King takes the reins
Star puts down sword, climbs on horse for 'Hidalgo'
Author: Stephanie Snipes
Date: 09 Mar '04
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.
his new film, "Hidalgo," he plays Frank T. Hopkins, a
U.S. cavalry dispatch rider in the 1890s with a penchant for long-distance
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.)
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
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
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
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