VIGGO MORTENSEN - BIOGRAPHY

Born: October 20th, 1958 in Manhattan, New York
Children: Henry Blake Mortensen (born 1988)

Viggo Mortensen was born in Manhattan, New York in 1958. He is the oldest of three boys. His mother is American, and his father Danish.

His father travelled a lot in business, so Viggo spent his childhood back and forth between Argentina and Venezuela, till 1969 when his parents divorced. Then he moved to Watertown New York with his mother and two brothers.

He speaks three languages fluently, English, Spanish and Danish but also some French.

Viggo attended Watertown high school in 1972, and marked himself in sport. He was both on the swimming team and the tennis team, and was even the captain for the swimming team. In his spare time, he was wandering around in the streets, with his camera. He says in his book “Recent Forgeries”:
“I was taking lots of pictures in the late seventies and used to be really anxious about always having a camera with me. It got a little out of hand. It seemed that there was always something going on that I could be taking picture of, and I suppose I eventually started feeling a little removed from life”.

In 1980 he graduated from St. Lawrence University, with degrees in Government and Spanish. He then went to Denmark, and lived there for two years. He had several jobs during his stay there, including waiter, flower seller and fork lift driver.

After two years in Denmark, he followed a girlfriend back to New York. He had decided he wanted to be an actor, and attended the Warren Robertson Acting Workshop. Then he did several plays, and a couple of movies too, but his parts were edited out of both.

His film career started in Peter Weir’s movie “Witness” (1985).

In 1987, during the shooting of the underground independent movie “Salvation”, he met and married Exene Cervenka, lead singer in the punk band “X”. The year after, their son Henry was born. And they moved to Idaho, to raise their son out of Exene’s fame. They lived there till 1996/97 when they divorced. Both moved back to Los Angeles, only a few houses away from each other. They have shared custody for Henry. When Exene is out touring, Henry stays with Viggo. And when Viggo is out shooting a movie, Henry stays with Exene.

Viggo's movie-career went a little "slow" in the beginning. He went to several auditions, but as he once said:
" It was always between me and the other guy, and the other guy always got the role".

But according to him he has never done a part he didn’t like. When Viggo accepts a part in a movie he goes in intent on three things , 'to stay true to where the character is coming from', ' to learn from the experience' and 'to have fun doing it'.

Viggo always studies his characters carefully, and is dedicated to every one of them, including the small ones. He goes so deep into them, that he becomes the characters even when the camera is shut off. Like during the shooting of “Passion of Darkly Noon”, he plays the character “Clay” who is mute. And it says that he didn’t say a word through the whole shooting.

In the beginning of the 90's, his career as an actor had a great push up . With terrific performances in movies as "G.I. Jane", "A perfect murder" and "A walk on the moon". In these movies he worked with big names, like Michael Douglas, Gwyneth Paltrow, Demi Moore and Diane Lane.

But the big "break-through" came first after his performance in the "Lord of the rings"-trilogy. Peter Jackson once said:
" People say 'Lord of the rings' will make Viggo Mortensen a big star. I nodded and smile, but I know that fame is the last thing on Viggo's mind".
Maybe so. But the trilogy has made the name Viggo Mortensen shine in light. And well deserved, after years of hard work in New Zealand. And still, the last movie in the trilogy hasn't been released yet. The last of the three movies, "Return of the king" will probably give Viggo even more acknowledgement. Since his character Aragorn, will be an even more important part in this movie.

The work with the "Lord of the rings"-trilogy has had a big influence on Viggo's life. For years he lived in New Zealand, together with the other cast and crew in the movie. And they have went back every year after that, to shot more scenes for the extended version DVDs.

Before "Lord of the rings", Viggo made the effort of answering every piece of fan mail he received. But all the new fans he had after the first "Lord of the rings" movie, he couldn't find time to do so anymore. He asked his fans not to send him more fan letters, since he didn't find time to answer them all, and since he doesn't want anyone else to answer them for him. After all, the man need to get some time to sleep and all.

Viggo has said that he might give up the acting career one day. He will only continue as long as he feel he has something to give, and can perform in movies he's dedicated to. The last movie he performed in is Disney's "Hildago", with a release March 2004. And he has antisipated with his voice in a cartoon, "Live Freaky Die Freaky" with a release December 2003.

