If Elizabeth Moss (The Handmaid’s Tale, Mad Men, Top of the Lake) is the queen of quality television, then Lars Mikkelsen is the Danish king. Without looking at the synopsis for a show, you know you’re in for a treat if he's involved.
The name will sound familiar because he is the brother of Mads Mikkelsen (A Royal Affair, The Hunt, The Pusher Trilogy, Rogue One, Doctor Strange). Talent runs in the family, and while Lars Mikkelsen lacks the blockbuster film oomph of his little brother’s resume, he makes up for it in quality. Mikkelsen is an unforgettable presence in any show, mainly due to his striking appearance. He has the kind of face you’d loathe to stare down in a board room, interrogation room or dark alley. There’s a silent intensity to each of his performances. The actor can do a lot with a glance or the flick of an eyelid – he can be deployed as a sinister force, an ironclad leader or a red herring in the midst of an investigation.
Mikkelsen got into acting in the late 1990s after a stint in the Royal Danish Army and a failed attempt at getting a university degree. He was drawn to street performers and began skipping biology classes to busk. Mikkelsen’s street performing skills got him into a prestigious drama school, and he began working steadily in Danish television throughout the late '90s and '00s.
His hot streak began with The Killing, a series that follows every minute step in a murder case. Mikkelsen plays Troels Hartmann, a political candidate for the Mayor of Copenhagen whose campaign is implicated in the investigation. He is charismatic and dubious in the role, the perfect traits for any career politician. The Killing became a critically acclaimed hit around the world and one of the definitive Nordic noir television series.
The good vibes kept going with Those Who Kill, a series about a Copenhagen police unit that hunts serial killers. In Those Who Kill, Mikkelsen’s intensity is put to good use on the right side of the law, and he looks damn good in a trench coat and scarf. Then, he got a TV hat-trick when he joined the cast of the popular Danish political drama Borgen for its third season.
Soon, Mikkelsen became unstoppable, with an appearance in the third season of Sherlock, alongside Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch, playing the sinister Charles Augustus Magnussen, also known as the "Napoleon of blackmail". He returned to Denmark for a brief appearance in 1864: Denmark's War, a historical drama based on the war between Denmark and Prussia, then took the role of the chief of police in the thrilling crime series The Team. With so many great TV shows under his belt, it was no surprise that filmmaker/producer David Fincher came calling next with a role for him in the American version of House of Cards.
Viktor Petrov, the Russian president, shook up House of Cards right when the show was getting stale. Mikkelsen as Petrov is one of the best things about the third season of the Netflix drama, and his depiction works perfectly as a fictional stand-in for President Vladimir Putin. Petrov is a thorn in the side of the toxic Underwoods, and the actor does an incredible job of telling you everything you need to know about Russian and American diplomatic relations with one look.
When he's not giving looks that make the blood drain from your face, Mikkelsen does the same with his voice as Admiral Thrawn, one the greatest villains in a galaxy far, far away in Star Wars: Rebels. The animated series, set five years before the events of A New Hope, has become a hit with fans, and the inclusion of Thrawn expands on the character’s popularity in the expanded Star Wars universe of novels, video games and comics.
Looking back on the strength of Mikkelsen's work throughout his career, it’s easy to understand why Ride Upon the Storm is one of the most anticipated shows coming to SBS for you to binge this summer. He plays Johannes Krogh, the patriarch of a family that’s been serving the church for over 200 years. Krogh’s faith pushes him to make extreme decisions that send shockwaves through the family. But this series already had you at "Lars Mikkelsen", right?
Ride Upon The Storm airs Thursday nights on SBS at 10:30pm. You can stream the entire first season now at SBS On Demand.