Freddie Deighton got to talk with the director of Mads Mikkelsen's new Danish language film, Riders Of Justice. Anders Thomas Jensen got to talking about the film itself along with the events of the last year, mental health, swear words and his love of Mads Mikkelsen.
This interview contains the use and the discussion of strong and offensive language.
So how have you been coping with the last year or so?
My life hasn't been very different, we weren't that hard hit (in Denmark). We didn't have much of a shutdown. I have friends in London and it's a whole other thing what you had. Basically, I've been writing, doing what I normally do and of course not going to bars and stuff. I've been home with four kids, that's probably been the most challenging part.
Is anything you've been working on recently going into production soon?
One of them probably will. I've done a script with Nikolaj Arcel who did The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo – the good one! (2009, Swedish Language). We did a script in Danish which probably won't go into production until early next year.
So where does the story of Riders Of Justice come from? Was it inspired by a news story or is it more personal?
Well it's complete fantasy, but it comes from Markus' (Mads Mikkelsen) character. I've had a forty year crisis, I can go up and down. I have a lot of friends who suffer from depression and I've seen them try to come back from it. It's very important for them to make these connections in life. The brain loves to connect things that bring meaning to our lives. All the way down to being able to work and get food for your kids, that's a connection that brings meaning to your life, right? I can see how difficult it is when you can't see any connections and suddenly I thought that there was actually a very interesting story there. You see people who find connections where there are none like Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas) and Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro), and then you have a man who can't connect anything and has no emotional tools to connect with his daughter – Markus (Mikkelsen).
All the characters seem to have some form of mental health problem or another, from what you've just said, it sounds like that's where the story started?
Yeah they do all have their problems but its funny because you can actually almost put diagnosis on any film. There are two certainties in almost every film and that is that someone will die and that the cast can be cast as mentally ill. This is because as soon as you tune up people a little, as you do when you do drama, they will have some sort of diagnosis. I did put diagnosis on the characters (of Riders Of Justice) because I could see where we were going. But I just as much wanted to portray some characters that had been left outside of society. People we forget. I know I churned up the volume here but these people do exist in real life.
So you've worked with Mads Mikkelsen a lot, was he the actor you always had in mind when you were writing Markus?
Yes, he actually was. I've done a lot of films with him but he's never been the straight man. He's always an odd or a very semi-psychotic type. So I wanted to do a film with him where he's more serious. He is perfect for Markus, I needed this bad-ass soldier that had all these emotions that he didn't know how to handle and Mads can do that, he IS that. He has such presence as a bad-ass and as soon as you do a close up on him, you can just see the amount of depth and emotions that are inside of him. He was a no-brainer.
Was this the same for all the other characters/actors?
Oh yeah it actually was. I was lucky enough to actually get them all. We all know each other, I've worked with them all before.
And the Estonian man at the beginning, was he cast specifically because he looked like Santa?
Yeah, he's meant to be like a god or something mythical so Santa's appropriate. The beard was actually put on though, that's not real.
All of the parts where Markus was on duty, were they actually filmed in Afghanistan?
That was in Port Aventura in Spain. That was actually shot five days before Denmark had its Covid Shutdown. We finished the movie and we were like “what is this Covid?” as we were flying home and everything went down. We were very lucky.
Markus is a very staunch atheist at the start of this film, did you identify with that?
I am an atheist, I don't believe in God unfortunately. I'm very much like Markus, apart from the violence. I believe in hard data and proven stuff. I wish I could, I'm truly envious of people who can find comfort in believing in God. I've tried but I can't, it's just too silly.
Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro) uses the C-word quite a lot in his dialogue. Is that word as strong a swear word in Danish as it is in English?
No. It's ridiculous, we used to live in the States for four years and one of my kids came home from school once and the teacher said “F**k” during the class which was crazy. Swear words don't have as much of an impact in Denmark for some reason, we adopt them very easily. In nicer TV debates people will use words like the C-word. We even had a discussion once about seven years ago that a lot of people thought the N-word should be allowed and I was like “are you insane?!” I've never thought about it actually but we don't have a lot of variety in people (in Denmark). Everybody's the same culture and the same religion. People don't get offended as much as you would do in a multi-cultural society perhaps. Swear words and offense are not a big thing here really. Some will of course say I'm wrong but it just isn't the case.
Does Emmanthaler actually say the C-word or is it the Danish equivalent?
It is that word that he says, though I suppose it's a nicer, Danish version of the same word. But what he does – and we had a lot of fun doing this – is he makes up impossible swear words. So he will say “I will f**k your c**k!”. He'll put them together in a crazy way which makes it funny because it's so ridiculous.
So was there quite a lot of improvisation involved in making the film?
Well in a sense you could say yes because I normally do a first draft and I'll send it to the actors. We'll meet have some beers and go over it. They chip in with everything, we'll discuss it, then I'll go back and do another re-write. Once we're shooting we don't change anything. You really have to have a good idea in order to change things, time is so precious when you're shooting. We're very well prepared, the improvisation is there, but it happens before we shoot.
What's your favourite Mads Mikkelsen performance outside of the films you've worked on together?
I think there are two that I love. In Pusher 2, I think he's remarkable in that. I also think Another Round. There are moments in that where he's crazy good.
Riders Of Justice releases in cinemas on July 23rd