The Danish actor, 55, smashed his own forehead into an actual bathroom mirror ("that was a little painful") before wrecking the joint for cameras, until he came to a seemingly paltry towel rack.
"That towel thingy, it looked like I could rip it out, but I couldn't. I kicked it, pulled it. It didn't move," says Mikkelsen.
But it's going to take more than a stubborn towel rack to even temporarily derail the unstoppable career momentum for NBC's titular "Hannibal" serial killer. The rack miscue made it into the film – "We kept that because of the clumsiness, that was interesting," says Mikkelsen.
Meanwhile, "Riders for Justice" (now on video on demand) arrives as Mikkelsen's stature is soaring with the Oscar success of "Another Round," as well as roles in major franchises "Indiana Jones" and "Fantastic Beasts."
Fifteen years after his worldwide breakout as eye-bleeding Bond villain Le Chiffre in 2006's "Casino Royale," Mikkelsen has stepped into the visage of dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald replacing the resigned Johnny Depp in the just-wrapped "Fantastic Beasts 3" (due out July 15, 2022).
He had to awkwardly enter the third Harry Potter prequel while filming was underway during the COVID-19 pandemic. So the cast led by Eddie Redmayne made pains to give welcome, even to the actor they'd be battling onscreen. (Redmayne, as Newt Scamander, went head-to-head with Mikkelsen for three weeks straight for the epic ending.)
"I'm just this guy trying to fill out these shoes that somebody else has been wearing," says Mikkelsen, speaking via Zoom call on a filming break in Spain. "It's difficult to come three months into shooting while taking over for someone like that. They did their best to make me feel at home, each knocking on my trailer door."
The franchise welcomes have continued. Last month, Lucasfilm announced he'd join director Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford in the untitled fifth installment of the Indiana Jones franchise. While thrilled, it's a part he can't reveal specifics about.
"Unless you want to find me at the bottom of a lake somewhere," he says, smiling darkly.
Days after his first Zoom conference call with "Indiana Jones" filmmakers, Mikkelsen watched the Oscars from afar, keeping his airport-bound car waiting so he could watch director Thomas Vinterberg emotionally accept the best international film Academy Award for "Another Round." The drama, now streaming on Hulu, showcases Mikkelsen's British Academy Film Awards-winning lead performance of a middle-aged teacher going through a crisis who tries out heavy drinking as a fallible solution.
"I was watching the awards with one foot out the door, and thankfully, Thomas won," he says, "So I was able to carry that feeling all the way to the plane."
In the ultimate show of film respect, Leonardo DiCaprio's production company Appian Way recently acquired English-language movie rights to "Another Round," as a potential star vehicle for DiCaprio to step into the lead role.
Mikkelsen believes the "Another Round" story and its ultimately life-affirming message are universal, and that the depicted Danish drinking habits can be adapted for an American audience.
"It's always tricky to make a remake, especially something as recent as this," says Mikkelsen. "But Leo's a tremendous actor who can pull off anything, it would be an honor if he wanted to take it on. I would love to watch him doing that."
Remaking the film in English is not a project or role the versatile stage and screen actor wants to pursue himself.
"That wouldn't be interesting to me," says Mikkelsen. "There's something about making films that is so final. We've said goodbye. It would be tricky to come back and visit. I think it's much better in fresh hands."
He's already followed his "Another Round" teacher role, which showed off his classically trained dance skills in the grand finale, with the dramatically dark and different "Riders of Justice." Mikkelsen took enough time off to grow out his beard to play the Afghanistan war veteran who seeks revenge against a motorcycle gang he believes is behind the train accident death of his wife.
"Beards grow extremely fast on me, that took two months," he says, adding that packing muscle onto his normally lean six-foot frame was tougher. "I had to lift and eat a lot of protein to add 14 pounds maximum. That's as much as I can put on."
"The rest," he adds, "is attitude."
And Mikkelsen brings this attitude playing the emotional time bomb Markus, who works his way through opposing gang members with far greater ease than connecting with his grieving daughter (Andrea Heick Gadeberg).
Director and frequent collaborator Anders Thomas Jensen was able to make the unsmiling Markus emotionally dark with the innately amiable Mikkelsen.
"I would not have dared going this far with any other actor," says Jensen. "But Mads is likable, even when he's entirely not likable, saying horrible things to his daughter."
The bathroom blow-up and following breakdown are a result of "old school" Markus refusing to deal with his own pain. Mikkelsen convinced his director, and the film's insurance company, to let him do the mirror head-butt. The stunt coordinator tested and placed a protective cover to keep the glass from splintering.
"There was no padding behind it, just a concrete wall. My plan was to do it like four times," says Mikkelsen. But the unstoppable actor found he could only handle a finite number of head-butts. "After two, I said, 'That's it.' I started pounding the mirror with my fist. And I only did two of those before I said, OK let's move onto something else."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mads Mikkelsen really head-butted 'Riders of Justice' bathroom mirror