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After years of playing sidekicks and villains, Mads Mikkelsen is ready for his star turn

Mads Mikkelsen describes the severe outdoor environment of "Arctic" as "the biggest obstacle" faced by the cast and crew, but believes it was a necessary evil for the sake of the film. "At the same time, it was also our biggest strength, our biggest ally, because it’s playing the lead in the film," Mikkelsen said.

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By PETER SBLENDORIO | New York Daily News | Published: January 31, 2019

Sub-zero temperatures. Blistering 40-mile-per-hour winds. Snow as far as the eye can see.

These are only a few of the unsparing conditions actor Mads Mikkelsen had to overcome over the course of 19 days filming in Iceland for his new survival movie, "Arctic," about a pilot stranded in a snow-covered wilderness after his small plane crashes.

"The conditions are brutal and gruesome," Mikkelsen told the Daily News.

"There were days we were not allowed to go outside," he explained. "Our car doors were ripped off and they disappeared down the valley, and we never saw it again. That was not weather for man or beast."

The Denmark-born Mikkelsen, whose character is named Overg?rd in the film due out Friday, lost 14 pounds early in the production, as he spent 12 to 15 hours traveling on foot in the snow each day.

He describes the severe outdoor environment as "the biggest obstacle" faced by the cast and crew, but believes it was a necessary evil for the sake of the film.

"At the same time, it was also our biggest strength, our biggest ally, because it’s playing the lead in the film," Mikkelsen said of the conditions. "So there’s a lot of free gifts coming from that."

Mikkelsen, 53, ingratiated himself to American audiences over the years with villainous roles in the James Bond film "Casino Royale" and in Marvel’s "Doctor Strange;" as TV’s Hannibal Lecter in the NBC series "Hannibal" and as Galen Erso, the creator of the Death Star, in "Rogue One: A Star Wars Story."

And now, he’s the headliner of two new American films. In addition to "Arctic," Mikkelsen is the lead star in the Netflix thriller "Polar," released Friday, in which he plays a masterful assassin named Duncan Vizla whose longtime agency attempts to kill him two weeks before his retirement to avoid giving him one final paycheck.

Is this his time? Mikkelsen says he feels like he’s in the midst of a big moment.

Mikkelsen said, "I’ve been in other American films but I’ve been one of the sidekicks. Yes, it is a big moment. I love it. I embrace it."

Joe Penna, the director of "Arctic," says Mikkelsen’s physicality is what made him the right choice for the role.

"We couldn’t use anyone else for his stand-ins, because you could just tell," Penna told The News. "His idiosyncrasies, he could match every single time, and no one else could. He can say so much with just his face, and that’s what we wanted. The screenplay had very, very little dialogue, and we needed to rely on somebody who was this talented."

Actress Fei Chen -- who plays Hilde, one of Mikkelsen’s character’s adversaries in "Polar" -- was equally inspired by Mikkelsen in their movie.

"He’s amazing," Chen said. "He is like James Bond, but very grounded, a very much grittier version and more real for me."

"Polar," which premiered on Netflix Friday, is based on a graphic novel by the same name.

"I get to play a hitman, (which) is always fun," Mikkelsen said. "And I get to play a retired hitman, meaning I’m allowed to be a little tired, a little heavy. I mean, lethal, but a little tired. I think that’s a beautiful combination."

Despite their names sounding similar, "Polar" and "Arctic" are much different films.

In "Arctic," Mikkelsen basically only interacts with one other character, a woman played by Maria Thelma Smaradottir who also becomes stranded during an attempt to rescue Overgard.

Mikkselsen hopes people won’t compare "Arctic" to the 2015 survival film "The Revenant," starring Leonardo DiCaprio and that bear.

"'The Revenant' has a much bigger story in the sense that there’s a lot of stuff happening ... We’re stuck with a man in the arctic, and our film is probably more about humanity, the big difference between being alive and just being a survivor," Mikkelsen said. "We see there’s a big difference. We see this man come alive again when another person enters his world. Before that, he’s just comfortably numb."

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