Mads Mikkelsen: “It’s more fun to play a loser, we know them, we may have even been in their shoes”

“Would you like to see me smoking a cigarette outside?” Mads Mikkelsen asks me, stopping mid-sentence. Actually, I’ve seen him smoke before, but not in real life: just on the Internet, where entire galleries are devoted to the Danish actor indulging in his vice. As he smokes a lot and is generally obliged to do so outside, the photos of him smoking a cigarette taken by paparazzi, much appreciated by his fans, are legion. “That would be interesting, wouldn’t it?” he said with a laugh. We are having lunch on the covered terrace of the Chateau Marmont restaurant in Los Angeles, when Mikkelsen abandons his carpaccio and guacamole to slalom between the tables to the back of the space, where a heavy curtain acts as a wall . He gropes around, as if looking for a secret passage, until a narrow opening appears. He slips into a small secret antechamber with a mesh ceiling, furnished with benches, chairs and small French bistro tables, on which ashtrays and matchboxes are placed. He sits down and takes a cigarette from a pack whose brand I don’t know, but which I easily identify as European since it is covered with grim warnings.

Mikkelsen, 57, wears dad-style sneakers, burgundy jogging pants, and an ordinary zipped sweatshirt, a bit as if he was preparing to take a flight of several hours. His features, however, betray him; even customers who don’t immediately recognize him stare at him a little too long. When I point out the aging effects of cigarettes, the actor – who, although he has smoked since the 80s, has a peachy complexion – tells me that one of the most successful anti-smoking campaigns in Denmark featured scene an apple with saggy skin: “People don’t mind dying of cancer, but having saggy skin freaks them out!” For his part, he would happily stop but says he is “stuck”.

His way of smoking, chin raised, head tilted slightly to the side, has something eminently cinematic. After a deep puff, he resumes the reflection that we had begun, a few moments earlier at the table, on the profession of actor. “The idea, with a main character, is that we will learn little by little why he is the way he is. This is not the case for the other characters,” he explains. “When I’m the good friend or the bad guy, the camera doesn’t tell my story. She doesn’t go to bed with me and wake up with me the next morning.”