By Regner Hansen, journalist
The Arctic serves as the backdrop for an ambitious new TV series for the American premium cable network HBO. Entitled Blood & Ice, the series is the brainchild of a unique partnership between Christian Muff of Hitman, the bestselling stealth video game series developed by Danish IO Interactive, Danish director Ole Christian Madsen and Danish scriptwriter Anders Thomas Jensen. Blood & Ice features an action packed story raising a question inspired by the uncertain future of the resource-rich Arctic region: In this world of ours, what can a person actually own? Ole Christian Madsen recently worked with HBO on the Banshee series.
The American experimental stage director Robert Wilson is slated for a return to Denmark with a new production for The Royal Danish Theatre. Inspired by the dramatic tale of the infamous couple Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, who carried out spectacular bank robberies during the Great Depression era in the US. Robert Wilson has previously staged plays in Copenhagen, including the highly acclaimed Woyzeck by Georg Büchner.
The Danish electronic soul duo Quadron has reaped wide acclaim for its latest album, Avalanche, while actively partaking in a variety of collaborations. Coco O of Quadron joined Beyoncé, Jay-Z, Lana Del Rey and others on the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby. Robin Hannibal teamed up with Canadian singer Milosh to form the duo Rhye, whose album Woman also ranked among the very best of 2013. Quadron entered 2014 with another year of evolution in its sights, including a tour with American new soul artist and Grammy nominee Mayer Hawthorne.
A Danish novel about Greenland in the late 18th century is making its way to the international market after author Kim Leine became the first Danish author since 2008 to win the Nordic Council's Literature Prize. Leine’s novel, The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, relates the tale of a Danish clergyman posted in Greenland more than 200 years ago. Norwegian-born Leine draws from his experiences from having lived in Greenland for 15 years. The novel has already been translated into English, Dutch and the other Nordic languages, and is scheduled for publication in German in 2014.
There seems to be a steady stream of villains flowing from Denmark to international films and television series – show business producers around the world often seek what a Danish agent calls “a big guy with an accent”.
By Jeppe Villadsen, journalist
Mads Mikkelsen plays serial killer and cannibal, Dr Hannibal Lecter, in NBC's Hannibal.
PHOTO: SBS DISCOVERY
Once upon a time, a German with a thick accent served as the archetypical film villain, ensuring that international audiences knew they were witnessing the work of a true bad guy. Or a Russian could also do the trick – unless, of course, the plot had more global entanglements and the villains were Japanese or perhaps Chinese.
These days, there is a good chance that your next film villain will be a Dane. Denmark has become a leading exporter of bona fide scoundrels for television and the silver screen.
For example, the prominent Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen plays one of the most despicable characters in the history of film: The highly intelligent serial killer and cannibal, Dr Hannibal Lecter, who manipulates and mutilates his victims in NBC’s television series Hannibal.
Mikkelsen could also be seen weeping tears of blood as Le Chiffre, the gambling Albanian arms dealer, in the 2006 James Bond film, Casino Royale.
And in HBO’s hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, the smarmy nobleman Jaime Lannister is played by Dane Nikolaj Coster-Waldau.
Coster-Waldau also appeared as a muscle-bound weapons expert in last year’s sci-fi dystopia Oblivion, starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.
Meanwhile, Ulrich Thomsen, who in 1999 made his villainous international debut in the Bond film The World Is Not Enough, currently plays the main antagonist in the Cinemax television series Banshee. Thomsen plays businessman Kai Proctor, a man with a history in the local Amish community who beats people to death with his bare hands in a small Pennsylvania town where nobody is what they appear to be.
“Mads Mikkelsen will never be the next Tom Cruise. He will never be accepted as an ordinary American.”
— Peter Schepelern, film scholar and author
PHOTO: LOIC VENANCE/SCANPIX
Denmark’s biggest star actor over the last decade.
Made his villain breakthrough as the gambling Albanian arms dealer Le Chiffre in the James Bond film Casino Royale (2006).
