Press Junket Interview
Date: Dec '03
Viggo Mortensen was a great person to sit down with at the Junket! Much like his character Aragorn, Viggo is very thoughtful and soft spoken. His insights into the portrayal of his character and into the making of the Trilogy led me to believe that he truly understood the nature of Aragorn as Tolkien wrote him. He seemed very in-touch with not only the struggles of good and evil that are woven into the storyline, but also the internal struggles of Aragorn the Man who was destined to become King as well.
Now without further ado... may I present Mr. Viggo Mortensen!
Okay then, lets get rolling. For a lot of us, especially the book fans, to see the defining moment from our perspective as being when you offer the dead a chance to redeem themselves. What did you see as your defining moment in the film?
Maybe that one, in some ways, especially because of the way Peter shot it and edited it. Aragorn is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a man of many words, so a lot of what we know about him comes from his reactions... comes from...I guess, his internal struggles, his internal journey in the trilogy, and the culmination of his internal battle, the psychological journey, is there...in the Paths 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 myths and stories, whether it be Moses, or Arthur, or Nordic stories, where someone is brought, hidden, for their own protection, and raised by non-blood relatives...so he's at his mothers grave on the morning of the fellowship's departure 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 have never wanted it," by which he means...I am happy to serve and sort of 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, 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, were weak, and in the face of temptation, ended up doing the selfish thing. So why should he, a distant, watered down, in terms of bloodline, he feels, maybe, version...one who has, maybe, an orphan mentality, from the way he was raised, why should he, when he's 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, in the psychological journey, so, in some ways, that was one of the more interesting moments for the character.
Now that was also one of those deviations of the character from the book...the not wanting to claim it...in the book, Aragorn is more than willing to stand up and say "I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn!" How do you feel about that?
To some degree, although I think that he does express some doubt in the book...he does have...I'm not going to waste a whole interview giving you page numbers...but he does show some reticence, he knows he has to say that. I do like the fact that...maybe sometimes it went a little too far in the other direction, not allowing him to speak enough...that aspect is redeemed in the extended version...but I like the fact that there is something that serves that internal struggle, and that makes him sort of more modern...or a character you can relate to more as a modern audience, in that, unlike, say the archetypes that he has more in common with, in the Nordic sagas, that recite long poems before the fight, during the fight and after the fight, even as they're 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...I do like that, but I think all the characters have an internal battle that you see at one time or another. The strong point of the books 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 is 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.
Watching the documentaries and the extended versions it seems that this has really, really got locked in...is that usual for you or is this a particular case?
I do as much as i can to inform myself to be ready, and 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 in the scene or not, you know, you have to do that...I just got longer to do it in this one...
We've spoken to you on all three films now, and you have sounded disappointed in the editing...of some of the choices that Pete has made...you've intimated that this scene's been cut or this motivation isn't there...
But everybody's had that experience, you know...
That's just part of the game?
It'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 DVD's where you can say, select one, two, three, four, five scenes, but they are actually cut into it with additional scores made, and 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 added, and Howard Shore has gone back and scored them all, so now it's a seamless, and, in some ways, perhaps, more complete version, or vision, of Middle Earth, or certain aspects of the characters, and that's great.
If you were going to tell somebody who had not seen any of these films to go see them, would you say see them on the big screen or see them on your DVD player?
Well, I think they may show the extended versions at some point, but I would say, regardless of what you see it on, the 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 version, I think it's just very fluid, very informative. Sometimes you can get involved in movies that are an hour-and-a-half long, ninety minutes, and they seem like they're three or fours hours long and you're like "Ohhhh my God" because they're just not well-made...there isn't a connection made... somehow the compromise of making the movie just wasn't successful, it didn't work. You've also been to, depending on your case, you've also been to Dances With Wolves, or the Lord of the Rings movies, or, what have you...Andre Roublek...I don't know...and they don't seem that long, even though they are very long...three, four hours long...
Yeah...so...it just depends on how well they're made. I personally don't mind sitting for hours if I'm into it.
Howard Shore was talking about the fact that you were composing songs a lot during the filming, and that you even had Tolkien lyrics and literature...I'm not quite sure exactly what he said about that...how did that song come about in the movie at the end?
