The Hunt tells the story of Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), who is trying to rebuild his life and his relationship with his son after a messy divorce.

All appears to be going well, until a misunderstood gesture and a series of whispers divide Lucas from his friends and turn his neighbours against him.

Mikkelsen won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival for his role, and Brogen Hayes caught up with him on the French Riviera to talk about the beautiful but challenging film.

How emotionally challenging was it to make this movie?
Mads Mikkelsen: At times it was very difficult; at times it was fine, depending on the scenes. We had some happy and funny scenes in the beginning with the kids, but not long into the film we get a stomach punch, when a little girl goes nuts because she’s tired and wants to play and someone wants her to say that something happened and she nods. When she nods, it’s not going to turn out good; we know that. From then on it was uphill [laughs] and we had some long days.

It can be boring to play innocent guys sometimes, what was different about this film?
MM: It can be boring, but this time it was a lot more complex in the sense that yes, he’s innocent, but he is struggling with problems. Who does he scream at? Who does he hit? There’s nobody to hit because they are all doing it out of love; nobody is doing it out of hate, they are doing it out of love for their little girl and the fear that something happened. There is no hate in here, it’s just a lot of misunderstanding, and where do you put it? For me, it was also very provoking that that didn’t exist, he couldn’t hit anything, and I think as an audience you feel the same. At times you feel like ‘Do something, do something’, but what can he do? Would you go to your friend – your friend is dying, you can see it – would you scream in his face? No, you can’t do that, of course not. You react like an adult and a civilised man and say of course it didn’t happen, believe me, it didn’t happen. For that reason, I thought it was a great character, and all the other characters are great as well because they are all doing the right thing. There is no lie; the girl is telling the truth – or so she believes – so there is no lie.

Why do you think it so long for the characters to believe the truth?
MM: I have had a fairly liberated relationship with truth my whole life, meaning I am a professional liar – it’s my job – and I understand that the truth is many things. There is not one thing that is the truth; it doesn’t exist. Your truth is your truth and it will always be different for someone else. That doesn’t mean that you’re not doing what you’re doing for the right reasons, but I have always been listening to what people believe in with a healthy scepticism in the sense that, this is how they are, and this is how they feel, but when I look at it it’s not really what it is. The truth is many things, but let me emphasise one thing; if a kid says that an adult abused him or her, you have to listen to them. You have to believe your kids; nobody says something like this without a reason, but in this case this little girl is so in love with this man – at least in her head – and this man tells her she should be in love with other little boys, and it just hurts her. Many other little girls would say ‘he’s stupid, I hate him’ but what she says are not her words, they are someone else’s words and she doesn’t know what it is. This is not the story of the film; we are here to tell the story of big, big love that explodes a society.

Did being a father help you with the role?
MM: It didn’t matter. I am not playing a dad necessarily, I am playing a man accused of something horrible, but I can definitely relate to being a dad – maybe most on the behalf of [his] friend and his wife. I relate to the story maybe stronger, but I believe that people without kids can relate to it as well.

What was it like to work with the young actress? How much did she know?
MM: It was explained to her to a certain degree. We did discuss things to a certain degree. We did not specifically tell her the brutality of the story, but she was so smart. I don’t know where she’s from; some other planet! She did everything spot on, she could improvise, she could leave the set and go and play with her friends and come back and not be affected at all. It was like ‘thank god!’ because if she was affected by it would have been tough for all of us. My job was just to basically be around her, make her comfortable with me so we knew we could work together. What we would do in a scene we just did at lunch. That was my job and hanging out there, playing with the kids was just a gift because you forget yourself and most actors are better when they forget themselves.

There are famous cases of false accusations throughout history; did you research these?
MM: No, I didn’t find it interesting. This is not a case, this is inspired by several cases, but it is not one case. It is inspired by injustice but at the end of the day Thomas [Vinterberg] makes it into a different story. As I said, we were definitely not making a film here to speak out for the men wrongly accused, if that happened and we triggered debate that’s fine, but this is not what our film is about.

Did you know Thomas Vinterberg before you worked together on this film?
MM: We knew each other from the beginning! He made his little Thomas Club, and I was in the little Nicolas Winding [Refn] Club and there were six or seven other clubs and we did not talk to each other! These were the days when we were inventing ourselves and we needed that; all the Clubs needed to define themselves. I when I was older I realised I kind of liked them as well, they were nice people. Then we opened up the clubs and people started working together. So we have known each other since we started and I have known Thomas Bo Larsson for ages, but we never worked together. It was very pleasant to work together.

Is it easier to act with your friends?
MM: It can be difficult if there is something in there that blows it up. In this case, it was absolutely not difficult. It can also be easy because we trust each other, we let each other make mistakes, we have the space and freedom to research the characters and the scenes. In this case it was just a blessing.

What was it like to work with Alexandra Rapaport?
MM: It was nice. She came in and had to join this little close community. She had to play a Polish girl, she is a Swedish girl in real life. We had great fun, she is a classical Swedish feminist and I am… What am I? I provoked her a lot, let’s put it that way [laughs]. We had a lot of laughs with that and I think we learned something from each other, and she was a fantastic actress to work with.

