Interviews 2001

The Star Is Named Viggo

Source: M! magazine

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Viggo Mortensen has spent the last two years on making The Lord Of The Rings. The American with the Danish name and a Danish father has in the last 20 years fought through Hollywoods B-movies to reach this far.

Maybe the name Viggo Mortensen rings a bell. Wasn't it him who played the sadistic seargent in G.I. Jane and almost raped Demi Moore. Isn't it him who always gets the subordinate part as the half-evil, quiet psychopath in various B-movies and Hollywood-action movies. Yes, but perhaps the only reason, that there at least is a small bell that rings, is that he is half Danish and that the Danish media loves Danes in Hollywood. There is definetely not many Americans who have heard of him. Neither taxi-drivers, waiters or people you meet on the streets of New York.

That will hopefully soon change. In two months most will know, that he plays the hero and prince Aragorn, who helps Frodo through Moria in The Lord Of The Rings, the world's most expensive, biggest and most pre-discussed movie. Titanic is a joke to comparison, and Star Wars is beaten by several light sabres by a movie, that Peter Jackson for the present has spent seven years, three billion kroner (danish monetary standard), two years filmrecording and a permanent crew of 2500 people to record. J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Lord Of The Rings, and since the publishing in 1954 it has been read by 100 million people. So if you haven't read it, you have heard of it. On top of all that it isn't just one movie being made. The filmcrew has for the first time in history recorded three pictures, which will be released with one year gaps.

While the rest of the world is coming in their pants [Excuse me!?! - Obs] with The Lord Of The Rings, Viggo Mortensen takes it calmly. He salutes in floating mid-Zealand (danish dialect), places himself in the soft chesterfield sofa, rolls a cigarette and plants his bare feet in the hotel-room's thick carpet.

Though there is a great reason to be excited, having star-thoughts and generally acting like someone, who soon is going to hit the cinemas with one of the leading acts in the world biggest movie. But he isn't certain, if he bother continuing being an actor, if there comes too much hype around him. He don't want the star-race; is too old and too un-hollywoodish for it. He just want some good experiences out of life and having afford to live. Oh yeah, he also read The Lord Of The Rings in three days.

RP: What Have you learned by using this long on a film?

VM: Patience. It was such a long course that you could not see the end. There were so many things we needed to manage; sometimes I thought "shit, there is nine months left". It was an so ambitious project, that it almost became chaotic - just making the days work was a large organisational hell. But time goes by and you get your work done every day, even though you're tired. I also learned to cooperate much more than I'm used to. There is someone, who chooses to complain over everything and all the time thinks on the result, instead of doing his best here and now. Some actors think more on their Oscar-speech, money or fame than the scene they're shooting.

RP: Was it hard?

VM: Yes it was. But I have made other stuff, that were just as hard - maybe not physically, but in many other ways. We did receive good payment and a lot of experiences out of it. So I feel lucky, that I got the opportunity to be in at all. And I hope, that I get more challenges, that are even harder. But it was great to get away from Hollywood and the usual movie-world. There wasn't as much interference, as it used to be from everybody. We didn't get permission to take so many breaks, as we're used to, and that made us automatically living more into the roles.

RP: Do you hope, that your part as Aragorn gives you more opportunities than you have had until now?

VM: Yes of course. Until now - that means the last 20 years - I've always had to prove I was good enough. So I hope it becomes a little easier now; that the directors don't doubt everytime, that I'm a good actor, or that I at least get to meet the director. But then again - I have heard so many times before, that now I will break through and can get all the parts I want, that I don't believe it, till I see it. And it doesn't matter that much to me anymore. It's far more important that I enjoy what I'm doing now. On the other hand I would also say, that if it gets too weird after this movie - if there comes too much hype around me as a person - then it could be, that I'll make something else than acting.

RP: Do you use your artistic talents, when you work as an actor?

VM: Not consciously. But on the other hand I get a lot of inspiration from actors to the artistic. Being an actor isn't a solo-project - you have to work with actors, directors and all the others, who is part of a film-crew. But there are many actors, who think it's a solo-project. And that can often destroy it all, because you have to work together, and you can achieve much better results, working as a group.