Also played the villainous, sword-swinging royal army commander Rochefort in Paul W. S. Anderson’s The Three Musketeers (2011).
Currently seen in the title role of the NBC series Hannibal as the gifted psychiatrist and serial killer Hannibal Lecter.
PHOTO: KASPAR WENSTRUP/POLFOTO
Actors and directors from Denmark are crossing national borders as never before.
Back in the late 1990s, the Danish “Dogma Film” wave, led by Lars von Trier (director of films including Nymphomaniac, Dancer in the Dark, Dogville, and Breaking the Waves), truly opened the floodgates to the world of international film for Danish actors. Featuring films such as Festen (The Celebration), Italiensk for begyndere (Italian for Beginners) and Idioterne (The Idiots), the Dogma wave marked the dawn of a golden age of Danish film that spawned international demand for Danish actors.
Sten Hassing Møller, co-owner of the Danish actor agency Team Players, says that Danish actors have built up a good reputation abroad.
“A lot of Danish actors speak fluent English, are highly educated with a solid four-year degree and have plenty of experience working in Danish film, television and theatre. This has given them a good reputation abroad,” Møller says.
Despite their strong English skills, however, Danish actors cannot always hide their Danish accent. For this very reason, they often make the perfect choice for villain roles, particularly in American productions.
“We often get calls where they’re looking for ‘a big guy with an accent’,” says Anne Lindberg, owner of Lindberg Management, a company that represents many of the most popular Danish actors.
The Danish Film Institute (DFI)
DFI is Denmark’s national agency for film and cinema culture. The institute supports the development, production and distribution of films. DFI’s website features a wide range of information on topics including new films, box office statistics, film festival participation and awards, as well as guidance on co-productions with Danish film companies and much more.
The great international success of Danish film over the past 10 to 15 years is not the only reason that Hollywood has discovered a wealth of Danish actors. The breakthrough also reflects years of hard work by agents and actors to build a strong international network among producers and casting directors in the international film industry. In this process of professionalisation, Danish actors have joined their foreign counter-parts in securing the services of agents to manage their interests abroad.
Improved film distribution also has a hand in the success, according to Anne Lindberg.
“Danish producers and distributors today are much better at reaching international audiences with their films. The increasing popularity of Danish actors is directly tied to the fact that more Danish films are shown abroad, combined with the extensive efforts of agents day in and day out,” says Lindberg.
Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones.
PHOTO: HBO NORDIC
Danish actors have even more wind in their sails due to the burgeoning “Scandinavian Wave” of Scandinavian crime fiction and television detective dramas. It is no longer unusual, in fact, to see role descriptions given to casting directors in the US and UK that explicitly call for Scandinavian actors.
In the past, the rule for foreign Hollywood actors enlisted in the villain corps was “once a villain, always a villain”. But things have changed – for the Danish actors, in any case. Villain roles now serve as an icebreaker to more nuanced character roles in international film and television. In 2009 alone, following in the wake of Casino Royale, Mads Mikkelsen was offered 60 international roles, says his agent.
But there are limits to how far you can get in Hollywood as a foreigner, says leading Danish film scholar and author Peter Schepelern.
“Mads Mikkelsen will never be the next Tom Cruise. He will never be accepted as an ordinary American. Within mainstream film, language is simply a barrier to foreigners landing roles as modern, contemporary characters of the same nationality, i.e. as a plain old American. These are extremely expensive productions, so you don’t just start experimenting with a Frenchman or Dane in the leading role,” Schepelern says.
This does not make the villain performances any less honourable, however:
“They’re typically rather short, intense performances, so you’re looking for someone with a strikingly nefarious aura. So, unlike many other supporting roles, you look to use talented, A-list star actors even though the roles are small,” says Schepelern.
Plays the unpleasant and power-hungry nobleman Jaime Lannister in the popular HBO series Game of Thrones.
Psychopathic villain in the 2011 Norwegian thriller Headhunterne (Headhunters) and a muscle-bound weapons expert in the sci-fi dystopia Oblivion (2013), starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman.
