A ROYAL AFFAIR directed by Nikolaj Arcel, written by Arcel and Rasmus Heisterberg from the novel by Bodil Steensen-Leth, with Mads Mikkelsen, Mikkel Boe Følsgaard and Alicia Vikander. A Mongrel Media release. 137 minutes. Subtitled. Opens Friday (February 1). For venues and times, see listings.
On the morning Rob Ford is (temporarily) ousted from his seat over that infamous conflict of interest case, I'm at the Trump Hotel talking to former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen. We're just receiving the news that rocked the city, but Mikkelsen is unimpressed.
"It's a little boring," the Danish actor comments on a municipal mutiny over a few thousand dollars. "It should have been a bigger scandal. Something with young girls."
That's obviously a sly reference to Mikkelsen's character in the Danish period piece A Royal Affair. He plays Dr. Johann Struensee, a radical politician during the reign of King Christian VII (Mikkel Boe Følsgaard). His character is guilty of a different kind of conflict of interest when his dalliance with a young girl, the queen (Alicia Vikander), is exposed.
As he works his way through a bowl of mixed nuts, Mikkelsen jokes about how awkward it was for someone his age (47) to be sharing intimate moments with Vikander, only 25. The actor, whose face is so angular, he might have been drawn for anime, is a far cry from the grave, intense men he often plays. No tear ducts full of blood here. He's an easy-going charmer, yet thoughtful and elaborate when discussing his films.
For instance, he compares his doctor character to Barack Obama, a politician who's had a hard time introducing radical legislation like Obamacare because democracy makes that process so difficult.
"Obama has to have massive support from other groups to get these things through," he says. "I don't know how much a politician can do today. I'm sure a dictator can do more than a politician, but we don't want that."
The political angle is only part of what drew Mikkelsen to the movie, which represents a departure for both him ("the most romantic film I've ever done") and Danish cinema.
The country that gave us Lars von Trier (Breaking The Waves), Thomas Vinterburg (The Celebration) and Nicolas Winding Refn (whose Pusher films starred Mikkelsen) rarely produces such classical, awards-bait period pieces. The actor passionately believes the film - just nominated for the best foreign-language Oscar - paves a necessary path for Danish cinema.
"This could easily have been just falling in love with a dress and a horse," he says, describing the tendency in period pieces to ogle costumes and props. A Royal Affair has those glossy elements, but Mikkelsen suggests that it also has the "energy" and "honest performances" worthy of Dogme 95, the early films by Danish directors like von Trier, Vinterburg and their collective.
Those experimental films opposed Hollywood's wasteful indulgence in special effects and glossy aesthetics by focusing on telling unvarnished stories about realistic characters. The Dogme 95 manifesto outlined a strict set of rules (on-location shooting, contemporary settings, no outside props), most of which are broken in A Royal Affair.
Mikkelsen, who stars in the new TV series about Hannibal Lecter, doesn't seem as impressed with Dogme's effort to enhance the movies' focus on story and character.
"To be honest, every fucking film should be focused on the story and the characters," he says, laughing. "You don't have to make rules for that."