Mads Mikkelsen stepped into the hugely important role of Galen Erso, the man who made the Death Star work. The actor also had the equally Herculean task of keeping all the details about his character secret. Now that Rogue One’s out on Digital HD, we talked to Mikkelsen about all those details—and also about how some patrons in his local bar may have learned them a little bit early.
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io9: When you’re making a film that’s part of something this huge, do you think about the fan reaction or do you just ignore the pressure of making a Star Wars movie?
Mads Mikkelsen: I don’t think about the pressure. I think that there’s always a pressure when you’re making a film. And the pressure is obviously to make it as good as possible. We were aware that this was special because we grew up with it. And we were standing there, fanboy hat on. But eventually we have to take that fanboy hat off and get down to it, to the business of our jobs The pressure we leave up to the producers and directors and we do our very best.
A lot of background about your character was published right before the movie came out (in the Star Wars novel Catalyst). How much of that were you told beforehand? Like about your relationship with Krennic, for example?
Mikkelsen: Quite a bit, although the book is kind of separate from what we did. And it was a separate thing. But pretty much we were on the same page in being children of the Empire. Believe it or not the Empire do raise people who have families and are decent people. And then we started working on a project that could save the world and my character realizes that it cannot only save the world, it can do the exact opposite, so our paths get divided down the line. We were aware of the major stepping stones of our pasts, but the book is obviously a bit more detailed when it comes to that.
Is it nice now for the movie to be out and have everyone know everything, finally?
Mikkelsen: It is nice. There was a lot of secrecy, for good reason. I’ve never, ever, ever experienced being part of anything where people, even close friends, just wanted to know how it ended. And I’ve never done a film where people knew how it ended. Everyone wanted to know everything, and you rarely want to know anything when you go and watch a film. So there was enormous attention on the film and for that reason there had to be enormous secrecy as well.
I was probably not the best one to keep the secrets, in general. I think there were quite a few in my vicinity that got some information and even maybe in the public, the local bar. It all went well and I think we were all relieved when we could finally show people the project.
You say you’ve never worked on a project like this, but you also worked on a Marvel film (Dr. Strange), another studio that’s famous for secrecy. What’s the difference in dealing with the anticipation and the fandom in those two things?
Mikkelsen: I think that the secrecy and the anticipation—and you could also throw James Bond [for Casino Royale] in there as something that’s highly anticipated every time they come up with a new film. So I’ve been in a few of them now, but they’re different animals in the sense that Bond has been here forever and it’s driven by the same people and the same family that treat it like their baby. And they do a fantastic job with that. Marvel is more reasoned in that we grew up with the Marvel books so we all have a relationship with the stories. And Star Wars was part of our childhood, and the next generation, and even our kids’ kids are watching Star Wars. So it’s also a very highly anticipated and, as you say, there’s a lot of pressure in making a film like that.
But in terms of going and digging into it, it’s the same job for actors. The biggest difference is that we go into a Star Wars set and we recognize everything. Everything is what we’ve seen in the films. Stormtrooper helmets, Millennium Falcon, everything is there. It’s quite surreal to be part of.
What’s your personal history with Star Wars like? Did you come into it as a fan?
Mikkelsen: I did, but I caught it late. I didn’t see the first films in theater, I saw them later. I rented the movie box [set] and watched them back to back, and I was blown away. But I didn’t catch the train until I was 14 or something.
Despite your appearance in the film being confined to the beginning of the film, your character has a lot of emotional connections to others, like Bodhi, Jyn, and Krennic. Did you work with the other actors at all on those bonds?
Mikkelsen: I mean, I have a lot of scenes with Krennic, who is the baddie of the show. Thank god, it’s not me this time. But obviously everything that has been driving [Galen] and keeping him alive is the hope that his daughter might be alive out there somewhere. It’s a slim hope, but you never know. So I don’t have a lot of interaction with the daughter but his life circles around her. But the few days we had together were wonderful. Because her life has been circling around what happened to her mom and dad. And it’s kind of a strange relief when you finally meet and do a couple scenes together. Which were super easy because Felicity [Jones, who plays Jyn] is a phenomenal actress. She made the very, very rainy day we were shooting very fun.
What is it like to have a big death scene in Star Wars?
Mikkelsen: It’s fantastic. If you can’t survive and be in the next film, the second best to that is to have a wonderful death scene, of course. And I’ve had quite a few of those in my life as an actor, but there’s a good reason for that. It’s drama.
But that’s iconic. It’s super-iconic to die in a Star Wars film. And it’s obviously super-iconic to be the man who invented the Death Star. So I can’t complain.
Not just the Death Star, but the mechanism in it that led to the Rebels destroying it. What was it like when you found that out?
Mikkelsen: I knew that from the beginning. Galen is both, he is our Oppenheimer. The scientist who can’t stop himself. He’s too curious to stop, while at the same time he knows this is going the wrong way. There’s a certain amount of him that’s too curious that he simply puts a world’s life on a knife’s edge. I think that’s interesting because we’ve seen that throughout history before, with Oppenheimer, with people who invent fantastic things that can be used as lethal weapons as well.
You mentioned Oppenheimer—did you draw on any other scientists to create this character?
Mikkelsen: He’s the classic example. I read a lot of history, so I have quite a few people in my own head. It’s not molded on someone specific, but the dilemma is there, the dilemma is always there. He’s not the only one. Einstein was one of them, Niels Bohr was one of them, who eventually had to make a choice. Did he hide in Sweden with his knowledge? Did he go to America with his knowledge? Do you share it with the Russians so you can make a balance in the world? So it’s a tremendous burden for these scientists to have this knowledge that can make the world better but can also do the exact opposite.
On a much lighter note, with this movie being released digitally, on DVD, etc., there are always extras. Is there something you guys did that you really hope the public gets to see?
Mikkelsen: There are always a few scenes and a few details that you think, “Oh, I would have loved that to be there.” But then again, I don’t miss them when I see the film, and that’s a good sign. If there is any extra material, there is a chance to see some of the scenes I have with Krennic, played by Ben Mendelsohn. And every time they’d say, “Camera rolling,” there’d be like 10 seconds before they actually started shooting. And on that, you’d probably find Ben Mendelsohn singing some cheesy song from a musical just before we called action. And I think everyone should see that—he’s a tremendous singer.
Rogue One is available on Digital HD today and will be released on Blu-ray and DVD on April 4. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Katharine is the Associate Director of Policy and Activism at the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the former managing editor of io9. She writes about technology policy and pop culture.