Coster-Waldau debuted in American film with a role in Black Hawk Down (2001).
Nikolaj Lie Kaas
International villain debut in 2006 as a Russian gangster in Scott Z. Burns’ Pu-239.
Played the sinister Mr Gray in Ron Howard’s Angels & Demons (2009).
Plays Kai Proctor, a brutal and temperamental businessman, in the Cinemax television series Banshee.
Also played a fraudulent bank president in Tom Tykwer’s action film The International (2009).
Paradoxically, the foreign villain roles are completely different from the roles with which the Danish actors built their careers. Many of the Danish films explore the characters’ psychological worlds, in contrast to the sometimes more one-dimensional villain roles.
For example, Mads Mikkelsen plays an ordinary day care teacher in Jagten (The Hunt), which was nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2014. Nikolaj Lie Kaas (see box) has shined in an array of roles as an insecure, sensitive man in Danish films, such as the 1998 Dogma film The Idiots. In an interview with the Danish Film Institute magazine FILM, Lie Kaas said:
“In the past, I was often asked whether I was afraid of always playing the same type of character, but I knew that it would eventually change. It’s the same with playing the bad guy, and I think a lot of Danish actors feel this way, because we never get to play these roles in Denmark. There are almost no villains in Danish film.”
After five years at Noma, American chef Matt Orlando turned down offers to open restaurants in the United States, choosing Copenhagen for two reasons: the produce and the local restaurant scene.
By Laura Engstrøm, journalist
Matt Orlando grew nervous as the Danish winter approached. The concept of his restaurant Amass, which opened in July 2013, builds on simplicity and carefully selected local ingredients. Facing the challenge of Danish winter, his options were seemingly limited to digging up beetroot or turning to cabbage from the refrigerator.
“It turned out to be a really good challenge,” says Matt Orlando, pointing to an example:
“Beetroot comes in hundreds of varieties and we had to find our own way of doing things. So we came up with marinating them in apple cider vinegar, then dehydrating and serving them with a rose hip puree, forest mushroom and black garlic vinaigrette, and dried blackcurrants on top.”
At the age of 35, Orlando had already worked with some of the world’s most innovative and trendsetting restaurants before opening his own. Prior to spending five years at Noma, the last three as head chef, he had stints at The Fat Duck in London and Thomas Keller’s three-star Michelin restaurant, Per Se in New York. Despite a bevy of offers to open restaurants in New York and his home state of California, Orlando ultimately chose Copenhagen.
“Copenhagen’s restaurant scene has become one of the best in the world. And who would have expected that five years ago? Back then, people came from all over the world just to eat at Noma – now they come to eat all over town,” says Orlando.
“I think the secret to the success is that the various head chefs and their staff collaborate with each other. I haven’t seen that anywhere else. If I discover a new product, I call René (Redzepi, head chef at Noma, ed.). Then I might drive out with René and his head assistant to meet with the supplier,” says Orlando, who took a number of Noma employees with him when opening Amass.
Amass represents the realisation of Orlando’s dream; not only is it a relatively affordable restaurant that is accessible to most, it also has 60 raised beds that supply the kitchen with herbs and vegetables. From the restaurant, dining guests have a view to the raised beds and Copenhagen Harbour. The only decoration is a wall painted with graffiti (big photo). Orlando explains:
“I have photographed graffiti my entire life. I love it, so I arranged for one of Copenhagen’s best graffiti artists to come and paint the wall. He is going to make a new graffiti piece once a year. This complements the way we make food: it’s all based on the moment.”