Well, there's one in the extended version of the first one, obviously I have a vested interest in it...
They serve a function, a ritual function, and in the case of the first movie, it's information...I mean, the first time you really hear Elvish other than the smatterings in the prologue is when they're in the marshes, they're camping out...the Hobbits, with Aragorn, or Strider, as he's known at that point...and he thinks they're all asleep, and starts singing to himself, very quietly, a song in Elvish...so you're hearing this language... and he seems to be sort of moved by what he's remembering, and Frodo hears it, but Strider doesn't know any good way to process who...(one of the interviewers has a problem with her equipment here} Frodo saaaaays...(laughter) "Who is she? " or "Who was she?" which tells you a lot of things all at once that can happen in the movie. It tells you that Frodo is not only conversant in Elvish, or understands it, but has an interest, and like Bilbo, is an unusual Hobbit in that he is interested in the outside world and other cultures, that he's curious by nature and well-educated. It also shows you that Aragorn is fluent in Elvish...you don't know why yet. It also brings in the idea that there's a woman, and it shows you that this guy's not just a grim figure. It just serves a lot of functions, and I thought of it as like a pop song, like, now...you can sing a song, a Beatles song, it's got another name but you associate it with a boyfriend or a girlfriend or whatever...you know what I mean...that song serves that function. It did justice, I hope, to Tolkien and it was a nice thing...it was a very good thing for Frodo. In the coronation, the words...those you can find in the book, it's exactly what Aragorn is meant to sing, although it doesn't say it with a melody, and so I just made a melody for it, like I did with the other piece, and I'm really glad that was included because that's Aragorn's nod to the past, to his forefathers...what he's saying when he's singing in Elvish is more or less....
"from across the sea I am come to middle earth in this place will I abide/dwell and my heirs until the ending of time..."
...something like that. Now, obviously, he didn't come across the sea; he was born in Middle Earth. I imagine, although I haven't found in Tolkien that it says that anywhere, but 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. There's an acknowledgement of the past, which I think that characters like Aragorn and Gandalf and Galadriel and Elrond...they're conscious, as we ought to be, of the good things and the mistakes that were made in the past, as well as by man, and that there's a value to that and there's a promise of staying the course and investing in the future.
What kind of king do you think he would be?
I think he very well could be a good king, and I know from the Appendices that he turns out to be very good one, maybe the best that they've ever had In some ways because his...what seems like a weakness and what characters like Boromir initially misinterpret as a weakness, his hesitation to jump to conclusions about people or events, his thoughtfulness, and, sometimes, his admitted worry or fear, 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 consequences of his words and actions, and when he acts rashly or speaks rashly, as he does, for example, to Boromir at one point, where he's very frustrated with him...again, that's a scene from the extended version...he regrets it and makes it known that he regrets it. There is a humility to him, and a concerted effort to look past the perceived differences that he might have with others in Middle Earth. That sort of leader is the type of leader I wish that we had in this country and many other countries. I think that's a good role model to have and I think that all the other members of the fellowship, in some way or another prove to be that way...prove to have that impulse to look for what we have in common with others rather than the opposite which is to isolate.
Don't, typically, people who would desire to be king lack those qualities that you are talking about?
Yeah, but he doesn't desire to be king, and 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 a lot more prominent, much more of a household name. How do you feel about that kind of growing fame and the whole sex symbol status and all the attention that comes with it?
I have about as much say or control over that, or interest in that, as I do in whether you or anyone else thinks these movies are any good, or whether they do well or not, or connection to what Peter does in terms of editing, I mean, it's not something that I have much say over or an interest in. They're like, 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 know, you do need some luck.
So what is next?
There's a movie coming out in March (2004) called Hidalgo, which is also a very good story, and that is a result that I'm aware of and happy about which is...
You get more offers...
Without The Fellowship of the Ring being such a huge success, I would have never been offered that role...I probably wouldn't have even gotten into the room to talk about doing it...
Can you give us any recorded scenes cut from this that are going to be on the DVD?
You'd have to ask Pete! There are a lot of scenes that couldn't be put in there, and I hope they end up being back in there!