This article contains spoilers for the new film Another Round.
Thomas Vinterberg’s new film, Another Round, has a high-concept premise that sounds like it could be out of an Adam Sandler movie. Four friends, all high school teachers, embark upon an experiment: Based on the musings of real-life philosopher Finn Skårderud, who posits that all humans have a deficient blood alcohol level, they decide to see if their lives will actually improve if they’re a little drunk all the time. However, instead of settling for the lowest common denominator, Thomas Vinterberg’s new movie shifts from hilarious one moment to devastating the next, painting a picture of life (and alcohol) that celebrates the good without shying away from the bad.
Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang, and Lars Ranthe star as the four pals, with Vinterberg directing from a script he co-wrote with Tobias Lindholm. In the lead-up to the film’s release (it opens in theaters in the United States on Friday before a digital release on Dec. 18), we spoke to Mikkelsen and Vinterberg about the film—and, specifically, the movie’s incredible, cathartic final sequence, which sees Mikkelsen tap into his roots as a dancer and leaves the ending up to the audience’s interpretation. The two conversations have been spliced together, condensed, and edited for clarity.
Karen Han: Mads Mikkelsen’s character, Martin, was formerly a dancer, which is also true of Mikkelsen. Did you write the character with him in mind?
Thomas Vinterberg: Totally. I tend to like that way of working, where I write my scripts for specific actors. It has become more and more difficult because they’ve gotten richer and more famous—now they want to read a script before they attach. But in this case, actually, Mads and the three others all attached very early in the process, without a script.
Knowing that Mads was a dancer, and knowing that I was making a movie about inspiration and ecstasy and breaking free of your normal, repetitious patterns, I felt it was kind of obvious that he should be dancing at the end, or at least at some point. Though, we were all very cautious about it. Particularly Tobias Lindholm and Mads were a little reserved, they were afraid it would become cliché and Bollywood-ish, with all respect to that genre. We did some to-ing and fro-ing, and if you look at the scene, it’s kind of reflected in the choreography, how he dances a little bit and then moves away, then dances a little bit more, and then at the end lets go entirely.
Mads Mikkelsen: The script came three or four months before we started shooting. And the end, interestingly enough, was kind of blurry, kind of open. He had this idea of a dance, but the dance was placed somewhere else, and I was a little reluctant. I was like, “Oh, God, in a realistic film, a grown-up man dancing, for real?” I was insisting that it was a fantasy, it was drunken imagination that he imagined himself dancing a certain way. And then, in reality, it looked quite different. And Thomas was just, “No, I want him to dance. For real.”
The more we pushed it from being in the middle of the film somewhere, to the actual end, the more he was insisting, “This is it.” He’s surrounded by this youth, this tremendous amount of energy, he has had the worst day of his life and the best day of his life within 24 hours. This is what I want to see. I want to see a man’s emotions, I don’t want to see a man dancing. I want to see his internal journey. And so, he persuaded me, and he was absolutely right and I was absolutely wrong. So that was good. Once in a while it pays off to listen to your director.
Did you have a choreographer for the scene?
Vinterberg: There was a sort of dance choreographer who came up with the steps, but Mads and I did the staging. It was actually already staged in the script, when he goes to the bench, then he goes away from the bench, and then he goes to his friends, stuff like that. There was no dance double or anything of that kind.
Did you have any say in the steps?
Mikkelsen: Absolutely. The choreographer [Olivia Anselmo] is, to put it mildly, a couple of generations younger than me, so some of the steps, I could only stand there and look and say, “It looks fantastic. I have no idea how you do that.” So we took it down a little notch, and I added a beer in the hand for some of the steps, so the man had an excuse to stop dancing and then gradually he would lose the beer, and just lose himself as well. That was a nice approach, and she was wonderful to work with. It’s interesting—it’s been 30 years [since I was a dancer], and within those 30 years, so much has happened in that world. They look as if they’re flying, they’re floating. And I was like, “Yeah, great. Let’s add 30 years on that and see what will happen.”
How much prep or rehearsal time did you have?
Mikkelsen: We didn’t want to overdo it. We knew that we had to keep it fairly open and come up with ideas once we were on the spot. And we didn’t want me to get in crazy good dancing shape, because the idea is that he hasn’t done it for 25 years. I had to look rusty, and so I did.
Lars Ranthe dances a little in the scene as well. Was that a part of the choreography?
Vinterberg: He learned it. This was a part of the choreography. Part of the success, at least if you like the dance scene at the end, is to be found in the preparation of the scene. Throughout the script, the other men try to encourage him to dance, so that was a scripted theme that Lars was supposed to really encourage him. I’m old enough to know a movie called Zorba the Greek. There’s a beautiful end scene with two men dancing on a beach, and it’s a dancing catastrophe in the sense that what they tried to build throughout the whole movie has just crashed. And then they celebrate. I was inspired by that. I find this also a sort of dancing catastrophe. Their friend died, and now we dance. The fact that they dance together comes from that.
Were you familiar with the song in the scene, “What a Life,” already? How did you come across it?
Vinterberg: My wife, she came up with the opening song from Van Morrison in The Hunt, and she came up with this as well. She was very persistent. I was chasing rights all over the world, very expensive rights, but she kept playing this song for me. And suddenly, by having a meeting with those guys, and changing the arrangement of the song a little bit, it suddenly fit beautifully into the film. Now I find it inseparable from the movie, actually.
