Anchorman Coolness

Author: Thomas Leupp
Publication: unknown
Date: 17 Dec '03

It's good to be Viggo Mortensen. This week, the talented, enigmatic actor assumes the throne as Aragorn in the most anticipated film of the year, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Mortensen arrived at our interview sipping tea out of a — well, I'm not exactly sure what it was he brought into the room. It looked like a hollowed-out Faberge egg with a metal straw protruding from the top. His hair — cut short and graying on the sides — bore no resemblance to the Bret "The Hitman" Hart hairdo that Aragorn sports in the movies. His demeanor, however — quiet, thoughtful, yet intense — was very Aragorn. Trying hard to keep my concentration while watching a man sip tea out of a Faberge egg, I talked with Viggo about what it's like to be king.

What do you feel was your defining moment in The Return of the King?
Aragorn is not by any stretch of the imagination a man of many words, so a lot of what you know about him comes from his reactions, his internal struggles, his internal journey. I think, in the trilogy, the combination of his internal battle, his psychological journey is there in the Path of the Dead.

In the extended version of the first movie, there's a scene where he's at his mother's grave. It was his mother who brought him as a baby to Rivendell to be raised there like other characters in myth and in stories, whether it's Moses or Arthur or other Nordic stories where someone is hidden for their own protection and raised by non-blood relatives. So he's at his mother's grave on the morning of their departure, you know the Fellowship from Rivendell, and the father comes up and says you have this thing that you must do, you are the only heir to the throne and you have this responsibility, it's your destiny. And Aragorn says, "I do not want that power, I've never wanted it," by which he means, I'm happy to serve and be a lone ranger type and I'll do whatever is necessary to protect people but I don't want that, I'm not running for office.

In part that's because he's essentially modest. He's not an arrogant person, and that's a good thing, but he's also afraid. He's afraid of not being able to cut it, really, not being up to the task. He knows full well that, even the noblest of his ancestors, when it came down to it, failed. (They) were weak in the face of temptation and ended up doing the selfish thing. So why should he, when he is confronted with the ultimate psychological battle, which is to prove that he's pure of heart and pure of intention when he faces the dead, why should he be stronger than they were? So that's the culmination of that psychological journey. So I think in some ways that was one of the more interesting moments for the character.

Some people believe that your character in the film differs greatly from the book version, in terms of his willingness or desire to be king.
To some degree, although I think he does express some doubt in the book, he does have — I mean I'm not going to waste a whole interview giving you page numbers and all that — but he does show some reticence. He knows he has to say that. I do like the fact that maybe some times Pete went a little far in the other direction, in not allowing him to speak enough. That aspect is redeemed in the extended versions. I like the fact that there is something that serves that internal struggle and that makes him sort of a character that you can relate to more as a modern audience. And unlike the archetypes that he has a lot in common with in Nordic sagas, that recite long poems before the fight, during the fight, and after the fight, even as they are dying or whatever, about themselves and their exploits — what they're going to do, what they're doing and what they've done — he doesn't really do much of that. His actions and his gestures speak for his concerns and his loyalties, and I like that.

I think all the characters have an internal battle that you see at one time or another. One of the strong points of the book and the movie is that all the heroic characters in the story have moments of doubt and weakness and fear — including Aragorn, who has obviously proven many, many times that he's brave and willing to sacrifice everything for the good of society, for the good of the group. Nevertheless, he's not always sure that he's going to be able to do it.

Is this the kind of role that you got lost in? Is that normal for you?
No, I do it as much as I can, to inform myself, to be ready, as much as I can to be in the moment when I'm there, to serve the director, to serve the scene and, above all, to satisfy myself. If I don't satisfy myself, in the sense of believing that I've given it my all and put everything I could into it to help tell the story, then how can I expect others to be satisfied with what I did? Whether the director includes that scene, this scene or not, you have to do that. I just had longer to do it in this one.

You sound as if you're disappointed in the editing, in some choices Peter made.
I do?

