TORONTO - Danish heart-throb Mads Mikkelsen admits that his upcoming TV gig playing Hannibal Lecter presents a challenge.
"There will always be a pressure when you do something that other people have done to perfection," says Mikkelsen, referring to Anthony Hopkins' Oscar-winning turn as the cannibalistic serial killer in 1991's "The Silence of the Lambs."
"But you know... (you) can't really think about it. If that was the case you would always have the same (James) Bond and he would be, like, 85 now, right?"
A Bond film, incidentally, is how many North American film-goers first became familiar with Mikkelsen (he played the villainous Le Chiffre in 2006's "Casino Royale)." In his native Denmark, however, the actor is a superstar — routinely voted the country's sexiest man, with film credits that include "After the Wedding" and "Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself."
He also earned buzz at last year's Cannes Film Festival, winning the best actor prize for "The Hunt," in which he plays a schoolteacher under suspicion of abuse.
In recent months, the busy Mikkelsen has taken up residence in Toronto, where he's been shooting "Hannibal," set to air on NBC this year.
The 47-year-old actor vividly recalls seeing "The Silence of the Lambs" for the first time ("Hannibal" has been called a "prequel"), noting it was the psychological aspect of the film that so impressed him.
"I grew up with all kinds of splatter/horror things. I watched double features ... like a Hong Kong kung fu film and then a horror film. So I've seem them all, so I don't get scared that easily, but I can get (into) the tension of something that is interesting," he said.
If the Cannes prize and the upcoming TV series aren't enough, audiences will soon be able to see Mikkelsen in the lush, Oscar-nominated period drama "A Royal Affair," opening Friday in select cities.
Set in 18th century Denmark, the film tells the real-life story of an insane king (Mikkel Følsgaard) and the German doctor (Mikkelsen) who has an affair with his queen (Alicia Vikander) while pushing for social change.
While the story may be new to North American audiences, Mikkelsen says it's a familiar piece of Danish lore.
"I wasn't directly taught in school but it was just part of our history. We knew there was a guy who took over the country and we knew there was a mad king and we knew he had an affair with the king, basically, that."
The film contains some steamy scenes between Mikkelsen and Vikander, but the story also focuses on the unique friendship between the doctor and the king. Følsgaard was an acting newcomer who had to quickly get over any qualms about working with one of Denmark's biggest stars.
"(He) was just a young theatre student who had not done anything at that time," said Mikkelsen. "There was something pure and fragile about him that was so compelling."
Added the actor: "We went out and had some beers and we played a lot of soccer and had some fun while we were shooting to take some off the pressure."
"A Royal Affair" will be in tough at the Oscars, with competitors including "Rebelle," from Montreal's Kim Nguyen and the heavily favoured "Amour," by Austria's Michael Haneke.
With all of the varied projects, it's been widely written that Mikkelsen is having a "moment."
But in his no-nonsense way, the actor is not getting too far ahead of himself.
"Obviously we had a great year with those two films," he said of "A Royal Affair" and "The Hunt" (due out in North America this year). "So that is a moment, no doubt about it."
He added: "You never know, you never pick your moments. They happen and sometimes they are just a bubble that doesn't go anywhere. Sometimes they go somewhere."
"A Royal Affair" opens Friday in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.