Interviews 2005

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Goin' Fishin' with Viggo Mortensen

By Lynn Barker

28 September 2005

Source: Teen Hollywood

Image Takashi Seida.
© New Line Productions Inc.
Aragorn is gone but not forgotten of course. The studly King of the 'Rings' trilogy has long since moved on to other, varied projects, last playing an historical cowboy racing a horse across an arid waste in Hidalgo [Viggo kept the horse. He tends to bond with things and critters]. Most recently, the handsome and passionate actor has taken on an Oscar-buzz role as a quiet, loving family man whose past is about to come back with a big bang and bite him in the butt in the intense drama A History of Violence.

We'll warn you that this film is rated 'R' for violence, language and sex but, at the core of the very rough piece, is a look at family unity, the lengths to which one man will go to start his life over and the power of love. It is up to you and/or your parents as to whether the movie is right for you. We will tell you that it is chocked full of amazing performances.

Image Takashi Seida.
© New Line Productions Inc.
As we've reported to you before, Viggo is a very, very colorful character. He's a renaissance man (although he hates it if you call him that) adept at various arts including painting, photography and poetry in addition to acting. He's honest, tells it like he sees it and chooses projects by gut feelings rather than as precisely calculated career moves. In small-town dad and husband Tom Stall, Mortensen has found a gem of a part to play.

For our interview, the actor, whose hair is longer than the buzz cut version we last saw him sporting, rushed in carrying his usual pot of tea and cup, wearing no shoes but bright electric blue sox and a tee-shirt emblazoned with a huge jumping fish that had been autographed by the entire cast and crew of the film. Seems Viggo thought that his character would probably be a fisherman and he gifted the crew and director David Cronenberg with fish pic shirts. He and co-star Maria Bello even had a lot of fish shipped to the set where the whole cast and crew posed for pix with them as if they were proud fishermen with their catch of the day.

© New Line Productions Inc.
Okay, Viggo is seated, has his tea and is wiggling his blue sox-clad toes. Let's begin....

TeenHollywood: Are you a fisherman?
Viggo: Yeah. And a fish eater.

TeenHollywood: What kind of backstory did you create for your least in your own mind?
Viggo: I did what I always do which is beyond and prior to what's in the script, story-wise. I try to make up for myself a realistic and clear idea of where the person was born, how he was raised, who he knew, how his life was, before my first scene, which involved doing a lot of things like going to places like the places that the character inhabits in the movie, that he inhabited in his childhood. Also, since he was open to it, having a lot of discussions and conversations with [director] David Cronenberg in the months prior to shooting.

TeenHollywood: David told us he feels like your kindred spirit.
Viggo: By the time we started shooting I felt we were so in-synch and I felt really grateful for that because there was a shorthand there where we saved tons of time and energy on the set and used all of that exclusively for exploring further and finding all those layers and subtleties that most directors not only don't look for, appreciate and use in their final cut, but most of them don't seem to be aware of the fact those things can be effective and you can tell a story in a simple way, even in a roller coaster movie that picks up speed like this, you can take time. In the middle of a frenetic scene, two people can look at each other for quite a while and a lot of things can happen and you can be patient with that.

© New Line Productions Inc.
TeenHollywood: And David allows for that?
Viggo: Yeah. But that takes a director who has a great sense of rhythm, almost a great musical understanding in terms of movie storytelling from the way it begins, with the first notes, the first signs of something, that's normal but there's something brewing, and all of sudden you see shocking things. It's like a certain instrument comes in and, boom, there's another movement and another one. It's like a great thoroughly satisfying and complex piece of music to me, this movie.

TeenHollywood: Is this the most complex character you've ever played?
Viggo: It's probably as satisfying or more satisfying than anything I've played before but it's because I was working for someone who appreciated it. It was a character that the director allowed me to play in the most complex way. I always try to give it everything. I always am interested in exploring things until it's done. You can always find layers of things going on because people are complicated, we all are. The more you do that, the more you're going to give a semblance of a real person. It's not simple to do, but that approach seems logical. Most directors don't have the patience for that. David is smart enough to realize that's the best way to do it and no matter how methodical and time consuming it seems to discuss the work, that you're not going to waste time because you're going to get a lot more material than you can use. All of a sudden, you realized you cracked it.

© New Line Productions Inc.
TeenHollywood: Your director also says that you brought a bunch of props to the set. How does that help you?
Viggo: It's things that came out of discussion or exploration or inventing for myself a life for this person, but I do that with every movie. It's like a point of view. Those are tangible parts of that point of view that I bring to the table, when I show up to do the job. None of them are meant to be accepted or embraced. For some movies, it might be pieces of writing that I find and paste on the wall of my dressing room or hotel. Little reminders, tokens that I can refer to as I'm going along because like most shoots, it's a disjointed thing. You're not shooting in sequence. So you want to keep certain things in mind. You might have had a good idea two months ago and then you're doing something else, so you won't lose sight of it as easily if you have a reminder of that day.

Likewise, an object, pieces of clothing, set dressing, you bring it to whatever head of that department and say "what do you think'? They might say, "I don't know if that works but it's interesting'. Then it stimulates a conversation. That's all it is really. In this case, I guess it's because we worked so much before the start of the movie, I think we were pretty much in synch so a lot of those things did get used because they were appropriate for the story, the set dressing, whatever.

TeenHollywood: The pressure or violence builds for your character in this film. That must be hard if it's not shot in chronological order.
Viggo: You want to be careful of where you're at. We did this gradual, visible transformation-I believe that people have all the ingredients inside them to behave an infinite number of ways and Tom Stall's no different-so you can't fix it exactly. There's a point where it accelerates and you go, whoa! But it's not fixed and it's not one thing only. In that sense, we were careful in the early parts of the story where we would do a take and try some look or gesture. It was like a gamble, but very subtle. You can only do that stuff if you have a director who's there with you, and believes that if an actor is feeling real things you're going to see it on camera. Then linear time goes out the window.

