, we can’t go around obviously in the scenes going, “Oh my God, this is great.” So after a while, after a day or so, you get used to the thing and you go into it and you take it for granted again. But every time there’s a new person coming in, they go looking at it and it reminds us yeah, this is cool. This is really cool.
What were you working on before you got to this project?
In this one? Uh, I was shooting a French film called “Coco and Igor” about Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky in France.
Was it a relief to take off the Igor Stravinsky mustache?
Yeah, well actually I think I kept it for this one. No, I think I actually lost it and grew a real one, yeah, but I did have a little mustache and before that I actually had a full beard again for the Valhalla film I was doing in Scotland. So I’ve got a lot of facial hair this year.
Are you going to Toronto for any of the movies?
Uh, yeah, I was going see if I can make it now but it might be happening again now. its going a little back and forth.
Have you been thinking about what you want to do in the future? And does it involve not having facial hair?
That’s a priority. It’s got to be in the contract. No facial hair. I’ve got this thing coming up right soon. Yeah, it’s called “Clean Out.” It’s a young Canadian director called Barthelemy and starring Harvey Keitel amongst others. It’s a gangster film. An Italian and Russian gangster film. Slightly crazy.
That’s a change from this…
Yeah, yeah, definitely. Anything will be a change from this. You don’t find films like this hanging on the trees. So the next thing will definitely be different anyway. But it is a nice change.
But is this a world you’d be interested in revisiting, should this birth a franchise?
You know, I’m an actor. I’m accustomed to working on small budget films back home and the last couple years I’ve had the chance to work on different scale films. I might be preferring certain things to other things, but the whole package is fantastic, that I’m able to actually touch some of it in my career. I love small little budget films but this is the kind of film, as I said before, I was watching as a kid as well. And finally I can do stuff that my kids can actually see. It hasn’t been too easy with the stuff I’ve been doing. So yeah, I mean, if I can do both, or whatever, there’s not only two genres. If I can do all kind of genres, I’ll be a very happy man.
What is the appeal for you in doing films in different countries with different directors and different nationalities?
Well, just the same as I said before, it’s the stuff you admired as a kid and you didn’t really imagine you’d be part of it yourself and all of a sudden, you’re there, being a hero film. And also my country is a small country. We make a certain amount of films every year. If I make one, if I’m in one of those films, people start puking and they think I’m in every film. Right? So it’s nice to be able to expand the area a little and then get some fresh air and come back. I love working back home, but it is a small country and we do get tired of watching each other.
What does a film like this change about your acting technique? What does it make you rethink about your acting technique?
This is obviously, if you compare it to like a small Danish Dogme kind of film, where its very much up to us — the camera follows us. We have a certain amount of improvisation — and this is the opposite way. We have to dance with the camera. We have to do what it does and we have to feel alive inside that. It’s both acting. It’s just different ways of approaching it. Obviously it’s much easier to do the other thing in the Dogme film. This is more difficult. But, but I’ve done it before and it’s not that we don’t do that in Danish films as well and I used to be a dancer for many years, a professional dancer, so I do know how to, in other words, dance with something else and then try to make it live at the same time. Be very much aware of what’s happening around you and look as if you don’t know it is happening. So it is, of course, a much more technical project, this one. But I think I learned a lot from this, definitely.
Does raising your stature with films like this make it easier for you to get certain films made back home?
No. Back home is the same thing. If you are famous back home, you are famous and you will be that for rest of your life. It’s not a giant market and the films will be released with or without the star back home anyway. It’s, its not that its not depending that much on the names. It’s more depending on if you make a good film or not. Back home it would be the same. Outside in the world, I don’t know. We’ll wait and see. I’ve gotten more offers after the Bond film from Europe and I think it was because of the Bond film, but most of the people had seen in Danish stuff as well, so it’s tough to say where it comes from.
Do you see a younger generation coming up in Denmark who excite you, who are doing the things you used to do?
I do. I mean, they won’t be doing the same films. It’s a natural development that the next generation wants to do their own stuff. And I think we’re still waiting a little to see that generation coming up, because my generation, all the directors, are still sitting a little on the cake right now, and we’re still waiting, crossing our fingers, that will come a new certain style, a new energy from not only Denmark, but also Sweden and Norway. And I think it will be coming soon. But the things they will have to change, it’s not so easy, because what we did change in the old days was like basically trying to make it more filmic. It was very theatrical, what was happening in Danish films, so we just placed it a little more like the seventies and the eighties like they did in America, made it more realistic. And they can’t go around saying “We hate that.” So they can’t change that. They have to go another way, maybe a little more stylistic, maybe more Coen brothers? I don’t know. Something, if they want to change it.
For more Clash of the Titans coverage, check out these links: