Another Round: Director Thomas Vinterberg Found Strength After Family Tragedy

Director Thomas Vinterberg was setting up a scene at the local high school of his daughter Ida. The crew had come out to watch Mads Mikkelsen, who plays Martin, a high school history teacher in midlife crisis — his job is uninspiring, his marriage is on the rocks — who confronts disillusion and despair with sophisticated approach to day drinking.

After making two English-language films–Fox Searchlight 2015 adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd and the 2018 submarine thriller The Command–the Danish director wanted to get back to his roots. Another Round was set in a neighborhood in Copenhagen where Vinterberg lives. The cast and crew were people he had known for decades.

Alongside Mikkelsen were Vinterberg regulars Thomas Bo Larsen, Magnus Millang and Lars Ranthe, playing Martin’s fellow teachers, all disillusioned middle-aged men who take inspiration from real-life Norwegian author and psychiatrist Finn Skarderud, who suggested humanity would be better off — happier, more creative, more outgoing — if everyone were a little bit drunk. At all times. The quartet put his theory into practice with results at turns hilarious and tragic.

Thomas Vinterberg (center) shot Another Round in the Copenhagen neighborhood where he lives. Here, he lines up a shot for the dance sequence that ends the film.
Courtesy of Henrik Ohsten/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Thomas Vinterberg (center) shot ‘Another Round’ in the Copenhagen neighborhood where he lives.

“We talked about making a film about Danish alcohol culture, because it is something unique,” says co-writer Tobias Lindholm. “Danes look at America and we don’t understand why you should have the right to carry arms. But if we outlawed alcohol, there’d be a revolution.”

Dogme 95

Stylistically, Vinterberg wanted Another Round to reflect the realism he pioneered with Dogme 95 — the back-to-basics film “manifesto” he authored with Danish director Lars von Trier a quarter-century ago — which eschews special effects, costumes and fancy cinema tricks in favor of handheld cameras and natural lighting, focusing on emotionally raw and authentic performances.

The film also marks a return to the intimate style Vinterberg pioneered with the Dogme 95 movement. “Every shot in this film is handheld.”
Courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films
The film also marks return to the style Vinterberg pioneered with the Dogme 95 movement. “Every shot in this film is handheld.”

Vinterberg even cast his daughter Ida in a supporting role, playing alongside Mikkelsen as Martin’s concerned teen.

Everything was in place on that final day of shooting, a beautiful summer morning back in 2019. Four days into the shoot for Another Round, Vinterberg received a call. His ex-wife Maria had been driving Ida to Paris to meet up with friends. There’d been an accident. A man talking on his phone slammed into their car. Maria would eventually recover from  injuries, but Ida was killed instantly, she was 19.

“My life was destroyed. I was, I am still, so shattered,” says Vinterberg. “I almost couldn’t move, couldn’t eat, couldn’t look people in the eye without crying.”

Production on the film stopped immediately. “We shut everything down. We just tried to figure out how to help Thomas,” recalls Another Round producer Kasper Dissing.

In the midst of grief, Vinterberg imagined what Ida would think about the film being stopped because of her death. “We were very close, and she was my confidant,” he says.

Weeks before production, Ida was on a trip to Africa when Vinterberg sent her the final version of the script. “She wrote me a letter, sending unconditional love for the project. She felt seen by it, that it described her country in the most loving manner, and she told me never to doubt myself as an artist,” he remembers. “Those were big words. That letter was on my mind when I made the decision to carry on.”

In a moment of abandon, Mikkelsen as Martin leaps over the water. The film ends with him frozen in midair, at the exact moment where he is about to fall. Or fly.
Courtesy of Sturla Brandth Groevlen/Samuel Goldwyn Films
In a moment of abandon, Mikkelsen as Martin leaps over the water. The film ends with him frozen in midair, at the exact moment where he is about to fall. Or fly.

After Ida’s funeral, Another Round restarted production.  “Thomas told me, ‘Either I can lie in a fetal position for 24 hours or I can spend 12 hours in a fetal position and work the other 12,’ ” recalls Mikkelsen. “The main actors, we agreed we would support him. Together, we’d make this movie a tribute to Ida.”

The result, which has been nominated for two Oscars, for best international feature and best director for Vinterberg, is a touching black comedy that celebrates life in its messy glory. Mikkelsen gives one of his best performances in years as Martin — a man on the edge of despair who finds a way back. A drunk dancing sequence in the middle of the movie, at a stage when the four men decide to take their day drinking “to the next level,” is both uncomfortable — things are obviously getting out of hand — and full of joy.

“Making this film may have kept me from insanity,” says Vinterberg (right), with Mikkelsen.
Courtesy of Henrik Ohsten/Samuel Goldwyn Films
“Making this film may have kept me from insanity,” says Vinterberg (right), with Mikkelsen.

“If you are laughing watching it, it’s probably because those four guys tried really hard to make their director laugh at a moment in time when he didn’t think it was possible,” says Vinterberg.

Finding the balance between the light and the dark–making a movie about alcohol excess that wasn’t The Hangover or Leaving Las Vegas–was the hardest part of the writing. The script shifted from straight comedy to kitchen sink drama and back again.

