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Oscar-nominated Danish director Thomas Vinterberg imagined an early version of his international-feature Oscar nominee "Another Round" in 2013 while batting around ideas with cowriter Tobias Lindholm. "We originally thought about making a movie that was solely a celebration of alcohol," Vinterberg says from his Copenhagen home. "Then we realized we've known too many families destroyed by alcohol to not tell the dark side of drinking as well. But we did not yet have the engine for the story."
That engine came a few years later courtesy of Norwegian psychiatrist Finn Skårderud's theory that humans are born with a .05 blood-alcohol deficiency. In "Another Round," this thoroughly unscientific notion inspires four bored high school teachers (played by Mads Mikkelsen, Magnus Millang, Lars Ranthe and Thomas Bo Larsen) to drink every day, all day, using breathalyzers to maintain a modest blood-alcohol content as they engage with their students.
The experiment, of course, goes off the rails. To prepare his cast for playing everything from tipsy to blackout drunk, Vinterberg set up what he calls "booze boot camp." Mikkelsen describes the weeklong experience, fueled mainly by schnapps and beer, as revelatory.
"Booze camp gave us actors the chance to be as precise as the guys in the story," he says. "What happens if we're filmed doing a scene at .05 [blood-alcohol content], and then again at .08, and then a couple of levels more? The first day I left rehearsals thinking, 'I'm not sure we got anything out of this,' because it's not like we felt drunk or anything. But the day afterward, it was very enlightening to watch yourself in the footage and see all these subtle little differences between being sober and tipsy. After two beers, .05, your hands are all of a sudden a little freer. Two more drinks, .08, the lisp you had as a kid comes back. And then at .10, this is where we stopped listening to anyone, especially the director!"
Vinterberg further synched the actors' performances to reality-based behavior by studying research compiled from Danish police reports. "They gave us this very thorough scheme showing how people behave at different blood-alcohol levels, and I put that up on the wall," he says. "At one level, you typically start singing. At another level, you start to doze off. And then at a certain point, you cannot get your clothes off and on."
The first intoxication sequence in "Another Round," played as are all the scenes by completely sober actors, costars Champagne with a wine chaser as the four friends celebrate a birthday. "That was by far the toughest scene of the film to shoot," Vinterberg says. "I wanted to show that these characters share a past and miss each other, but they've put up thick walls. As the scene evolves and the miracle of alcohol opens up Mads' mind, they go from being polite and slightly nervous to loosening up and dancing in the restaurant — 'We don't care!' — before they go outside and become like children. They feel this warmth of being a gang again."
A few days later, Mikkelsen's Martin, emboldened by morning vodka, mesmerizes his previously sullen history students with spellbinding lectures. Vinterberg says, "Mads gets the courage to become the man he used to be with the perfect dose of alcohol. He's not drunk. But he's also not sober. On set, we coined that state as being 'zero.' That's where the theory says you should be at when you're born."
Vinterberg, who notes that he grew up on a commune "with great people, great conversation and lots of alcohol," pushes "Another Round" into darker territory when Nikolaj (Millang) kick-starts a long day of group drinking by serving up Sazerac cocktails made with absinthe. Determined to achieve "total oblivion," the men dance awkwardly to American soul music, stumble through a store knocking down merchandise and try to spear codfish at the local wharf using a blunt pole. They wind up at a pub, where Nikolaj eats paper money and Martin stage-dives from the top of the bar into a throng of rowdy drinkers.
The night ends in shambles when Nikolaj tries to sneak into his home without waking the family, only to cause an uproar when he passes out and wets the bed. Millang used numerous tricks to get into drunken character. "I spun around 40 times," he says. "They rubbed schnapps around my face so I could smell the alcohol. I remembered being young and drunk, puking all over my room. And I just imagined the rest of it as I was crawling up the stairs."
The teachers' project falls apart when tragedy befalls one "Another Round" character, but alcohol reasserts its magical powers during the film's grand finale. As newly graduated high school students get drunk in their captain hats, per Danish tradition, Mikkelsen's Martin drinks deeply from a bottle of Champagne, then dances like the magnificent jazz ballet artist he once dreamed of being.
"Champagne is what started the journey for our characters, so I liked coming back around to that," Vinterberg says. "Also, if you look into the specifics of alcohol, you learn that bubbles ignite alcohol at triple speed. When you add bubbles, you get drunk much quicker."
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.