Last year, a dream came true for nine Danish whisky enthusiasts who teamed up in 2005 to start a distillery in the Danish region of Jutland. Although Denmark is not known for making whisky, one of the world’s leading whisky experts, Scotsman Jim Murray, listed Stauning Whisky’s first two single malt whiskeys in his Whisky Bible 2013. Once again this year, the Scotsman found room for the Danish whisky in his publication. Stauning Whisky’s Traditional 1st EDITION scored 87 points on Jim Murray’s
100-point scale – a rating that he gives to “Very good to excellent whiskies definitely worth buying”. Also listed was Young Rye, made with Danish rye and a smoked version of Stauning Whisky’s Single Malt. The small distillery, situated in the quaint Danish town of Stauning, was founded in 2005. The first bottles hit store shelves a couple of years ago, but could not be called whisky until they had aged for three years.
However, the distillery's young age was no obstacle to Jim Murray bestowing these prestigious ratings upon Stauning Whisky.
Food habits in Denmark have changed, influenced by the Nordic food trend – at least in canteens, cafes and restaurants. Professional chefs are serving more creative dishes featuring cabbage and root vegetables, but the trend is still lagging behind in Danish homes. Pasta and Mediterranean meat dishes still dominate at Danish dinner tables despite a recent, large-scale Danish study showing that a diet based on local foods leads to weight loss and lower blood pressure.
The Danish chef Claus Meyer is omnipresent whenever the discussion turns to Nordic food culture. In addition to influencing Danish perceptions of food with his countless food programmes on television, Meyer also spearheaded the “New Nordic Cuisine” movement. He was a co-founder of the restaurant Noma, declared the world’s best restaurant from 2010-2012. Meyer has also opened everything from delis to a catering company, a jazz club, an Indian restaurant, a small hotel in the countryside and an apple orchard. His food empire now comprises around 850 employees and 20 companies. Meyer also expanded beyond Denmark’s borders in 2012, opening a restaurant in Bolivia in cooperation with the international development NGO Ibis. Looking to the future, Meyer dreams of also making his mark in New York.
Awards in the restaurant industry go beyond the realm of culinary experiences. Copenhagen’s Restaurant Höst recently won American Travel & Leisure magazine’s Bar & Design Award for the best-designed restaurant. Norm Architects designed the restaurant’s interior.
Eating porridge at a restaurant? Apparently so. A queue stretched down the street when then 21-year-old Lasse Skjønning Andersen and his then partner opened the restaurant Grød (the Danish word for porridge) in 2011 in Copenhagen.
The success has only grown since then, with Andersen also opening a restaurant in Copenhagen city centre. Andersen believes that the key to the constant flow of customers for barley porridge, oat porridge, Danish fruit porridge, etc. is the restaurant’s ever-expanding repertoire. For example, the menu now also features the Indian rice dish congee and Italian risotto. As he says:
“Porridge is eaten around the world! But people just don’t realise it.” Offers to open franchises have poured in from far and wide, including Finland, Norway, Sweden, Germany and the United States. So far, however, Andersen has turned down the offers, as he feels that the concept still needs some fine-tuning.
Upon retiring last winter as the greatest badminton player in Danish history, Peter Gade not only parted ways with a racquet, but also with an identity, a way of life and goals that until then had both defined and confined him.
By Tina Ravn, journalist
Simple truths about Peter Gade are few and far between.
His is a life shaped by paradox. Gade is introspective, yet competed as a world-class athlete for two decades, a field where it is usually easiest to refrain from asking too many questions. He prefers to live independently, but for most of his life has lived by a meticulously planned schedule with the singular aim of sporting success. Now that his career has drawn to a close and freedom awaits, Gade continues to follow his badminton training regimen.
However, it should come as no surprise to those who know Gade that he chose an unconventional path for his exit from professional sports. He has steered clear of a potential post as coach of the Danish national team, stepping instead into the business world and speeding down what he calls a multilane motorway full of potholes and exits.
“Everything in my life and mentality has been structured to ensure victory on the badminton court – everything. Suddenly, it’s all gone. I can understand how strange things happen to athletes who go through this process – people who end up on the brink of suicide or who fall into a deep depression. There is a real danger,” says Gade.
PHOTO: ASGAR LADEFOGED/SCANPIX
Born 14 December 1976.