Another famous actor Viggo has performed with, is Dennis Hopper. They first met during the shooting of "The Indian Runner" in 1991, and became close friends. After that they have performed in another movie together, "Boiling Point", 1993.
Around 1999 Mr. Hopper took interest in the photographs Viggo had been taking since the early 70s. Hopper, who is an photographer himself, helped Viggo get the recognition he deserved. Viggo's first photography exhibit was in July 2000 at the Robert Mann Gallery in New York City, called "Errant Vine". Viggo and Hopper have also worked together with photography. In 2001 they did a trip together to Amsterdam. And you can see some of Viggo's photography work from that trip in his book "Signlanguage". And Hopper wrote the introduction in Viggo's book "Recent Forgeries".

The success after the "Errant Vine" exhibition, led to his first art exhibition. In January 2001 he did an exhibition, "Recent Forgeries" at the gallery 'Track 16' in Santa Monica. The exhibition included photography, paintings and mixed media, that Viggo had been working on for years. His book "Recent Forgeries" is based on this exhibition.
Today Viggo is recognized as an highly talented artist. His work continues to receive critical acclaim for both his photographs & paintings, and he's had several exhibitions the last two years, also outside the US.
His journey into poetry started when he was very young, just as his journey into photography. His first book, "Ten last night", was a book of poetry.

But his work in paintings started later on. It was first after "Recent Forgeries" he really threw himself into the paintings. According to Kristine McKenna in "Recent Forgeries", every inch of Viggo's house is dedicated to art, either finished or in progress. There is art in boxes, in stacks and leaning against the walls. His art is floating all over the house, even in the bathroom and the garage. Sometimes he can't find his way to his refrigerator, to get the soda he was offering a visitor. The kitchen is his studio. He says: "It's practical, working in the kitchen. I can have something to drink and eat, while the paintings are drying."

His house is also filled with notebooks, with poems, short stories, quotes, odds and ends his artistic mind has picked up here and there.
When Viggo started to work more and more with his art, he began to comment on how separated he was becoming from the rest of the world, painting day and night for months, non stop. He said he was starting to have trouble being with large groups of people and preferred long solitude. This is something many artists goes through, "The artistic syndrome".

The last year, he seems to be more dedicated to the art of photography. All his exhibitions so far this year, has been about his photography ("Un hueco en el sol", Cuba, "Ephëmeris", Denmark and "Miyelo", LA). And his upcoming exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand will also be an photo-exhibition.
Viggo also combines his different forms of art. He often uses poetry/writings and photography in his paintings. And since much of his art work is created while working on different movie, his work as an actor comes to light in his art. In his books you can see both photographs and paintings he has created while shooting a movie, from all over the world.

Another art form of his is music. He's playing jazz piano and sings, and experiments with sounds. He has made several CDs, and worked with musicians as his ex-wife Exene and Buckethead. Most of his CDs are no longer available. He has also combined his spoken poetry with music. His book "Recent Forgeries" includes a CD where he reads his poetry to music, and sings two songs. In November, a new CD, with instrumental pieces, songs and spoken words, will be available.

In 2002 he started his own press, 'Perceval Press' together with Pilar Perez. The press is publishing art and poetry books, so-called hard-selling-books, with both new and already well known artist. The press has also published several of Viggo's own books. And Pilar Perez is handling Viggo's business affairs, and travels along with him at his exhibitions.

Another thing that is important to add, is Viggo's political activism. Several times, he has been wearing a "War is not the answer" and "No more blood for oil" T-shirts. And Perceval Press also made these T-shirts for sale earlier this year. At his poetry-reading in Odense, Denmark in June, he placed an UN flag on his table, and he brought the flag with him on the "tour" he had around in Denmark afterwards. Last he is donating money from his book "Miyelo" to the Pine Ridge Reservation.
We don't know where Viggo will go next. But I don't think we've heard the last from him just yet.

Thank you for sharing you artistic mind and work with us,
Mr.Viggo Mortensen

© Viggo Chronicles 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 
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