Heroic VIGGO MORTENSEN is galloping from Middle Earth to the Arabian Desert in his new adventure movie 'Hidalgo,' hitting theaters this Friday.
"T.J. (the horse in the Hidalgo role) is a unique personality and seems to have opinions about everything," Viggo says. "He had disapproval, jealousy, possessiveness. In the movie, T.J. as Hidalgo really functions as the conscience of my character Frank T. Hopkins. Whenever he's in a quitting mood, it's always the horse who says, 'Come on, let's go.'"
Based on the true story of the greatest long-distance horse race ever run, 'Hidalgo' is a period piece about a wealthy Sheik (Golden Globe winner OMAR SHARIF) who invites an American (Viggo) and his mustang, Hidalgo, to enter the 3,000-mile race dubbed the "Ocean of Fire" in 1890. A race held for centuries, the Ocean of Fire is normally restricted to only the finest Arabian horses ever bred by the top royal families.
Viggo is Frank T. Hopkins, a cowboy and dispatch rider for the U.S. cavalry who is said to be the greatest rider in the West. The Sheik Riyadh decides to put this claim to the test by challenging the American against the world's greatest Bedouin riders -- some of whom are determined to prevent him from reaching the finish line, no matter what the cost. Soon the Ocean of Fire becomes not only a matter of pride and honor for Frank, but also a race for his and Hidalgo's very survival.
"I like the way director JOE JOHNSTON tells this in the old way," Viggo says. "He kind of tells it how HOWARD HAWKS would. He's like, 'Yeah, I got great cinematography, great landscapes, design, costumes, dialogue, a good cast and a good team, but I'm not going to let any aspect of the filmmaking stand out. I'm going to tell the story, respect the audience, and let them get what they get from it."
For a film that has a horse in practically every scene, it helped that Viggo had some riding experience. He reveals that he rode until about the age of 11 and it was being in the movies that got him back in the saddle. "It wasn't hard to get reacquainted," he says. "Although being older and stiffer, I tended to get a lot more sore than I did when I was a kid! I was also more weary and more conscious of the fact that if at 30 miles-per-hour I come down off this horse and hit a rock, I'm going to be hurting. Whereas when I was a boy I might have a big wreck and just get up, catch the horse and just start riding again. "
And Viggo says that although his character has faults he is open-mined and modest. "He's a tough and stubborn individual, but he's a decent individual. Whatever he lacks in knowledge, he more than makes up for by being curious and respectful of others."
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