Mads and Lars – two names that conjure up delightfully wicked visions of television villainy. While Mads Mikkelsen terrified audiences with a line in fine dining cannibalism, his brother, Lars, has been using a more subtle approach to being a bad guy.
The multilingual star of The Team, whose face will be known to many as ruthless mayoral candidate Troels Hartman in The Killing, has landed high profile bad guy roles like blackmailer Charles Augustus Magnussen in Sherlock and more than held his own against Kevin Spacey as the Russian president in House Of Cards. But what is the appeal of playing evil for Lars?
Well, it’s not family rivalry. Born a year-and-a-half before his James Bond villain brother, the older Mikkelsen also landed his first acting gig before Mads started his long-running working relationship with writer/director Nicolas Winding Refn. Despite their closeness in age and matching choice in professions, Lars maintains that professional jealousy between the brothers, who both learnt English watching Monty Python, does not rear its ugly head.
As he told Gryphon, “People always want to line us up in a competition. When we grew up, we were competitive – you are as young lads – but you won’t really see that at all. We help each other and we talk a lot about it and we’ve never, ever been casted as the same role-type. We’re not alike. I’m very proud of what he’s done and vice-versa.”
Lars started entertaining people as a street performer, touring Europe as a juggler for five years. Soon he was treading the boards, which led to a career in television and film, where he built a solid reputation in his homeland. His role in Better Times as real-life politician Jens Otto Krag, a man often heralded as the greatest prime minister Denmark has ever seen, was one of the mixed-up cads for which Lars has become renowned.
Krag was married twice, had two children in wedlock and another illegitimate child. Both his marriages, one to the famous actress Helle Virkner, ended in divorce, largely due to his adulterous ways and alcoholism. Playing Krag was the perfect preparation for fictional politician Troels Hartman, the role that propelled Lars, and the Danish television industry, into the international limelight.
The Killing was a cultural phenomenon and Lars’s character was a prime suspect, even to the actor himself. “It's part of working like that," he told Digital Spy. "You have to play whatever's there at that exact moment, and certainly you can't as an actor give away when you don't know who it is. It worked - it was a bit frustrating but it worked!"
While Lars was helping to change the face of modern television, creating a new genre on the way, Mads was taking on Daniel Craig’s James Bond as terrorism financier Le Chiffre in Casino Royale – something Lars would love to do. “Ooh yeah! I’d love that," he told The Telegraph. "I’d actually kill Bond though.”
He may not have taken on 007, but Lars did have a stab at Sherlock Holmes in the third season of Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat’s brilliant take on the Baker Street sleuth. Lars played Charles Augustus Magnusson, a dastardly cad who wants to blackmail Watson’s betrothed, Mary (Amanda Abbington). The character was inspired by "The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton", one of 13 stories by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle collected as The Return of Sherlock Holmes in 1904.
Sherlock star Benedict Cumberbatch loved Lars's approach to the character, as he told the BBC, “It’s chilling because of how real he is, how normal it is, how he might be someone we have in our midst, in our lives all the time. He doesn’t purport to be evil.”
In House Of Cards, Lars was Putin on the ritz, once again taking the role of a dodgy politician who bared more than a passing resemblance to a certain real-life world leader. He relished playing the Russian president, Viktor Petrov, opposite Kevin Spacey’s Francis Underwood, with the pair going head-to-head in The White House.
With brother Mads having already reinvented Dr Hannibal Lecter in Hannibal to great acclaim, it was Lars's turn to find success in a mainstream US series. His appearances were always the highlight of the political drama, whether singing "Korobeiniki", trading insults with Russian pop extremists Pussy Riot or sharing a cigar with President Underwood. As Spacey told Newspaq, “He's a great actor. He understands how to play a character and how to tell a story.”
Lars plays a very different character in The Team. He jumps over to the good guy side of the tracks as Danish homicide detective Harold Bjørn, who heads an international team trying to solve a series of murders. But despite shifting gears, Lars has helped turn The Team into a must-watch, crowd-pleasing crime drama. He's just that good.
All of series 1 of The Team is available at SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode: