Jonas Åkerlund’s adaptation of the graphic novel Polar with Mads Mikkelsen is as graphic as its source material implies. Soaked in blood, frenetic energy, and a deliberately over-the-top tone, the film is an unabashedly intense journey into the life of a retired assassin. However, beneath the stylized spirit of Polar is an unforgiving dive into grief and redemption.
Mikkelsen stars as Duncan Vizla, a recently retired assassin better known by his colleagues as the Black Kaiser. When he finds out that his former employer has sent out his most esteemed team of assassins to not only kill him, but hurt his new friend Camille (Vanessa Hudgens), he takes matters into his own hands. Screen Rant spoke with Mikkelsen and Åkerlund about what it took to adapt such a unique graphic novel, why Mikkelsen was drawn to a character as complex as Duncan, and how Åkerlund’s background in music translated so well to the unbridled intensity of Polar.
Related: Polar Movie Cast & Character Guide
You come from this world of music. What made you want to transition into something as intense and bloody and wild as Polar?
Jonas Åkerlund: Well, to me, Polar has everything. It has a strong story, it has a great graphic novel that I was hooked on right away, Mads being involved, and I saw how I can use what I learned in music videos and other formats over the years and translate that into the story. So, there was a lot of attractive things about this project.
Now, were you familiar with the graphic novels and did you read them beforehand?
Mads Mikkelsen: Yes. Well, before we shot, yeah. Interesting enough, I was not familiar, because I am actually a huge graphic novel collector. But I kind of stopped 20 years ago when it was just becoming too much. There was too much to read. And I loved them right away, as Jonas said. One of the things about the graphic novel is that- it’s graphic, obviously. It’s very brutal. But it’s also tilted; it’s got a strange edge. You’ve got a character that’s ten times the size of another character; something we couldn’t put on screen, but something that took a certain craziness, a certain visual idea, which obviously comes in handy when you do music videos like that. So, give that to the characters. Can you put that extreme reaction into a character, without doing a cartoon?
Was there- what was it about Duncan that attracted you to that role. Why did you want to play him?
Mads Mikkelsen: Well, basically he’s just cool. He’s super cool. And I like the combination of a man who’s so skillful when it comes to his race. But when it comes the other race – which is the normal race – he has no idea what’s happening. [He] can’t talk to other people, but he can smell one of his own people miles away. I think that’s an interesting thing. And there can be a lot of humor out of that and a lot of awkward situations.
That’s interesting. How did you prepare for – not just playing his- on an emotional level, getting into that mindset – but the technical parts? Like the fighting, using the gun-
Mads Mikkelsen: Well, that’s just a lot of work out with the stunt guys and the gun handlers. The preparation… that’s just basic getting up early in the morning and start working out and nail it down. And the most important preparation is to be on the same page together; that we always walk in the room and we know what we want to do. And if we don’t, at least we have an idea what we want to change. So, for me, that was the most important job, to sit with Jonas every day, figure out what we’re doing, and being on the same page.
Now, in the graphic novel, there’s a few volumes of it. Was there something from the graphic novel that you would like to bring into- that you wanted to bring into the movie that you didn’t, that you maybe would want to bring into- were you to continue the movie into a franchise?
Jonas Åkerlund: Well, it’s supposed to be based on the first book, but we kind of borrowed a little bit from the second and the third book as well. And we also added some stuff that aren’t even in the book. So, we had the freedom of working with these characters as we wanted – and, yeah, the Polar story has way more to give. He actually wrote five books, and there’s a lot more stories in there; and the characters are great, so why not?
And I just have one more question. We’re wrapping up, but did you have any advice for Vanessa now that she’s going into Bad Boys for any combat work? Have you spoken with her?
Mads Mikkelsen: I don’t think I need to. She’s such a good actress; she’s getting away with pretending that she doesn’t know how to kick ass. But I have a hunch I will have some problems. She’s a strong girl. She knows what she’s doing.
Polar is currently streaming on Netflix.