■ The Danish actor, 55, on juggling, emulating David Attenborough and the return of Metro’s number one series of 2019
Ride Upon The Storm was Metro’s top TV series of last year. Why did it strike such a chord?
Oh, cheers! I think people found it was true to itself. It really goes deep into relationships and religion but it gets heavy at times, there’s no escaping that.
Was it heavy to film?
Of course. This second season drew on my stamina but it was also very gratifying material.
Your character Johannes is put through the mill.
Well, he is a bit of a drama queen! He goes full thrust into every emotion, which makes him a really good priest, very connected to his congregation, but he’s disconnected from his own life. It’s wonderful and horrible at the same time.
Where do we find Johannes in season two?
We pick up where we left off, just after his youngest son has died. What would that do to the relationships between those who are left, to everyone’s relationships with their individual faiths? Have they learnt anything from that? Does Johannes believe in anything any more? I disagree with everything he does with his sons. He imposes himself way too much on them. He cares but it’s always at the cost of something.
You got baptised during filming. Has your faith grown stronger since you wrapped?
I had a really tough 2019. My father died in March and my mother in November. Various relations died or got very ill but it’s the time of life. I’m 55 so it happens. I can’t make sense of all that loss alone so within that my faith has been a really strong companion.
In a different life, could you have been a priest?
I could if I had the stamina and discipline. But I don’t so I’m an actor.
Were you and your younger brother Mads — Le Chiffre in Casino Royale — both show-offs growing up?
I don’t think so. We had fun and we were inventive, we listened to Monty Python and learnt those sketches by heart — that was how we learnt English. But that was more just between us. I was so scared and uncertain in myself.
So where did you find the confidence to perform?
Isn’t that weird? I was going through university, trying to do what other people expected of me, then when my wife learnt to juggle after a two-day course I went, ‘I’m going to do that!’ And then it became apparent — this was where I belonged.
You used to be a street performer around Europe.
It’s one of the happiest periods of my life. We packed an old Sunbeam and went to Munich to make some money. It rained for 14 days and we couldn’t get on to the streets so we were stuck on a campsite. Then, when we did get on to the streets, they hated us! The humour didn’t translate so we had to telegraph for money to get home. But it was still a beautiful experience.
Why make the leap from street artist to actor?
Someone handed me a copy of The Tempest and I felt an immediate connection. On the street you need a line every five seconds or else people just leave but in theatre you’ve maybe got a couple of minutes more!
Did The Killing feel like a smash hit while you were making it?
No, nobody knew — to hear it had become a hit in the UK was amazing. It opened doors for all of us. We did it because it had never been done like that before, and that’s the sort of thing where we should put our money.
You played Russian president Viktor Petrov in House Of Cards and media magnate Charles Magnussen in Sherlock. If both men were real, who should we be most afraid of?
Wow, it’s got to be Magnussen. He has no concept of morality at all, whereas at least Petrov has motives you can identify with.
How was the experience of working on The Witcher?
It’s been fun. My first fantasy! There’s a nice crowd behind it, Henry Cavill’s doing a phenomenal job. They’re following the books so if you don’t know them you’ll be a bit baffled. But it all comes together for the second season.
Any more ambitions?
I usually like choosing whatever’s most difficult to do, I don’t know why. At the moment I’m doing voice-overs for a nature series. It’s really difficult. You have Attenborough’s approach in your head and you really want to hit those notes but he’s unique, isn’t he? And I’m going to work with Lars von Trier for the first time in autumn — I can’t wait for that.
■ Ride Upon The Storm starts on Sunday on Channel 4 at 10.55pm and is available on Walter Presents