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‘Insane!’ Actor Mads Mikkelsen on Death Stranding, Kojima and the future of cinema

November 8 will see the release of one of this year’s most anticipated video games – Death Stranding. Its developer Hideo Kojima has managed to secure some of Hollywood’s hottest stars, an unprecedented feat for the video game industry. Despite the release of many cinematic trailers and hours of gameplay, most gamers admit they still have no clue about what’s going on story-wise, as the game's plot features a somewhat fantastic future world where the realms of the living and of the dead are intertwined in a dark cocktail. 

TASS spoke with Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the mysterious character Cliff, on what it’s like to work with one of the most notorious game developers of our time. Mads is in Moscow for Comic Con Russia.

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— This is a rare sight for a Hollywood star of your class to play in a video game. Do you think we are at the dawn of a new era of synergy of cinema and video games?

 — Yes. I do. I know that Keanu Reeves is also working on one [Cyberpunk 2077 – TASS]. Yes, it is going to be the future. It’s not going to change the world, it’s not going to be our fulltime job, but there’s obviously a bridge between those two universes that I think can bring some very interesting things with it. Years ago, when television came, we panicked – what’s going to happen now? Are movies over? When movies came, everyone panicked – is theater over? There’s always something new that we can add to this world, and I think this is just another step. 

— What was it like to work with Hideo Kojima as opposed to Hollywood directors?

— Well, he’s very gentle and very open-minded to you. First of all, he has a gigantic story board with every single shot in the scenes. This is his graphic novel, the image of what he wants to do. We were there in a room with green screens dressed in a suit that’s green and a helmet with a camera on – super weird! We’re doing little scenes and we don’t know exactly what the story arch is because it’s going to be in a game and people can change that. But we act out every scene. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one in a green suit, everybody else was, too, so it’s cool.

— In previous interviews, and correct me if I’m wrong, you’ve said you don’t like wasting time on the set and you want a clear understanding from the director of where this is all going. How was it in this respect with Kojima?

— I insist on feeling where his vision is going, and I don’t mean getting clear directions like ‘you go there, sit down, say the line,’ I hate that. But trying to understand his mind and vision is crucial for me to be able to go there and offer some ideas that could fit into his universe. Hideo was very inspiring.

— How mindblowing is the game, and do you know the full plot now that you've finished working on it? 

— It’s going to be many hours. I’ve spent two hours with it, and it blew me away. It was insane to watch where this is taking us. Not only was it mindblowing visually, but also the way it was played. It’s kind of out of the box, something we’ve never ever seen before. And I guess that’s what people expect from Hideo Kojima. He is the Godfather of creating new things. 

— Tell us about Cliff, your character. What was it like to be him? As far as we understand, he is the antagonist?

— Yeah, but then again – no. We learn more about the characters throughout those hours or days of playing the game. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to say, but… The more you play it, the more the characters will develop, and you will find little bits and pieces that fit the puzzle, so I would definitely not say that he is the antagonist solely.

— That’s intriguing.

— It really is.

— How much of Cliff is you?

— It’s interesting to think how much of any character is me. We do use ourselves in everything we do. I also try to throw away a lot of me, and then there would be something left, and it would be emphasized, and there would be a character. I can’t put percentages on it, but there’s definitely something there.

— What was the main challenge for you as an actor do be in Death Stranding?

— It was in getting my head around the fact that I would not understand the story from A to Z. Because that’s not how this works in Hideo’s world or in the video game world. This is something we usually rely on a lot, so we can add our own little arches and our dose of little things. So you have to accept that this is the only thing you want from this scene, so I had to throw that out the window and just start doing scenes.

— You know Tom Hardy – there’s this meme or joke that every director who manages to cast Tom Hardy wants to put a mask on his face. With your movies, directors tend to do something to your eyes – Monsieur Le Chiffre [Casino Royale], Rochefort [The Three Musketeers], Kaecilius [Doctor Strange], and now in this video game you also have these black oily circles around your eyes…

— There’s also my character called One Eye in Valhalla Rising.

— Why do directors want to do something with your eyes?

— Not everyone. There have been lots of overlaps here and there. Then again, I’ve also been playing a guy who’s driving a car a couple of times... You see, when you want to do something radical with the face, it’s very difficult do something with the lips because it’s difficult to keep up prostheticwise, it breaks up whenever you start talking. Eyes are much easier, so I guess that’s the reason why. It’s a powerful look.

— Is there place for politics in show business? I mean, if a Russian movie director would approach you about starring in a movie, do you think it may be frowned upon in Hollywood if you accepted?

— No, I don’t think so, and I don’t care. There are 145 million Russians and they’re not the same. Same goes for Americans. Sometimes movies are political, but most people are making personal films, films where they have something on their chest that they want to talk about. And I don’t see why this should be a cause for stopping to work with different nations.

Interviewed by Dmitry Medvedenko, TASS Head of English News.