“Early drafts were very funny, very entertaining. But we promised each other total honesty. If we want to show the positive sides of alcohol, we have to be honest about the negative consequences,” says Lindholm. “So we’d go in a more socially realistic direction.”

For co-star Larsen, a recovering alcoholic now 7 years sober, that combination was the appeal. “It shows the dark side of alcohol, but it was also honest about the euphoria you get when drinking,” he says. “My friends in AA loved it because it wasn’t finger-wagging.”

But getting four actors to deliver honest depiction of extreme intoxication was not easy.

“I love it because it’s a film about alcohol, but it’s not an AA movie and it’s not The Hangover,” says Vinterberg regular Thomas Bo Larsen, himself seven years sober, who plays an alcoholic gym teacher in the film.
Courtesy of Henrik Ohsten/Samuel Goldwyn Films
“I love it because it’s a film about alcohol, but it’s not an AA movie and it’s not ‘The Hangover,'” says Vinterberg regular Thomas Bo Larsen, himself seven years sober, who plays an alcoholic gym teacher in the film.

“Playing slightly drunk? That’s easy. But playing really drunk? Then you’re into the Chaplin area — bumping into things, falling over,” says Ranthe, who plays music teacher Peter in the film. “It’s really fucking difficult to give a realistic performance that doesn’t tip into slapstick.”

The actors watched videos of marathon drinking sessions on YouTube. “The Russians were the best; it’s insane how drunk they get,” says Mikkelsen. “That inspired us.” Mikkelsen, Ranthe and Millang also did a week of “drunk boot camp,” testing different levels of intoxication with Vinterberg filming their decline. “There’s a science to the different levels of being drunk,” says Millang. “What happens with your language, your movements, is completely different when you have a blood alcohol level of 0.05 compared to 0.08 or 0.10.”

There was no drinking on set — “We decided to do the mature thing and actually act,” notes Mikkelsen — but the training broke down barriers of ego. Notes Vinterberg, “All our barriers came down. Both myself and the actors, we lost our filters.”

Co-editors Anne Osterud and Janus Billeskov Jansen worked with the director to find the balance between drama and comedy. They experimented with tempo, speeding up scenes to emphasize the characters’ glorious intoxication, slowing things down when events take a darker turn. The first time Martin slips into the school toilets for a midday drink was given lighter spin when Osterud added an onscreen blood alcohol meter that ticked up with the first sneaky sip.

The handheld lensing from cinematographer Sturla Brandth Grovlen also helped reflect the mood of the characters, balancing calm with chaos in the first (sober) scenes of Martin in the classroom — Grovlen’s camera trembles, uneasy in its skin. After a few drinks, as the alcohol smooths out the sharp edges around Martin’s life, the camera movement becomes freer, more fluid.

“I shot on a Alexa Mini, which is lightweight. I don’t have to have the camera on my shoulder, I can hold it in front of my body, I can stand on my toes or squat down,” says Grovlen. “Thomas lit everything 360 so I could point the camera wherever I wanted. I had complete freedom.”

Final Scene

Martin’s liberation comes in the final scene. The excesses of the drinking experiment have ended in tragedy and death. Martin is at a low ebb, but with a glimmer of hope: He’s received text messages from his wife hinting they could reunite. As the teachers are sharing a final toast in honor of the departed, their graduating students pass them outside at the harbor, dancing and celebrating as the song “What a Life,” by the Danish band Scarlet Pleasure, plays. The teachers rush out and Martin, who we’ve been told took jazz ballet lessons in his past, is goaded into joining the dance. At first, his movement is uncertain, tentative. He stops halfway through to sit down and check his phone, take another sip of beer. Then he’s up again and there’s no stopping him.

Mikkelsen, 55, who was once a professional dancer, throws himself into it, leaping over benches, sliding across the cobblestones. It’s clear this dance is Martin seeing a second chance, and he intends to seize it.

“The dance was always in the screenplay, but I didn’t know how we were going to pull it off, in a realistic film, to have such a magical dance number,” says Lindholm. “How can we keep it from becoming some kitsch Bollywood scene? That was the question,” notes Vinterberg.

“This is the first and probably the last time I’ll dance in a movie,” says Mikkelsen, who was a professional dancer before becoming an actor.
Courtesy of Henrik Ohsten/Samuel Goldwyn Films
Mikkelsen recalls, “I didn’t want it to come across as pretentious. But Thomas was adamant. He showed me the letter his daughter wrote — this was before the accident — where she said she couldn’t wait to see me dance. So that settled that.”

Mikkelsen, Vinterberg and choreographer Olivia Anselmo designed a dance that mirrored Martin’s story. “He’s nervous at first, he’s scared to start, after a few steps, he retreats and sits down. Then he goes to his friends and starts again. Finally, he surrenders. It becomes a moment of ecstasy.”

“We shot the dance over two days, with no body doubles, no camera tricks. Everything you see is Mads,” notes producer Dissing. Recalls cinematographer Grovlen, “The whole time, I was worried about his slick costume shoes on the wet cobblestones. But Mads is such a great dancer. We didn’t need any magic tricks. Just Mads.”

Vinterberg recalls: “By the time we came to shoot that scene, all our barriers were down, all our layers of protection gone. We weren’t in a position to discuss or argue. We’d lost everything anyway. Mads just did it. He just danced.”