Danish actor Mikkel Boe Følsgaard makes his feature film debut in Nikolaj Arcel‘s A Royal Affair, starring as notorious King of Denmark Christian VII. Not only was he faced with the difficult task of portraying a historical figure dismissed today as simply “the mad king,” he also had to share the screen with – and be cuckolded by – one of the Europe’s biggest talents, Mads Mikkelsen. The venture paid off for the 30-year-old, who received the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 2012 Berlin Film Festival; the same prize that was shared amongst the entire male cast of A Separation last year. We spoke to Følsgaard about bonding with Mads, finding the humanity in Christian VII, the “f****** crazy” experience of receiving an award from Charlotte Gainsbourg, and his holiday plans upon graduating from The Danish National School of Theatre (which should be underway at the time of this publication – party on, Mikkel).
A Royal Affair opens in Australian cinemas June 21, 2012. This interview was originally published during the film’s run at the Sydney Film Festival.
SM: Were there any films you remember watching when you were growing up that inspired you to get into acting?
MBF: Oh, that’s a great question. Well, I’ve always been a fan of films, actually. I remember when I was, I think, in high school, or just before high school, there were a lot of movies with Mads Mikkelson, who was in A Royal Affair; he’s probably now the biggest actor in Denmark. I really was a fan of Mads; he did three movies called Pusher. Pusher was from Copenhagen. They were really some movies that gave me inspiration as a young guy.
SM: The Pusher films are fantastic. Did you get to spend much time off camera with Mads, honing your camaraderie? Obviously, most of your screen time in the film is together.
MBF: Yeah, we were in the Czech Republic, shooting the movie for two months almost in a row. Just having a small vacation in Denmark for, like, three days. So all the other days in the Czech Republic, when we weren’t filming, we were hanging out together with the other guys from the cast. Maybe, 10 or 12 Danish people at the hotel, through the whole area for two months. It became like a little crew; a little family almost. I got to know Mads very well, and he also guided me a lot with my life, and my career after school and stuff. He was a very big help, and a very good friend.
SM: I’m glad to hear that. I’m curious to hear what your impression was of Christian VII, the King of Denmark, before you began working on the film. How familiar were you with him?
MBF: It’s something almost everybody in Denmark has learned about in school; elementary school. So, most people in Denmark have a meaning about the story and of Christian. When I got the part, and I told my friends and my family that I got it, their first reaction was always, “Oh, you’re going to play the crazy king.” People had this image about him being crazy. So, of course, I tried to understand him a bit more. I went to the library, reading books, studying about the period generally and about Christian. I got a lot more nuanced image of Christian, and I learnt that some people said he was schizophrenic, and some people said he was just a young guy trapped in a castle, and who just didn’t want to be king. I somehow tried to collect a lot of different views about him, and I talked to the director about it, and together we tried to create this character.
SM: Can you tell us of any of the specific elements of the character you found in your research that you honed in on? To make him relatable and human, and not just a myth.
MBF: Some of the things that I read about was the physical stuff that I do in the movie. His laugh, and how he itches his hand a lot. Some of this physical stuff was what I’d read, and I made a list, and I went to the director and said, “Could this be fun to get into the character somehow?” And we did that. Then, I read about his past, before the movie starts, as a child. I read that he had had this affair with a hooker in Copenhagen, and the people in the castle couldn’t accept this, so they sent her away to Germany. That actually started the Europe journey that is portrayed in the movie. His mother died giving birth to Christian. His father, who was king before him, was a drunk and went around the city fighting and drinking, which Christian also did. He was beaten up his whole life. When I finished reading about him I felt so sorry for him. I had a lot of sympathy for him, that I wanted to give to the character. Instead of thinking of him as a crazy guy running around doing crazy stuff, somehow I wanted to use the crazy things that he did as a shield, as a protection from the world around him. Because he is such an insecure and poor guy who’s just being manipulated at the castle.
SM: It definitely paid off for you, because you won Best Actor at the Berlin Film Festival. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
MBF: First of all, I didn’t know that we were going to Berlin, so when the director, Nikolaj, called me and said, “We’re going to Berlin and you’re going with us,” I was like, “Woah.” Big experience, there. None of us had imagined we’d win Silver Bear; not me, and not Nikolaj. He had said, “It’s not the kind of movie who normally wins at Berlin,” so we didn’t expect it at all. Actually, I was going home before the award show. The award show is on a Saturday evening, and I was going home Saturday morning. But then someone from the film company said they wanted me to stay; the festival wanted me to stay. Of course I, [laughs] was a little nervous, but I had a hunch maybe something big was going to happen. So I stayed, and had a little feeling that something was going on. When Charlotte Gainsbourg, the actress, called out my name on the stage, it was just … yeah. It was f****** crazy. I wasn’t expecting it at all. A very big and very, very surreal experience, and of course I’m so glad and it’s a big clap on the shoulder for me and my work.
SM: Absolutely. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you graduate from The Danish National School of Theatre this year. How are you planning on celebrating?
MBF: Well, I’m done in one month from the school, and then we have a big party, where we all celebrate together. And then I’m going to go on a vacation – a summer holiday – because it’s been four very hard and rough years at the theatre school; every day. So, a little summer holiday is good I think. Then, after summer, I’m starting a new job that I got a month ago. So that’s my plan right now.
A Royal Affair opens in Australian cinemas June 21, 2012.