The day following the world premiere of Arctic in the Midnight Official Selection section at the Cannes Film Festival, star Mads Mikkelsen and director Joe Penna stopped by for a chat at Deadline’s Cannes Studio. This was the same day that Bleecker Street acquired North American distribution rights and select international territories on the movie that had received an extended standing ovation.
Penna and Mikkelsen are “both stubborn guys,” they say in the video above and held ground to get made the story of a man stranded in the titular desolation who must decide whether to remain in the relative safety of his camp or embark on a deadly trek through the unknown for potential salvation.
Penna says, “We didn’t give up, it was constantly when we were trying to find the right partner to finance it we got several notes that were like, ‘If you do this, well we’ll put the money into it. Just show some flashbacks, give them a wedding ring, give them a locket.’ And we were like ‘That’s not what the film is about.'”
Global star Mikkelsen is a previous Best Actor winner here for Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt and was recently a key figure in such global hits as Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Doctor Strange.
I asked the actor what convinced him to work with a first time feature director. After exec producer Martha De Laurentiis suggested he move Arctic to the top of his pile, he read it. “And I really, really loved it and then I called Joe and we had a Skype meeting… and I said ‘Yeah let’s do it.'” Six weeks later they were shooting. “I think that if you’re a seasoned director you still have to have the young eyes, you still have to be hungry… You can easily have the knowledge and the ability to behave like an older director. For me that was no difference with Joe than with anyone else, except than maybe he was a little more hungry,” Mikkelsen adds.
Penna has had a successful career making commercials, then music videos and short films, but how did this experience ultimately live up his expectations or fears? “For me the crux of the director’s job is picking the right people to work with and all the way from the PAs that were working on the film, the Icelandic crew was just incredible they were moving faster than I’ve ever seen any crew move, in these horrific conditions.”
Those were some pretty frigid conditions, but, says Penna, “what Mads brought to the role, his dedication to the role and being in every single frame of the film. There were so many shots that we could have had a stand-in… But Mads wanted to do it, he understood the character, he understood the motivation. And Mads comes from a dancing background so you could tell some shots that we got were stand-ins that were not usable because it’s clearly not Mads.”
This is an essentially dialogue-free film and Mikkelsen says, “It’s an interesting challenge because we take away the words, the ability to talk or at least the will to talk, you take away an enormous tool from the actor or from any human being. So in the beginning you go ‘It’s going to be easy, a walk in the park, I don’t have to remember my lines.’ But then you bump into other things… You start doing stuff that doesn’t belong in the film and we noticed that and we were very keen on keeping a eye on it to be as honest and true to the story as possible. But not having dialogue in the film, a lot of dialogue, it doesn’t mean that it’s not easy to read. It was very, very clear what they wanted to do and the subtext of what kind of emotion was there was indicated, but it was open.”
When Mikkelsen and I spoke in Cannes last year, he had just come from finishing the shoot. Did he expect he’d be back here a year later with such a talked-about movie? “I thought and I had a hope that it was a great film. That’s what I read and I hoped I wasn’t wrong and I felt we did the right thing with it and so where it lands is really not in our hands anymore, but I hope so, I think that the film deserved it. I think that the guys deserve it. There is no way of telling that this is a first time director. This is such a stubborn film. There is no compromise here and that is rare to see from a first-time director so I think it deserves all the cheering and applauding and landing here is absolutely up there with the best.”