It has a lot of themes that play in the movie. It’s rebellious, somehow, and it’s about the right to be out of control, which I think the whole movie is about. It has a combination of melancholy, rage, party—and it also brings the crowd of students to a level of ecstasy, and does that very efficiently, which I think is super important. The weightlessness of those youngsters is what those four older men are yearning for throughout the movie. The whole age theme is important. And suddenly, he manages to become weightless, himself, at the end.
Mikkelsen: It was not until actually after the premiere that I was starting listening to the lyrics, and it was just like, “God, these are the lyrics for the film. These are exact lyrics for the character and the situation he’s in.”
Vinterberg: The original release of the song has a bit less party and a bit more of the melancholy in it. I asked them to pump it up. Then we added the choir of the students, which takes it to an extra level. They sent me some tracks; I sent it back with some notes, you know how it is.
Mikkelsen: But the funniest part of this whole thing is … years ago, when my daughter was a teenager, maybe 14, 15, I picked her up at a party, and I picked a young guy up. He was dressed in a ’60s suit and really pointed shoes, and he was drunk as a dog. He was just totally drunk, and my daughter said, “Can you drive him home?” And I was like, “Yes, sure I can.” And then he was insisting on carrying this whole crate of beers. He wanted it back home with him, and so we did that. And then a couple of months later, it happened again, the same guy. He was such a beautiful, sweet young man, and I just drove him home a couple of times. Turned out he’s the lead singer of that band [Scarlet Pleasure]. It’s just so surreal. It was a crazy circle. They’re quite big in Denmark, but right now they are getting their name all over the world.
When did you realize it was the same guy?
Mikkelsen: My daughter told me. I think I pitched the music to her and said, “Do you know these guys?” And she said, “That’s Emil [Goll]! You know him!”
Can you walk me through the levels of playing drunk?
Mikkelsen: Let’s say from 0.5 to about 1.0, we all know that feeling: We just left a party with a couple of people, or we left the bar, and we meet some other people, and we don’t want to come across as if we’ve been drinking. That’s when we hide it. That’s the approach you have to do as an actor, like, “I am hiding it.” And that means that you’re a little more slow, you’re a little more precise in your movements. It gives you away, of course, but that’s the general approach when you play drunk on those levels.
But we also had to go on the Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin level and go completely all in. We were watching a lot of YouTube videos of predominantly Russian people trying to put things on a bicycle and trying to bike at the same time. It was unbelievable—hysterically funny. We got very much inspired by that, and one of the things we learned was that when you fall—and you do fall—never use your hands, only your face. You’ll land on your face. There’s quite a big margin where you want to hide that you’ve been drinking and all of a sudden it’s like you’re not hiding it anymore. You don’t give a shit, and you’re just going. That’s where you’re really drunk, you don’t care what people think.
Do you remember any of the specific titles of the YouTube videos that you guys watched?
Mikkelsen: Yeah, I got one: “Two Men and a Log.” They are basically trying to put a giant log on a bicycle and it’s just unbelievable the way they fall, and ignoring each other’s falls, but still so focused on this mission. This log has to go on the bike.
On a scale of things that you’ve been asked to do as an actor, how easy or difficult would you rate it to act drunk convincingly?
Mikkelsen: Regrettably, I don’t find it that difficult, but of course you guys have to judge it. Between the five of us, including the director, we have maybe a couple of hundred years of experience of being drunk, so we can always help each other.
You mentioned this scene moved around a little. When did you settle on it as the ending? It’s not a totally happy ending. It’s kind of bittersweet.
Mikkelsen: I think that’s your brain talking right now, because very few people leave the movie theater without being uplifted. They’re all uplifted, they feel a strong encouragement to embrace life. So I think that our heart is telling us that it is an uplifting ending. Our brain is going, “Hold on a second. Is that good?” And I think that for once we should think with our hearts when we see that ending.
Vinterberg: We discussed the ending endlessly. Actually, we filmed more. He drops into the water, and he has some dialogue in the water with his friends. We even had scenes after that scene in a certain point in the development of the script, but I felt that this man, frozen in the air, gave the audience two options, one of which is that he’s flying, and another, which is that he’s falling back in.
Mikkelsen: I will eventually have gravity going on for me, so I do land in the water. We did that a few times, and it was not a small jump! It was fairly high, and the water was fairly cold. We had the underwater man, sinking, sinking, with some kind of expression. And I completely agree with [Vinterberg’s choice]: It was simply too dark. We wanted people to leave the movie theater on that note, the completely liberated note. The man wants to fly, but he also wants to fall, and this is where we leave him.
Vinterberg: It’s very interesting because here in Denmark, the film has been a massive box-office success, if you can talk about that in such a small country. People have flocked into the cinemas, and one of the explanations I think is to be found in that moment, because it’s open. We have youngsters running in three or four times to see the same movie with a bag of beer under their arms, to have a party, really, and then we have people from Alcoholics Anonymous who feel seen by this movie, because they feel the movie is about addiction. I’m so happy that we succeeded in not giving answers but just asking questions. It’s an exploration, and a survey of a kind, but we never, ever come up with answers.