One of badminton’s “Four Kings” along with China’s Lin Dan, Indonesia’s Taufik Hidayat and Malaysia’s Lee Chong Wei.
Ranked number one in the world multiple times, including 1998–2001.
Gade had no qualms about retiring. He loved – and still loves – badminton, but at the age of 36 his body and spirit were running on fumes. However, he did not anticipate that all of the other routines in his life would also face an end.
Over many years, Gade’s relationships with his parents and sister were marked by friction; in addition to these challenges, he also faced a divorce from the mother of his two daughters, moving into this house, north of Copenhagen, where he now sits, surrounded by black and white decor and with a cup of strong coffee in front of him. Facing all this, he stood alone: saying goodbye to badminton and being a good father – “standing there with pigtails and hair clips in the morning” – while figuring out what to do with the rest of his life.
Danish badminton players do not earn enough to relax on sandy white beaches for the rest of their lives after retirement, nor does Gade have the temperament for such a fate. Like his constant pursuit of medals, new goals were needed. The national team coaching position would require that he continue with the same meticulous schedule as before.
“Unlike some other athletes, I have a strong interest in life and everything that’s out there. That’s been my problem – getting elite sports and me as a whole person to mesh together. So I wanted to change the structure of my life. I have no desire whatsoever to live a life where I know what I am going to do from when I get up until I go to bed,” says Gade.
“For me, it’s about the quest to become as free as possible, as an individual. That’s what I’m looking for. It’s an art, and it takes a whole life to learn it.”
This quest led Gade to take an unexpected turn on the motorway.
Teaming up with business partner Steen Skovgaard, he reached out to the business world and is now affiliated with a small handful of companies with activities in China, where Peter Gade is a big name.
“I have to make a living from this, but if you can also accomplish something along the way, then it really starts to get fun.”
This ambition has led Gade to focus on companies in climate, environment and health.
Ultimately, the life of freedom Gade longs for is not without pain. Doubts crept to the surface in the autumn of 2013, as Gade was on the way to the airport for a trip to China on behalf of the Danish pump manufacturer Grundfos.
“I thought: Do I even have anything to offer the business world? I don’t buy the idea that elite athletes who rise to the top automatically have a lot to teach other people.”
Along the way, Gade has drawn heavily on his psychologist and close friend Jens Hansen.
“Sometimes I’ve called Jens and asked:
‘What kind of life am I living?’ Everyday life is filled with China and badminton, but where’s the foothold?”
Gade chops out an imaginary box on the table to illustrate the stringent programme that creates a world-class athlete: “I’ve been used to living like this,” he says.
Gade no longer has to wake up for scheduled training sessions. And he no longer presents himself as a badminton player, but rather as a businessman.
“But I haven’t always believed it myself.” Nevertheless, the trip to China was fantastic, in his own words. He discovered that the unrelenting focus of elite sports is also beneficial when preparing for meetings, assessing a range of companies or knocking around a shuttlecock with Chinese clients.
The shuttlecocks also continue to fly through the air in Denmark; just months after his last professional match, Gade resumed his training regimen.
“So I am still ‘that guy the badminton player’,” explains Gade.
As a true man of contradictions, he also trains a talented squad of young players, seeking to help them embrace the demands of the sport – singular focus and victory as all that counts – which once ruled his life.
“Immersing themselves and concentrating on one thing helps people to develop. But I try to create whole people who can be elite athletes without becoming machines,” he says.
Gade is personally immersing himself in his new life, although the range of options and lack of a solid foothold make choosing a pathway difficult.
“But actually, I want to sense that unpredictability and uncertainty – that’s what I have fought for,” he says.
With a sweep of his hand, Gade cracks half a smile.
“We’ll just have to see where I end up.”
Badminton World Championships in Denmark
Denmark is hosting the 2014 Badminton World Championships, organised by Badminton Denmark in collaboration with Sport Event Denmark.
The tournament will be held on 25–31 August in Ballerup, north of Copenhagen.