Mads Mikkelsen takes stab at ‘Hannibal’

The Danish dude portrays the infamous Dr. Lecter in a new series debuting on PHL TV tonight

GREAT DANE. Mads Mikkelsen (foreground), long a star in his native Denmark, is poised for bigger global renown as ‘Hanniba,’ which co-stars Hugh Dancy (left) and Laurence Fishburne. All photos courtesy of AXN

[This article deals with some sensitive, if make-believe, material. Reader discretion is advised.]

MANILA, Philippines – It is around 1:30 in the afternoon (7:30pm Manila time) at a base camp in South Africa, where Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen is prepping to shoot a new Western motion picture while giving an exclusive phone interview to Rappler for his freshly released effort, the brand new, for-mature-audiences TV series “Hannibal.” (The show premieres on Philippine airwaves today, April 8, at 10 pm on AXN).

“I’m in the middle of nowhere, so the [telephone] reception is real bad,” Mikkelsen explains, after our call got cut off a few times in 15 minutes.

The reception — viewer reception, that is — to his latest outing could prove to be much better. In “Hannibal,” the 47-year-old actor plays the title role of Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a refined gentleman and astute psychiatrist tasked to provide collegial support to Will Graham, a superb but troubled profiler of serial killers for the FBI (portrayed by Hugh Dancy, a co-star of Mikkelsen’s in the Clive Owen-led “King Arthur”). 

But as millions of horror-thriller fans worldwide know, the fictitious Dr. Lecter is himself a serial killer, with a grisly fetish to boot: cooking and dining on cannibalized human innards. Lecter, after all, dates back to 1981 with the release of author Thomas Harris’ “Red Dragon,” the first in what would become 4 Hannibal novels. Those books have been made into 5 Hollywood films, 3 of which featured the indelible, arguably definitive Lecter of Anthony Hopkins.

ONE TRULY EXOTIC FEAST. Mads Mikkelsen (far right) with ‘Hannibal’ co-stars (from far left) Hugh Dancy, Caroline Dhavernas, Laurence Fishburne, Aaron Abrams, Lara Jean Chorostecki, Hettienne Park  and Scott Thompson (Not in the photo: recurring co-star Gillian ‘The X Files’ Anderson)

Mikkelsen relates that “The first time I saw ‘The Silence of the Lambs’” — the 1991 Lecter thriller for which Hopkins earned an Academy Award — “I was scared to s**t. It was brilliant, well-acted and had a horrifying story, and it is one of the films that stayed with me for a long time.”

The newest Lecter portrayer admits that it is “a big challenge, for any actor, to take on such a familiar role, and one done to perfection by Anthony Hopkins.” Still, unlike what has been depicted in the movies, including the prequel “Hannibal Rising,” “[our show] presents him differently. He’s not on the run, he’s not in prison. We see him practicing cannibalism but none of the other characters know about it. We do something different with him and hope we can get away with it.” 

“Hannibal,” which is set in the USA but is shot in Canada, is based mainly on “Red Dragon,” a novel whose earlier onscreen adaptations (1986’s “Manhunter” and 2002’s “Red Dragon”) had first featured Brian Cox and then Hopkins as Dr. Lecter, and Will Petersen (eventually of AXN staple “CSI”) and then Edward Norton as Graham. Mikkelsen says that the show “is based on a different script. We did not necessarily detach ourselves from what Anthony did but it was very important to us to humanize [Dr. Lecter], for him to be out in the real world, making friends and not being able to play all his cards.”

Mikkelsen, who admits to having seen only “Lambs” and 2001’s “Hannibal” among the 5 Lecter flicks, had mentioned in past interviews about creating back stories for his characters, be it in many films in his native Denmark or in his Hollywood ventures. Given the wealth of resources for “Hannibal,” however, he discloses about having “read 3 of the books. From them, we know for a fact that [Lecter’s] from Lithuania, went to boarding school in France and got educated in England. But that’s as far as we went in terms of background. We didn’t want to go too deep and explain why he became what he is. We want him to be enigmatic.”

ENIGMATIC, BROMANTIC. While Mads Mikkelsen (right) plays the title role on ‘Hannibal,’ the show aims to play up the working partnership between his Dr. Lecter and Hugh Dancy as an FBI agent

Another enigma of sorts is whatever creative crutch — a lucky charm or such — Mikkelsen might have with him with his every endeavor. “There’s nothing specific, but with every job I make I might have something hidden in my pocket that can be different every time. Maybe you never see it, maybe you do,” he relates. The former gymnast and dancer adds that “I guess my personal preference is to get to know everyone on [a project] very well, especially if I have to act with them.”  

Mikkelsen, whose first name is pronounced “mass,” might not ring any bells to the vast majority of small- or big-screen audiences, yet he has been a prolific actor for some 17 years now. 

In Denmark, which he and his wife and their two children continue to call home (“I have never lived abroad”), he starred in at least 3 TV shows and over 15 films — including the black comedy “The Green Butchers” which had, coincidentally, also touched on cannibalism (“But I did not eat any meat in it”), and last year’s “The Hunt,” a drama that won for him the Best Actor prize at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. In Hollywood, his pre-“Hannibal” gigs include the 2010 remake of “Clash of the Titans.”

And while he has played dark characters before, such as lead villain Le Chiffre in Daniel Craig’s James Bond debut, 2006’s “Casino Royale,” “Hannibal” is Mikkelsen’s first foray into the horror genre. Is he also a newbie to culinary art, a good deal of which he concocts in the series? “I’m not the biggest chef in the world,” he replies, “but I’m comfortable making Asian food, mostly Thai and Chinese dishes.”

Here is AXN’s trailer for ‘Hannibal’: 

One thing that has yet to be a first for Mikkelsen is to visit the Philippines. “I would love to go there one day,” he tells us. For now, he can only want for “Hannibal” viewers on our shores to feast on the perverse crime drama: “I hope the Philippine audience would embrace it — enjoy the horror, enjoy the manipulation, which is a very big part of the show.”

For many who concur that Dr. Lecter is one of the most interesting characters of all time, tuning in to “Hannibal” would certainly be like having an old friend for (a late) dinner.


‘Hannibal’ premieres tonight at 10pm on AXN.

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