YOU wouldn’t expect someone raised as an atheist by Communists in a 1970s commune to have a particular affinity with religion, and 55-year-old Danish actor Lars Mikkelsen didn’t for many years. But when he was cast as high-ranking churchman Johannes Krogh in Ride Upon The Storm, he had a conversion of sorts – not a Damascene moment, perhaps, but a gradual awareness that something was changing in his life.

“I was in the Copenhagen Boy’s Choir, so from about the fifth grade to the seventh I was in church during most of the services, but as a family we were Communists, so the church had no impact,” he says, laughing heartily at the memory. “It was a worker’s community – at that point in time that was a big movement in Denmark – so religion had no impact at all. The two ideologies don’t really go well together, so in that sense yeah, I was an atheist.”

But climbing into the stern, formal garb of a member of the Lutheran Church of Denmark, and trying to inhabit the character of man whose family had served that church for generations, had an effect on him that he couldn’t have bargained for. “I do now have a firm belief,” he says over the phone from Copenhagen. “I do relate.”

And it was playing Johannes that did that?

He laughs again. “That’s what my wife says. She says: ‘You went too far in a role again’. The costume does give you a lot of power and of course spending time with the material, especially doing research and talking to priests and digging into that community, made me feel at ease with my own faith, really. It’s a difficult time to say you have faith, though isn’t it? You have to lean into that small naivety that it takes to give away control. But it feels gratifying doing it.”

Created by Adam Price, the man who gave us Borgen, Ride Upon The Storm follows the strict, misogynistic Johannes, his wife Elisabeth (played by Mikkelsen’s co-star in The Killing, Ann Eleonora Jørgensen) and their two sons through a series of domestic crises. Season one found Johannes being passed over for promotion to the post of Bishop of Copenhagen, his marriage to Elisabeth in difficulty, and his relationship with son Kristian deteriorating fast. Through that prism, Price also looked at wider issues such as Denmark’s involvement in overseas military campaigns, the relationship between church and state, and the country’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

Season two of the Emmy Award-winning drama starts tomorrow night on Channel 4 and finds even Johannes struggling with his faith. As for plot twists, Mikkelsen isn’t giving much away. “It’s about the consequences of what has happened [in season one],” he says. “What will the people take away from their experiences and what will they learn from it? And what impact will it have on their faith, or lack of faith?”

Mikkelsen is clear that Johannes Krogh is the most complex character he has ever had to play, and it’s no accident that it took a home-grown production and a talent like Adam Price to hand it to him. However, like many of his fellow Scandinavian actors, he’s now recognisable far beyond his own country, thanks in large part to the success of a wave of Danish, Swedish, Norwegian and Icelandic productions which have been shown in the UK and America and, in many cases, remade by companies in those countries.

Although younger brother Mads landed himself a plum role in Casino Royale in 2006 and has since featured in films such as Doctor Strange and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Mikkelsen first came to the attention of British audiences when he played Troels Hartmann in The Killing. He also appeared in a later series of Borgen. Then, in 2014, he was cast as uber-baddie Charles Augustus Magnusson in Steven Moffat’s crowd-pleasing Sherlock and so began a run of English-speaking roles which have catapulted him to international stardom. For four seasons of US political drama House Of Cards he played Russian president Viktor Petrov (another role for which he “went deep”, even researching the Russian language) and more recently he was handed the role of Stregobor in Netflix’s adaptation of The Witcher series of novels by Andrzej Sapkowski, Poland’s answer to George RR Martin. The streaming giant doesn’t release viewing figures as a rule but where they smash records they make an exception: The Witcher, it was revealed recently, has reached an audience of 76 million households.

“I don’t know how to relate to that,” says Mikkelsen when I tell him. “It’s just a number really. But it’s nice that it has had such an impact. I’m off in a month to do a second season and I’m looking forward to that. I think it’s a show that’s slowly finding its feet and it’s a quality thing. People really love it.

“It’s about four times bigger than any show we’d do here but at the same time it’s the same thing you do when you get in front of the camera. You have to work with the actors in front of you, so you don’t really think how big it is.”

International profiles and block-busting fantasy series are all well and good, however, but Mikkelsen does still keep one eye on his native stomping ground, and he sees in the dominance of streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon an opportunity for home-grown dramas which are culturally specific and tailored to a niche rather than a generic audience. Scottish producers take note.

“Ride Upon The Storm is a series that nobody would make,” he says. Not because it’s bad but because “it’s about relations, it’s heavy, it isn’t made to entertain. So if we’re clever, we’ll do those [sorts of] things. We’ll find that specific thing to do so that we don’t do what everybody else is doing.”

Ride Upon The Storm returns to Channel 4 tomorrow


Sidse Babett Knudsen

Best known in the UK as Danish Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg in influential political drama Borgen, Knudsen has since become a favourite of cult British film director Peter Strickland – she features in both The Duke Of Burgundy and In Fabric – and has made the inevitable Transatlantic journey too. In 2016 she played opposite Tom Hanks in Inferno, Ron Howard’s adaptation of the Dan Brown thriller, and in the same year appeared as Theresa Cullen in the first series of HBO’s Westworld. British television hasn’t been slow to snap her up, either. Late last year she starred alongside Sarah Lancashire in Channel 4 drama The Accident and she can next be seen in Limbo, the second feature from Edinburgh-born director Ben Sharrock.

Ólafur Darri Ólafsson

The Icelandic actor came to the attention of British audiences playing the lumbering, bearded, rural detective Andri Olafsson in two series of Trapped. Since then he has appeared in a slew of US and British films – from Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes Of Grindelwald to Murder Mystery, in which he plays opposite Adam Sandler and Jennifer Aniston – a found himself a neat side-line in voiceover parts. He can also be seen starring in another Netflix show, comedy series Lady Dynamite, and he has made two notable appearances on British terrestrial television – in BBC anthology series The Missing (written and created by Jack and Harry Williams, also the producers of Fleabag) and ITV’s The Widow, playing opposite Kate Beckinsale and Charles Dance.

Kim Bodnia

The Copenhagen-born actor played Sofia Helin’s long-suffering Danish sidekick Martin Rohde in two series of The Bridge, which was remade as The Tunnel with Game Of Thrones star Stephen Dillane taking Bodnia’s role. Since then he has become a firm favourite on British television thanks to his winning performance as Konstantin Vasiliev, the likeable foil to Jodie Cromer’s psychotic Villanelle in multi award-winning spy drama Killing Eve. Series three of the BBC show begins on April 12.

Sofie Gråbøl

You could say Danish actress Sofie Gråbøl is the one who started it all. As Sarah Lund in The Killing, it was her (and her jumpers) which popularized the so-called Scandi Noir in the UK. Gråbøl won a BAFTA for that performance and has since found her way into a range of British and American productions. Happy Valley writer Sally Wainwright, a fan of The Killing, gave Gråbøl a guest role in BBC costume romp Gentleman Jack and the producers of the US version of The Killing did the same, casting her as District Attorney Christina Nielsen. In 2016 she even appeared on stage in the Edinburgh International Festival in Rona Munro’s blockbuster series of plays about Scottish Kings James I, II and III, the so-called James Plays. But her biggest post-Killing role to date has come in big budget Sky drama Fortitude, playing opposite Michael Gambon, Stanley Tucci and Dennis Quaid.