Yeah. You've implied that the aforementioned scene's been cut...
But everybody's had that experience. That's part of any movie really. What I'm saying is not a negative thing; I'm saying it as a positive thing. I'm glad that what Pete has done, which is also sort of groundbreaking, is that he's made extended versions, not years after the fact but immediately, concurrently almost. That are not just DVDs where you can select one, two, three, four, five scenes, but they're actually cut into it, with additional scores. There are scenes where half the scene was gone and now it's back in there and selected pieces are put in, entire sequences are put in and Howard Shore has gone back and scored them all so it's seamless and in some ways, perhaps a more complete version or vision of Middle Earth or certain aspects of the characters and I think that's great.

Would you recommend someone see the theatrical version or the extended version on DVD?
I think they may show the extended versions theatrically, but I would say regardless of what you see it on, a big or small screen, so far I would recommend the extended, if you could only pick one. I would say, see them both, make up your own mind, they are two different kinds of experiences. I don't think you have to be a Tolkien fanatic to be into the extended versions, they are very fluid, very informative.

Howard Shore said you were composing songs during the filming, how did the song come about at the end?
Well, there's one in the extended version of the first one — again it sounds like I have a vested interest when I don't, well maybe I do — they serve a function, you know, a ritual function. The first time you really hear Elvish other than bits of smatterings in the prologue is in the marshes and they're camping out, the hobbits with Strider, and he thinks they're all asleep and he's singing to himself, very quietly, a song in Elvish.

I thought of it as like a pop song, like now you can sing a Beatles song and it's got another name but you associate it with a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever, you know what I mean? That song served that function and did justice, I thought, to Tolkien, it was a nice thing, it was a very good thing for Frodo, I thought.

In the coronation, the words — as you can find in the book — it's exactly what Aragorn is meant to sing. Although it doesn't say what the melody is, so I just made a melody for it like I did for the other piece. I'm really glad that was included because that's Aragorn's nod to the past, to his forefathers. I imagine that all the kings since Elendil came to Middle Earth have probably repeated those same words in ceremony. So there's a ritual aspect to it, an acknowledgement of the past, which I think characters like Aragorn, Gandalf, Galadriel and Elrond, they're very conscience, as like we are, to be of the good things in them, the mistakes that were made in the past by the world of men and there's a value to that and a promise to staying the course and investing in the future.

What kind of king would Aragorn be?
I think he's very suited to be a good king. I know from the appendixes that he turns out to be a very good one, maybe the best that they've ever had in some ways because, what seems like a weakness, what characters like Boromir initially misinterpret as a weakness, (is) his hesitation to jump to conclusions about people or events, his thoughtfulness and sometimes his admitted worry or fear. (They) are strong points, because they point to a lack of arrogance and an interest in other people and other cultures. They show that he is someone who considers carefully the consequence of his words and actions.

When he acts irrationally or speaks irrationally, as he does, for example, to Boromir at one point when he gets very frustrated with him — again that's a scene that's in the extended version — he regrets it and makes it known that he regrets it. There's a humility to him and a concerted effort to look past the perceived differences that he might have with others. That sort of leader is the type of leader that I wish we had in this country and many other countries. I think that's a good role model to have. And all the members of the fellowship in way or another proved to have that impulse, to look for what we have in common with others other than the opposite, which is to isolate.

Don't a lot of people who desire to be king lack those qualities?
Yeah, well he doesn't desire to be king. That in itself is a strong point. It's circumstances that tell him, I must do this and take this role because I am the only heir and by doing that, certain things can happen. Without doing it, certain things won't have a chance of happening — without going to the Paths of the Dead, the battle of Pelannor Fields would have been lost.

These movies have made you more of a household name — how do feel about that and the whole sex symbol status?
I have about as much say or control over that — or interest in it — as I do in whether you or anyone else thinks these movies are any good or whether they did well or not, or connection to what Peter does in terms of editing. It's not something I have much say over or am interested in, they like the results of what we did and the freak thing of it being so popular. I understand why they're popular, but it's still a crapshoot. I've been in other movies that I thought were pretty well done and the scripts were good and we made a good effort, but you do need luck and that comes under that. What's next?
There's a movie coming out in March called HIDALGO. It's also a very good story. And that is a result that I'm aware of and happy about is, without The Fellowship of the Ring being such a huge success, I would have never been offered that role. I probably wouldn't even have gotten into the room to talk to the director about it.







































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