RP: You seem like a very intellectual person, for an actor?

VM: Do you think all actors are dumb - or what?

RP: No, I'm more thinking, that you write poems, paints and that stuff. Is it very normal for actors?

VM: When you are on set, I like to use the spare time there is, on learning something, instead of wasting time. Also poems, paintings and photography something that I can see the result of directly. It is a bit the same with movies, apart from I'm there putting my work in other hands - in this case Peter Jackson's. I've done my best, and then it's up to him to make my work to a complete product. I don't know if that's the reason I paint, write poems and such things - but the good thing is, that I can see a result, and it's only me, who has the responsibility for it.

RP: Do you think too much on how the result is going to be?

VM: No. Of course I hope that people like the movie and that it is going to be like the book the most. But I've done my best and how the movie is going to be or how the reaction is going to be, has nothing with me to do.

RP: It appears to me, that you as person look like Aragorn. Is there something in it?

VM: Yes, perhaps. I've done my best in making the Aragorn I play, to look like the Aragorn in the books. And I've engaged deeply into the inspiration, that Tolkien has; the nordic mythology, the sagas and european poems and tales. I've spent so much time with Aragorn, that I have made an invisible bond with him. He is a worker like me. And yes, I also like to go some place and be quiet and get away from it all. I think most people do that in their own way. But if you once a year took all the worlds leaders and politicians and threw them out with parachute on above a gigantic forest, that they themselves should fight through, I don't think we would have that many problems.

RP: You were the last actor, who was hired and you replaced another actor a couple of weeks in the progress. How was that?

VM: It was kind of odd. I'm happy Stuart Townsend isn't one of my personal friends. To start with I wasn't that sure, if I should accept the offer. I was called one day and asked if I could come to New Zealnd the day after and film for one and a half years, so it was a tough decision to make. The others had been down there for several months and had already filmed for a couple of weeks. And I hadn't read the books too. The thing, that made me decide, was my son saying I should take the role, even though it caused me not to see him much in 1½ years. I really had lots of reason not to take the role, professionally I'm not much for taking a role I haven't prepared for, and I hadn't even met the director. But I know that I would've felt like a coward if I hadn't taken the chance.

RP: You hadn't auditioned the movie?

VM: No, I had heard of it, but I hadn't thought of taking any of the roles.

RP: So you were just lucky?

VM: I felt more like cursed. But there was something telling me to take the job, and I'm glad I did. Especially when I read the books and recognized lot in it from things I've read as a kid; nordic mythology and sagas.

RP: You felt cursed?

VM: It was frustrating, hard and confusing. And I became tired. When you see in the movie that I am tired; I was tied. When it looks like I'm cold; I froze. When I was smeared in mud; it was mud.

RP: How did you enter this role in such short time?

VM: The first I did was to learn sword-fighting. I was taught by Bob Anderson, an old english fellow, who knows all about sword-fighting - he taught Errol Flynn to fight in the early days. He pushed me really hard and it was a good way to start, cause Aragorn is very physical. He isn't the one who makes the long speeches.

RP: Is it true that you almost lived in the woods and wore your costume all the time?

VM: I did that for a while. I dind't have a lot of time to prepare. But I also enjoyed New Zealand's nature. It is one of the most beatiful places I've seen. So I went around in the clothes and walked long walks to enter the role and feel comfortable as Aragorn. But I did actually shower every week and also took off the clothes when I slept.

RP: How long did it really take you to get back to the real world after recording the movie?

VM: I haven't returned yet and we're not finished with the movie yet. We're going back to New Zealand next year to shoot the last scenes for the next movie and the same the year after. But I don't feel like I've been away from the real world in two years. I've lived under the filming and I enjoy the process it is to make a movie, just like I enjoy taking a walk or reading a book. It isn't something, that's totally seperate or a break from my normal life. Robert Louis Stevenson has once said "to travel is better than arriving". That's the way I have it recording a movie. It's a long journey - this time it has been extra long. Even though I'm the big social animal, I know everyone, who was there at the recordings. It was so long a time and so intensive that you couldn't avoid it. Normally the film-crew is totally indifferent with the movie. The lightman makes light and the soundman makes sound. But this was a big groupwork; everywhere there were worn copies of the books and people talked all the time about it. It rose a mood that helped us through it. We were like a big log of english, scots, americans, newzealanders and australians, who travelled round New Zealand.

