A King takes the reins
Star puts down sword, climbs on horse for 'Hidalgo'

Author: Stephanie Snipes
Publication: CNN
Date: 09 Mar '04

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- As hobbits near and far celebrated the Academy Award sweep of "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King," the King himself, Viggo Mortensen, was moving on from Middle-earth to the Middle East.

In his new film, "Hidalgo," he plays Frank T. Hopkins, a U.S. cavalry dispatch rider in the 1890s with a penchant for long-distance horse racing.

Depressed after witnessing the massacre at Wounded Knee, Hopkins accepts an invitation to cross the Atlantic and compete in the centuries-old "Ocean of Fire," a 3,000-mile race across the Arabian Desert. (Or so he said; though Hopkins was a real person and "Hidalgo" is based on his story, his tales were known to stretch the truth.)

The heart of the film is the relationship between Hopkins and his horse Hidalgo, and the trials they face to prove an American "cowboy" and his painted mustang have what it takes to compete against the famous Arabian full-bred horses.

Mortensen was certainly pleased with the horse he rode -- he kept it after filming.

The actor, a published poet and photographer, sat down with CNN to discuss his new film and his other interests.

What inspired you to make the film?
I like the fact that it's an adventure story in the sense that there is a challenge presented. It's an ordeal. I think that ordeals in our lives ... [are] where things become a little more pure, a little more clear.

Were you familiar with the massacre at Wounded Knee?
I had read about it. I have been interested for many years in Native American culture and in particular the Lakota culture. This isn't a documentary. It's going to be an entertaining movie, a good story. I thought that the massacre at Wounded Knee was one of those events that was handled well. It was nice to see it in human passing done right without making a big deal.

You spent most of this movie on a horse. Was it hard to train for the Western style of riding?
Fortunately, I had ridden when I was a boy quite a bit so it was a question of brushing up those skills. And I got a good head start by getting to do that on "Lord of the Rings."

You decided to do most of your own stunts in this film, correct?
I just wanted to give the director as much as I could because the closer he can film the character, if it's the actor doing the stunts, the better. You can see it's him, and you get more involved, I think, as an audience member. That simple style of filmmaking is not about a lot of cuts ... it's like "there he is, I'm watching him, there he goes."

Off the set you have many creative outlets, including painting, photography and poetry. Do you have a favorite?
No, I would just say that I don't separate them. Different ways of doing pretty much the same thing, paying attention, being here, being present and noticing what things look like and feel like to you. It's a subjective thing. We sort of go through our days and our lives not really paying attention at all. For me a way that I'm comfortable experiencing life ... is to do it for the camera, or pen or a paintbrush.

Since "The Lord of the Rings," have you been linked to many different projects?
Well, that's probably something that happens any time a person or people are in a project that has a lot of success at the box office. Just like people tend to link you romantically with all sorts of people you have never met. Sometimes it's funny, and then sometimes it's not funny, when it persists. I think it's just a function of movies ... you know it will pass as soon as something else is a big deal.

How is your teenage son handling your success?
We're good friends, and as a good friend he takes it with a grain of salt, and as a teenager who's my friend he has a healthy amount of disinterest and could care less about a certain amount of it, which I think it good. I certainly don't need him to be tied to and validated by what I do. He has to be into his own thing and he is. So that's cool.







































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