Actor Mads Mikkelsen: Rogue One, Kyber crystals and seeing Star Wars for the first time

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Dec 13, 2016

After a decade working in Danish cinema, Mads Mikkelsen began making major inroads in Hollywood 10 years ago when he played Bond villain Le Chiffre in the outstanding 007 reboot Casino Royale. That led to more high-profile work and a star turn as America's favorite fictional serial killer, Hannibal Lecter, for three seasons of the acclaimed NBC series Hannibal.

So after doing a Bond movie and playing one of horror's most iconic figures, where do you go next? To the very top of the franchise tower, of course. Just this fall, Mikkelsen has been seen as the villainous Kaecilius in Marvel's Doctor Strange, and now in Rogue One, he makes his debut in the Star Wars pantheon as Dr. Galen Erso, a scientist whose skill with Kyber crystals allows the Empire's director of advanced weaponry, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to construct the Death Star. But Galen has a change of heart, setting himself and his rebel daughter Jyn (Felicity Jones) on a course of action that will change the galaxy forever. 

Blastr had the opportunity to speak with Mikkelsen at the recent press junket for Rogue One at Lucasfilm in San Francisco, where he discussed his view of the Star Wars universe, bringing a father/daughter story to the canon and more.

Blastr: At the press conference today, Ben Mendelsohn said that he was a "first-generation fanboy." Would you say you were too? Did you see the originals in the theater?

Mads Mikkelsen: I was a late bloomer, in the sense I was 14 when I saw them. I don't know why I didn't catch that train, but when I did catch it later on, I caught it heavily. I became a fan. I think Ben had all the stickers, all the books and all that. They were definitely spectacular, something we had never seen before when they came out.

In Doctor Strange, you had kind of a blank slate with that character. With this movie featuring all new characters, does that sort of ease the expectations in a way?

Yeah, of course. Yeah. We started from scratch and made our way. Even though we're trying to be as true as we can to the universe, it's still Gareth (Edwards, director)'s film and he's putting his fingerprint on that. That was also releasing the pressure to a certain degree. It's that fine balance of making it a personal film and still be true to the world of Star Wars. The pressure we tried to leave on the shoulders of the producers and Gareth. We always feel pressure doing a film, trying to fulfill the vision of the director, that's always our first task.

As an actor, what do you do to make the movie personal to you?

I can't make the whole film personal, but I can definitely do my best to identify with the character I play, making it something that exists, something that is also part of that world. You have to understand the movie you're doing. You can't do the same thing in a commercial film as you can in a darker film, or in a Marvel film, or in a Star Wars film. There are certain boundaries that we have to be truthful to, but within those boundaries is a truth, and that's what we have to find.

There are more moral gray areas in this film than in previous Star Wars movies. Galen reminds me of somebody like Wernher Von Braun ...

Von Braun, Oppenheimer ... Von Braun would have done the same work if he lived in America or Russia. He's a scientist. He's a man of science. He didn't care. He's in there to find the truth, to find the numbers, expand his knowledge. There is a certain narcissism to scientists sometimes, but they also have morals. Sometimes they get second thoughts about what they do because, yes, this can save the world, potentially; it can also do the opposite. The curiosity doesn't stop them, they keep going, and that's interesting. He's part of that family as well, this character.

Galen works with Kyber crystals, which we know power lightsabers.

It's an energy source equivalent to nuclear, but just much more powerful. In terms of saving the planet, if we had them, they could definitely be a tool to do that, to solve the energy problems that the universe is having.

We've seen a father/son relationship play out across seven other Star Wars films, but I think this is really the first time we're seeing a father/daughter dynamic front and center. Can you talk about playing that, and how it impacts the Star Wars universe?

I don't think it is changing it too much, in the sense that, it could be father/son, mother/daughter, but this time it's just father/daughter. Families are strong. There's a lot of emotion in families. There's a lot of drama in being a family. All the Star Wars films have been based on that, and for good reason. One of the secrets why they are still around is that it's you and me. It's not in the future, in the past, it's us. Yes, it's in the Star Wars universe but we relate to it.

I had the treat of playing with three different Felicitys. The superstar herself, an eight-year-old version, and a four-year-old version. I enjoyed it tremendously. It is what the film is revolving around, and maybe not an enormous amount of screen time, but this is the theme of the film. 

Would you say Galen is ultimately a heroic or tragic figure?

I think he's tragic in many ways. There is also some part of him that's heroic, there's some part of him that's a coward, and that is the gray zone we talk about. Most people are not black and white. Most people are in that gray zone. They can see the pros and cons, right? He's right there. I think it's smart that we bring that to life in the Star Wars universe as well, because that's also me and you.

Do you think this film reflect the times that we're living in now, that seem very uncertain?

We can always draw parallels to true things. It does, but it also reflects times 200 years ago. This is a historical repetition of mankind, how we are. It's not a direct thing to do with the election in America or what's happening in Britain. It is more generic in that sense that this is human nature, this is what we are watching.

A lot of your scenes are with Ben. Were you and he aware of the book (Catalyst) about Krennic and Galen's early years working together?

No. We learned about that yesterday, I believe. We were aware of what we believe our relationship is and how it started. It's not in the film, but I think it's quite clear that I have been working very closely with him. I am a man from the Empire. I'm an Empire person. I have worked on this many, many years together with Krennic, and at a certain point I became weak in my belief, or strong if you want to choose that view instead. I bailed out, but they find me, and that's where we take off.

You shot the opening scene of the film between you and Ben in Iceland. Tell me about working at that location.

I love Iceland. I shot there before. I shot a Danish film there. I just love the place. It is so spectacular. It's a wonderful, wonderful place, but it was crazy cold. It was raining every day, and it would storm every day. It was beautiful, great for the film. Not so much for us. Then I was like, "Oh, fine. I'll go back to London [after this]. We go inside and working on sets is going to be great." Then they decided that all the scenes inside the studio would have rain too. I don't think I had one dry scene in the whole film.

Do you have any scenes with Darth Vader?

Not one.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story arrives in theaters this Friday.