Thomas Vinterberg on Another Round and convincing Mads Mikkelsen to dance

Devan Coggan
·9 min read

At first glance, Thomas Vinterberg's Another Round may sound like a bubbly, lighthearted exploration of drinking culture: The 2020 Danish film centers on four friends, all working as teachers at the same high school, who decide to embark on a social experiment. Together, they vow to drink throughout the day and maintain a consistently high blood alcohol content level, to see how it affects everything from their confidence to their job performance and relationships.

But instead of being a purely hedonistic ode to alcohol — or a dour cautionary tale — Vinterberg's nuanced drama reveals something much more moving at the bottom of the glass. The film (now streaming on Hulu) reunites Vinterberg with his The Hunt star Mads Mikkelsen, and it's become a quiet but powerful Oscar contender: In addition to being nominated for Best International Film, Vinterberg scored a surprise nomination for Best Director.

Here, Vinterberg opens up about his bittersweet drama — and how he convinced Mikkelsen to let loose in that exuberant final scene.

Henrik Ohsten/Samuel Goldwyn Films; Inset: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: This film has such a brilliant tone: It can be extremely comical in places, but it also has moments of melancholy. How did you want to navigate that balancing act and find the tone that felt right for you?

THOMAS VINTERBERG: Well, finding the tone of this movie was quite difficult because it's obviously a balance. We wanted to talk about both the dark side, and the more fiery sides of drinking and living an inspired life, so we had to go both to the dark side and the light side. Every time I tried to unify it, every time I tried to find a general tone for it, it was a little bit of castration. Each moment had to go its own way. So we found ourselves with a movie where you have four silly men trying to catch codfish in one scene, and in another scene Mads Mikkelsen is crying, and then there's a musical ending. So there's all sorts of different tonations, which all added up to a cocktail, I guess you can say.

I imagine as a filmmaker that would be a challenge to walk that line, but it would also be a fun environment to play in. It's very much an exploration of life.

Yeah, that's exactly what I wanted, an exploration. I wanted it to be as truthful as possible, so I took away the conventional score, and I shot the whole thing handheld, and I let the scenes sort of live their own life to some extent. And then, of course, I had some very smart and intelligent editors who put all those different tastes and flavors [together] in the right way. For instance, that codfish scene was on the editing floor for months. It was simply too silly to be in the same movie as a movie where a man is fighting with his wife. But in the right linking with the right dosage, it worked.

What was it about that codfish scene that made you change your mind?

I was the one representing the bad taste, I guess. My editors have better taste than I have. I just felt like, okay, people are buying a ticket to see a movie about some guys drinking, so we need this as well. For me, it was disarmingly silly. For others, it's probably just too silly, but for me, it was disarming. I liked that and kept wanting to see it. Every time I watched [the dailies] with my wife, we couldn't stop laughing. Tears were rolling down our cheeks. So it was like, "Ah, I couldn't live without that scene."

A lot of times films about drinking are either a pure celebration of alcohol, or they're a very moralistic, cautionary tale. This film is more nuanced. How did you want to navigate telling a story about drinking without veering into cliches?

To begin with, the original idea was to make a celebration of alcohol. But I found it too provocative and too hurtful to all those people who have lost family members to alcohol. I felt an obligation, actually, to tell the whole story about alcohol, and I also found it more interesting and more truthful to try to convey both.

You've worked with Mads Mikkelsen before, but what was different about working on this film together?

He said yes before there was a script. He's a star with the agents and stuff, btu we've become friends, and he liked the idea so much that he just said yes. That was different. The circumstances of making this movie, for private reasons, was so tragic because of stuff that happened in my life. He was more like a friend carrying me through than my actor, to some extent. Even though I was his director on set, we'd switch, and he became the guy carrying me to my car or wiping up my tears. So it was very different from that first time we worked together. The first time, we had this element of politeness, getting to know each other. This time was very close, I have to say.

I would imagine making a film like this, it would be helpful to have an actor where you have that shorthand, and you understand each other.

Totally. The thing is that if you have to fly, you have to let go of control — which [is what] this film is about, basically. It's not about alcohol, really. It's about letting go of control. In a time of super-controlled performance culture, we're making a movie about letting go of control. For Mads and any other actor, they have to let go of control and they have to feel the faith and the security of someone they trust, right? They have to have a solid foundation to be able to fly in front of the camera.

So when we know each other this well, he has faith in what I'm doing, and I have faith in what he's doing, and then we can do more. If I'd been some dude from another country that he'd never met before, I'm not sure I could have convinced him to dance. He was very nervous about that. He was a little bit like, 'I hope you know what you're doing!'"

What's it like to direct actors acting drunk? I know some actors have said that it's very difficult to play drunk and still have it feel real.

Right? I'm going to talk like a TV chef: First, you have some really good actors. It's like how you can't make a great steak without great meat. You can make a bad steak out of great meat, but you can't make a great steak out of bad meat. [Laughs] Anyway, in our case with rehearsals, we [researched] how people look when they're drunk, and then we filmed each other.

The truth is that below [a blood alcohol content level of] 0.1, it's a lot like other acting in the sense that you're hiding. If you have to play that you're in love with someone, you often pretend that you're not in love, that you don't care. It's the same thing: If you have to play that you're drunk, you have to pretend that you're sober — sitting very straight, measuring your movements, trying to articulate your words. And then maybe there's a little crack into the fact that you're pissed. But when it gets clumsy and ugly and falling around, it's very difficult. So we had to work harder — and try to copy really drunk people that we found on the internet.

Yeah, I know the actors went and watched a bunch of YouTube videos for research. What were some of the takeaways from that?

Well, I encourage you to watch this one about two men and a log, which is two guys just trying to load a bicycle with a piece of wood for God knows what reason. [Laughs] It takes them 15 minutes and they fall around, but they're very much in the zone. For instance, we learned that normally when you fall, you'd protect your head with your hands, but if you're drunk, you just fall on your head. There's no protection. You don't care. When we learned that, we thought, "Okay, we've got to get the stuntmen and the mattresses." And when we looked at their eyes, we saw that they were watery and red, so we got the makeup department. There's a lot of pragmatic work to it as well.

I have to ask about the final scene, which is this magical moment of Mads Mikkelsen dancing in the street. What do you remember most about filming that finale?

This is the kind of scene where my family came in. It's a sensational thing to see Mads dance because everyone in Denmark has known that he's been a dancer forever. No one has seen him dance. So it was as cathartic in real life as it was in the movie. I was at work, of course, so I was my normal, focused, sometimes even grumpy self, saying, "We need to do this again, we need to do that, we need the extras in the background to sit more." But beyond all that, I was in a very celebratory mode.

Was it as much fun to be there as it is to watch on screen?

It was, actually. It's very interesting: All those students behaved as if they were drunk, even though we didn't give them one drop of real alcohol. There was this experiment where you put people in a bar, and there's a lot of loud music. Half of them get virgin mojitos and the other half gets real, and they all [seem] equally drunk. The situation makes them drunk. It's that ecstatic thing of the group collectiveness of it, which was very powerful.

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