Maybe it was destiny. "I don't think anybody could have known, even if they'd hoped or believed or thought it might happen, how successful these movies would be," Viggo Mortensen says, "and not only how much money they've made, but how much people have connected with 'The Lord of the Rings.'
"It has meant something to people," the actor says. "They've related it to their lives and times and society, much as each succeeding generation has and will with the book. We didn't know that would happen. You can look back now and go, 'Of course,' but we didn't know. "
Mortensen stepped into writer/director Peter Jackson's "Rings" trilogy, and into the star-making role of Aragorn, only after Stuart Townsend departed the project early in production. He made the part his own, however, imbuing Aragorn with honor, strength, bravery and old-fashioned sex appeal.
Aragorn takes center stage in the final "Rings" adventure, "The Return of the King." He's the titular monarch, the reluctant ruler who — in helping Frodo (Elijah Wood) and the Fellowship destroy The One Ring — must assume his rightful throne in order to set Middle-earth on a viable path into the future. Meanwhile his heart is torn between the elf maiden Arwen (Liv Tyler) and the warrior princess Eowyn (Miranda Otto).
Put feeling into role
"Aragorn was well-schooled and had decades of experience in Middle-earth," Mortensen says. "He's described as being the greatest traveler in his age. There's nobody who's been to as many places and met as many different kinds of people. He has an understanding of history and the present time in Middle-earth.
"So he's well-suited to be a ruler," he continues. "He also knows, historically, it is to some degree his destiny to be king. It's like somebody calling from the Republican or Democratic Party and saying, 'I know you don't want to run, but we really need you. If you don't, so-and-so will win.'
"It's like that for Aragorn, I suppose," the actor says, "but it's not like he has to be convinced, even if he resists and says to Elrond (Hugo Weaving), his adopted father, in the extended version (of "The Fellowship of the Ring"), 'I don't want that power. I've never wanted it.' He knows that, if the rightful heir does not go through the process of taking his place, that will affect, in a big way, the chances of Middle-earth saving itself."
Nevertheless, the man who wouldn't be king continues to resist the crown. Mortensen believes that he does so, perhaps, out of resentment at being told what he must do, after having operated independently for so long. There's also an element of fear, a crisis of confidence that he — like all the characters in the "Rings" tapestry — must overcome.
"Eventually, as you'll see in 'Return,' he has to go to the Paths of the Dead, which is the place where, if he's not pure, he can't assume the throne," Mortensen says. "He has doubts about how much of a rightful heir he is, in a practical sense: If his forefathers couldn't do it, how can Aragorn, this orphaned, watered-down, distant relative of those great ancestors, go into the Paths of the Dead and convince these specters to help?
"That's interesting to play," he says. "It starts from within, so look within first, and that's what the characters in this story do. I think people maybe subconsciously and sometimes consciously relate to that, to the characters' imperfections."
He's a hot item
"I'm looking into different things, like total world domination, subjugation," Mortensen jokes. "That'd be a good place to start. I got to play a lead role in 'Hidalgo.' I wouldn't have been given that responsibility if it weren't for the success of 'Rings' — I'm aware of that.
"I'm aware that more people buy my books or see the other guys' films," he adds. "They'll take a flier on it because they're interested in whatever else Elijah or Orlando (Bloom) or Miranda is doing. When I have a show of my photographs, a lot of people come, and the majority probably come because of 'Ring.'
grateful, and I feel fortunate to have had this part land in my lap."
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