RP: If you got the opportunity to meet Tolkien today, what would you say to him?

VM: I would want to hear him speak the elvish tounge, hear his accent and find out, how close our version is.

RP: If you hadn't become an actor, what would you have been doing instead?

VM: The same I do as an actor. Travel and learning new things, people and cultures to know all the time. Deep down I'm curious, so it doesn't matter what I do, if only my curiosity is satisfied. I would never had imagined that I would become an actor in so many years. And I've thought about quitting many times, cause it can be frustrating again and again to see your work being made in such way, that the final result is bad; when the thing, you've put in the movie, can't be viewed on screen. But I have learned many years ago, to enjoy the things you are doing, while you're doing it.

RP: Do You think you will feel like this, when the movie hits the cinema: The man you were/For one short season/Has been pruned/Removed/To a well-groomed graveyard/That smells like popcorn.

VM: Probably yes. That poem is about a situation, where I was cut out of a movie, which happened with the first three movies I made. When I wrote that, I had great expectations for the finished movie, and it was hard going to the cinema and watch, that all you had spend a year on, was edited completely out. But today I see it a bit differently - I've been some experiences richer. The actor and director Jane Campion, who I worked with on Portrait of a Lady and who have been in the business a lot of years, has said it like this: I feel like a hawk in a cage/All my flight feathers have melted/The Flesh have burnt away/And I have learnt to sing a canary song/That pleases people. That's the way I saw it, and perhaps it is true. But then not. Because the film is not mine. The experience I had during the recording of it, is mine, and no one can take that away from you. But if you didn't pay attention, when it happened, the boat has sailed and the moment won't return.

RP: You have played the bad guy many times. Now you're playing the great hero. Can you tell any differences?

VM: All the roles I have played, have their hard times and take some wrong decisions - Aragorn does that too. But that is something of the interesting thing about Tolkien's universe: no one is perfect, they all have their doubts. Aragorn doubts his abilities to do what he must. He isn't a perfect Hollywood-hero, he is very human.

RP: Do you prefer playing the guy who makes the right decisions?

VM: Normally it isn't easy to make a character interesting, if he doesn't have any weak spots. As I have played the more "evil" men, I've tried to find out why people do as they do - not to look good as an actor or to apologize for the roles I've played - but to give the role more depth.

RP: You know the Danish and the American culture - and also the South-American. What is the greatest difference between the American and the Danish?

VM: It is too easy to say "all Amricans are naive, violent, arrogant and imperialistic", although mny of them are. It wouldn't be fair to judge all over one. It's like the books: It is too simple to say Aragorn is good and Sauron is evil. It isn't easy, but it's better, if people understand themselves first and the try to understand others. If we shall survive as a race, like Middle-Earth should, we must learn to understand each other, instead of being paranoid and being prejudiced. If you are sitting on the railwaystation in Kolding (danish town) and having a beer, it isn't the same people you meet, as when you're in the royal theatre. People are different; it isn't like on movie, where there are good and evil. Luckily The Lord of The Rings is more complex than the usual Hollywood-movies. All nine in the fellowship have the opportunity to cause evil, if they're not cautious.

RP: Is Hollywood a shallow place to seek work in?

VM: Yes, but there is no excuse to not doing a good work. But it isn't because you are rewarded for doing it good. Like in the rest of life, it's just the right thing to do.

Viggo Mortensen will probably never become the big star. He is too sympathetic, good-minded and, yes, Danish. But Viggo is a star in his own way; he does his work thoroughly and gives himself 110% as another Stig Tøfting (danish soccer-player) in a world filled with star-thoughts and noses, which hit the skies.
Last edited: 17 February 2005 10:24:05
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