Image Takashi Seida.
© New Line Productions Inc.
TeenHollywood: Can you leave the dark side of the character on the set or do you take it home?
Viggo: I'm always going to take something [home] because everybody has a possibility in them so the first place I'm going to look is inside to find something, at least it's one of the places. I'm not leaving it completely behind. But, I'm not someone who's going to go to a bar and kill somebody because I just want to keep it fresh. [laughs]

TeenHollywood: How about between films?
Viggo: I'm not in a hurry to [leave characters behind]. I appreciate other actors that say "it was difficult to shed the skin of this character'. I don't know what the hurry is. As far as I'm concerned, I don't see that it ruins my life to have gotten involved with the character I'm playing. Our memories are finite and they decrease in their efficiency over time as we get older, so what's the hurry to forget something you learned something from and you explored in an interesting way? I'm never in a hurry to shed it. I don't see it as a problem.

TeenHollywood: Okay, there is a pretty rough 'love' scene on some stairs. Maria said she was covered with bruises.
Viggo: Oh, I was too.

TeenHollywood: How difficult is it to do a rough scene like that?
Viggo: I knew the process of working on it with her was going to be awkward, especially if we did it right. It was going to be an awkward thing to perform if it was going to work and be uncomfortable and unpredictable and unusual and original for an audience to watch. Because she didn't play it safe and was willing, as difficult as it was, to go for it, to risk making a fool of herself, I was also willing to make a fool of myself, and David Cronenberg was more than happy to see us make fools of ourselves and make us see how silly we were, I mean in a good way. He was always looking for the absurd. He'd make some inappropriate joke at just the wrong moment, which was just the right thing to do, because we didn't take ourselves too seriously and we got through those days more easily than we might have.

Image Takashi Seida.
© New Line Productions Inc.
TeenHollywood: Did you ever just wish he would yell 'cut'?
Viggo: It goes on for longer than you would normally see, certainly in an American movie, comfortably. The power position shifts and that's interesting emotionally as well as the physical aspect. It goes on for a while and it did when we (shot) it. You're sort of waiting once it gets into a certain area to hear 'Cut.' That's sort of your safety net. There was nothing! [laughs] so what are you going to do? We're professional and we're just going, and then it becomes weird and invention happens, and things happen. All those back and forth things that are so interesting. It's almost like a small movie, that sequence. It's like a microcosm of one area of our relationship. [David] looked at the cinematographer like, "how much film do we have'? And (the cinematographer whispers), "plenty'. I'm grateful for the fact that Maria was as gutsy as she was

TeenHollywood: Do you consider this a particularly American story or could it play out anywhere?
Viggo: Anywhere. I think it's universal and I think it's a case of the artist, the storyteller, David, being extremely specific, because that's the best way to make something feel or be relevant universally. Violence, the struggle against violence, the consequences of both those things, are universally understood and accessible for anybody anywhere in the world. Certainly it's entered my mind, where the story is set. Yeah, there are a lot of guns in America. But every country has a history of violence. It's not a particularly American thing. There are people who have that bent. That want to make politics of everything. I've heard a few people say it's obviously an indictment of U.S. foreign policy. Really?! That's heavy. I don't think that's what we were trying to do. I'm not saying that's wrong. When you have great story, whether it's a short story or novel or movie or song, painting, photograph, you can be Japanese or American or Danish or whatever, it doesn't matter where you're from, and you can get something out of it.

Image Takashi Seida
TeenHollywood: So people all walk out with different feelings?
Viggo: That's the sign that it's a good story because let's face it, there aren't that many movies that you think much at all about afterwards. This is one you think about a lot. It's potentially a movie that can shock, can move, can make you laugh, can make you quite uncomfortable, in some moments, but it also potentially can make you think about yourself. "How do I fit into my community, my country. What am I? What do I know or not know about myself'? That's great.

TeenHollywood: Can you talk about the other movie you'll have coming out called Alatriste that was filmed in Spain?
Viggo: I just finished it. Overall, in terms of process, these two projects, my last two that I've done, were the most satisfying in many ways. Agustin Diaz Yanes is a director who, like David, is very smart in communicating very clearly what they want to get done before you even start. That's a great thing. So you can be relaxed on the set and explore. They are both people who create a calm, can-do atmosphere on the set and a jovial atmosphere. You feel involved and included, everybody. That's a completely different kind of story, but also very emotional and moving. I think it's going to be a really good movie. [Note: Viggo is back in armor again as the Spanish soldier-turned-mercenary Captain Alatriste, a heroic figure from the country's 17th century imperial wars.]

TeenHollywood: How is your horse from Hidalgo?
Viggo: Oh, he's fine. I did ask David if we could have a horse (in this movie). Just to be there. There was one in the background.

TeenHollywood: We see you have an American flag and a Red Cross pin on your jacket. What does that symbolize to you?
Viggo: It's only about a few hours old. It's basically saying, send money to the Red Cross. There are people who've said things about the Red Cross like that's not the most efficient this and that. But basically most Americans don't have the money or the ability to go down [to the hurricane areas] and help directly. And you can debate the pros and cons of the Red Cross just like you can debate the pros and cons of the government's pathetic way of dealing with the situation. The bottom line is that people need to do something and American people have been doing something and leading the way and leading by example, an example I hope the government will follow. For most people, this is the best way to it in my opinion. So if you've got $5, send it to the Red Cross.
Last edited: 29 September 2005 14:19:15
© Teen Hollywood.