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Mads Mikkelsen’s Rites of Passage

Mads Mikkelsen’s Rites of Passage (photo)

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An unconventional, saturnine sex symbol in his native Denmark, actor Mads Mikkelsen has become an adored presence in international productions both indie and blockbuster-sized. He wept blood as the villainous Le Chiffre in the 007 reboot “Casino Royale,” assassinated Nazis as the latter half of the Danish Resistance duo “Flame & Citron,” managed an Indian orphanage in the Oscar-nominated “After the Wedding,” survived two-thirds of the “Pusher” crime trilogy, and fought alongside mythic Greek hero Perseus in the recent “Clash of the Titans” remake.

But for now, he tickles the ivories. In director Jan Kounen’s stylish biopic “Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky,” Mikkelsen plays the titular Russian pianist and composer to the famed French fashionista (Anna Mouglalis) who became his benefactor. Inspired by the 1920 Parisian love affair between these two titans of 20th century artistry, the film kicks off with an impressive restaging of the 1913 premiere of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” a commissioned modernist ballet that left audiences both raving and booing. This detail was important later when Mikkelsen called me from Denmark to discuss his musical inclinations, what he smells like, the film that has influenced his entire career, and the animal he channeled to play a mute, one-eyed Viking in next month’s “Valhalla Rising.”

06082010_MadsMikkelsenCocoIgor6.jpgWhat did you discover while researching one of the world’s most influential composers?

The most interesting thing was reading Stravinsky’s own biography, because he barely mentioned anybody else but himself. It just tells the story of a gigantic ego, and that was an important thing to bring to the table. He was a complex man in many ways. A very “held” man, approaching life in a stiff manner. Orthodox Russian, all classical virtues. He’s a patriarch as well, and then all of a sudden, he’s leading this flamboyant Paris life with Coco, who’s doing the exact opposite of what a woman should in his world.

I don’t think he was especially attracted to her physically, but he was mentally. There was something about her he did not understand that fascinated him. At the same time, he was very crazy in his music. The world was divided into his letting-go energy when he was composing, and he was almost like a clerk when he was not. [laughs] He wasn’t a cliché of an artist, sitting in an attic, getting drunk and inspired. He got up every morning at 7 o’clock, did push-ups, ate eggs, started working, then finished at 5 o’clock in the evening. Coco managing to open him up, and to put some of his music into his own life.

06082010_MadsMikkelsenCocoIgor3.jpgWhat was more challenging to learn: speaking Russian or playing the piano?

Somebody else has to be the judge of that one. [laughs] I had to learn French as well, which was difficult because I was surrounded by French people. Every time I did something in Russian, they thought it was fantastic. Every time I did something in French, which I actually could speak, they thought I sounded terrible! [laughs] Maybe the music was more difficult because I’m playing. It’s not my sound, but I did insist on being able to hit the right keys so we could feel free with a camera, not the classic “cut from face, cut to hands.” That was tough, because he was crazier than I remembered when I first listened to the music. His rhythms are all over the place, but once you get it, you don’t forget.

You were a professional dancer for years. Have you had other musical inclinations?

Dancing is the only experience I have. I always wanted to play some kind of instrument — piano, saxophone, whatever. I took it up for a while, then forgot about it because I didn’t have the time. All of a sudden, I had the chance here to pick up piano in a serious manner.

06092010_chanel77.jpgI think that my background as a dancer helped me a lot because trying to count and be specific with [Stravinsky’s] music is impossible. I couldn’t learn music from scratch, so I had to dig into it more emotionally, and you often do that as a dancer as well. You listen to the music, start understanding it, and know exactly what’s happening where and when. That was my approach with the piano lessons.

As depicted in the film, the premiere of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” causes an uproar among the crowds. Have you ever been booed by an audience?

Yeah, I did a crazy version of “Romeo and Juliet” once, and I played Romeo. I liked it, but I can see why it didn’t work all the way. There was always a young crowd in there, and one day when we went out holding hands [for the curtain call], 40 actors, the whole back row in this enormous place started booing like crazy. We all looked at each other: “Oh man, who is it they hate?”

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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