Did you and Thomas Vinterberg discuss the film before shooting?
MM: In the beginning we were having a lot of discussions; I always have a billion questions and then he better come up with a billion answers [laughs] and for that reason we put it all out there, we changed stuff, we changed it back again, but at least we touched it and we know what’s bad and wonderful and that’s very important before we start shooting.

How did this discussion help with the film?
MM: I guess the provocation it gave me and it also gives the audience is ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ We had to ask ourselves over and over again ‘do we want him to react heavily, more uncivilised? Is that a normal reaction? Would that be something I could do? Then we asked ourselves again… Imagine, imagine, imagine… I am not as civilised as [Lucas] but I cannot forget myself. I don’t know what I would have done. I would have been in shock. I would probably have gone home and called a couple of friends and said ‘fuck! What is happening?’ but he is a solitary man, he likes to be by himself and he is shocked; he doesn’t know what is going on, but the minute he knows what’s going on, he takes charge, but he’s too late. The rock is rolling. So we asked that question a billion times, and we placed reactions earlier, but it felt wrong because you would not do that; I would not scream at my friend. It was very important for us that we agreed.

Was this the most demanding character you have had to play?
MM: It’s hard to say. No, the most demanding characters are the ones that are badly written because you are constantly struggling to figure out what to do. That’s so demanding. Even though it is a demanding journey [in the film], it was so well written that it became healthy. No, it was too well written to be demanding.

Even still, what is your frame of mind when you are acting in these scenes?
MM: I am not him, but I am as close as I can get. I am in the bubble of being in the situation. I was in the church for eight hours by myself but I also went out, once in a while, and looked at it and asked ‘Are we doing the right thing?’, then I went back into the bubble. I think we need to be in and out when we are analysing a story; we cannot just be thrown back and forth. I would use my emotional truth in the bubble, but I would have to go out once in a while and analyse as well. As close as I can get to the situation, I go and then when I go home, I go home.

Was it easier for you to play such an emotional role in your native language?
MM: Being a Dane, I like being home. I like working in my native tongue. Some things are easier when it’s my language [laughs] and my stories and something that is familiar to me. Having said that, some things are easier abroad because you are away from your home turf and it’s a different freedom. It is important for me to be Danish because I am Danish and I will constantly work in Denmark if people offer me jobs, but it’s not vital that I do it.

What is it about these challenging films that you like?
MM: The provocation of the script for me was enormous, and I felt like everyone else – who is to blame here? – and this is a good base for a film, there is a lot of frustration in it. That frustration we carry with the characters. It is a blessing that the man in the supermarket hits him because if he did not hit him then [Lucas] would still not get anything out, but thank god he hits him because I can come up with something. He is not part of my story, [Lucas] doesn’t know him but if someone hits him he can get it out. We carried it for a long time and once the day came I was almost like [sighs] ‘Here we go!’

It has been said that you are playing against type in this film, is that something that you think about?
MM:  In the very first film I did – before I did anything else – I was playing against type [laughs] Journalists like to say that, so every single role I have played in my life has been against type. It’s my little schizophrenia there… What is my type? [laughs] We don’t think about it, we are artists and we love to do everything, but unfortunately, not every actor is offered everything. I have been very fortunate, since I started, that people see me through different eyes. Every character is me, some part of me, but not me and that’s the way I work, and that’s the way I love to work.

Would you agree that Lucas lacks self-confidence? Is this something you had to think about?
MM: I think, self-confidence… He is certainly not out there being flashy. He is confident enough, he has a life, he hits on a girl and he gets the girl [laughs] The shy side is not me, in that situation… No, but I think was separates us that he might be slightly more civilised than I… But then again, I don’t know. I am also pretty civilised.

The Hunt was shown In Competition in Cannes this year, how important was this for the film?
MM: I think it’s important for every movie to be in a competition like that because it means that a lot of people will talk about it; there will be fuss, people will love it, people will hate it, people will discuss it. What we want is for people to watch the film and the more people hear about it the better the chance is to see the film. It is not specific for this kind of movie; I think every movie wants to be competing. It’s important for us, and it was very important for me that Thomas was In Competition with a fantastic, beautiful, stunning film. I am very proud to be a part of that.

You worked with Nicholas Winding Refn in the past, what do you think about his recent success with Drive?
MM: I hate it [laughs] I think it’s absolutely fantastic. I watched it last year and I was like ‘Ohh finally’. It’s been there from the very beginning. Now it’s happening, it’s fantastic.

How has your background as a dancer helped with your film career?
MM: You can see in the film that I dance all the way from the pub [laughs] I am a very physical man and I have always been a physical man, but I don’t always use it consciously. It’s there, I always figure out whether the guy is faster or slower than me or if he treads lightly, that’s part of the character, but I don’t do it consciously.

What is the difference between telling a story as an actor rather than a dancer?
MM: I am a fan of not too many words in a film. I believe that words belong in a book and I believe they belong in a dialogue, but they don’t belong in an actor’s mouth when they are trying to explain the film. That is why we have the medium called film, which will tell the story. We can do the same without dialogue, but sometimes we need words.

Words – Brogen Hayes

The Hunt is in Irish cinemas from today