Interview: Mads Mikkelsen discusses A Royal Affair
It is a dramatic story perhaps too juicy and grandiose for audiences to realize and believe that it is actually based on history. To their benefit though, most North Americans won’t know much about the ending, or for that matter, the journey.
“It’s a part of our history—we know the king was crazy and my character shagged the queen,” explains Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen ahead of the Toronto release of A Royal Affair, a powerful piece of filmmaking by Nikolaj Arcel about the most significant period in Denmark’s history. Mr. Mikkelsen plays Johann Friedrich Struensee, a humble physician who is sought to take care of the mad, childish King Christian VII, and who later falls in love with the Queen Caroline Mathilde.
It’s more complicated than that, to be sure.
“It’s big, it is, because it’s what changed the country. We take for granted that we are a free people, but it’s because of this guy.” He warns though of a universal truth that transcends time and national borders: “When you’re an idealist, power corrupts you absolutely. That’s the human story to this.” As Struensee becomes a close confident to the paranoid, crazed king, he realizes he is closer to power than he ever imagined, and starts to disrupt the status quo, distracted and motivated by Enlightenment ideals as much as his love for the Queen
His closeness to the king though makes for one of the most compelling aspects of the film, and one of the most surprising. The affair occurs between Struensee and the Queen just as he and the king strengthen their bond. Christian cares more for Struensee than Caroline, according to Mr. Mikkelsen, and that’s the strongest part of the film,
Mads Mikkelsen has rode the revival, or rather redefinition of Danish film over the last decade, though has made appearances in several Hollywood films, including playing a Bond villain in Casino Royale, and fighting giants scorpions in Clash of the Titans. It’s only fitting that the most popular Danish actor, following the success of The Hunt, for which he earned a best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival this year, stars in a film about the history of Denmark.
He spoke of reading the diaries and letters written between these historical figures that helped shape the story for him, including a most fascinating piece of history. “I saw beautiful drawings that the king made of Struensee; he was obsessed with him. He drew him for years…making these very childish drawings,” tells Mr. Mikkelsen. “It was very touching to see.”
It is a bizarre love triangle atop the ruling house of Denmark on the eve of a transformation throughout Europe, but it’s the characters that ultimately drive this sweeping drama, one that moves from the intimate to the political as those close to power seek to wield it.
“I was surprised, it’s not everyday you read something that gets you quite emotional,” says Mr. Mikkelsen. He couldn’t stress enough though that it is all true, making the film all the more remarkable. “You have great passion, people taking over a country, there are executions—and hopefully people will believe it, because it’s all true.”