The king is fidgety.
In an elegant, dimly lit ballroom in Dallas' Adolphus Hotel, the light from a single heavily draped window illuminates Viggo Mortensen, star of multi-Oscar-winning The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and the newly released Hidalgo.
But he seems more interested in chatting about his book of photographs, a sumptuous collection called The Horse Is Good, than sitting still and posing for them. The handsome, soft-spoken Mortensen may have perceived acting as more of a hobby at one point in his life, but after a career spent toiling in supporting roles, his turn in the Rings trilogy has transformed him into an international superstar -- and, more important, a leading man.
In Hidalgo, Mortensen plays real-life cowboy legend Frank T. Hopkins, a half-American-Indian endurance racer who -- along with his faithful mustang, Hidalgo -- were the first American and non-Arabian horse to enter the 3,000-mile Lake of Fire race across the Arabian desert.
That Mortensen was already an experienced horseman -- not including his extended stint in the saddle while filming Rings in New Zealand -- adds authenticity to the physically demanding role. It might also help that he becomes so attached to his four-legged co-stars that he has taken home his last three rides -- two from Rings and now the spunky little paint named T.J. that's better known as Hidalgo.
"He was just a fascinating individual and I wanted to stay in touch with him," Mortensen says.
Here are a few more words straight from the horseman's mouth:
How challenging was it to share so much screen time with a co-star
who might not take direction as well as, say, a computer-animated Balrog?
You made some pretty radical climate shifts during the filming, from
midwinter South Dakota to the sand-blown heat of the Sahara Desert,
and all while sitting on top of a whole lot of unpredictable horseflesh.
Was the shooting of Hidalgo as grueling as it looks?
Having some riding experience means you can do a lot of the stuff that's
usually pushed off on stuntmen. But the film's bareback final stretch
also must have been terrifying, if not more than a little painful.
OK, 11 [Oscar] nominations for Return of the King, but not one for
acting. Were you at all disappointed at the overlooking of you or your
You mentioned not having watched the Academy Awards in several years
[he was also absent at the awards when Rings took home all 11 Oscars
last weekend]. Do you think a sweep will mean anything in the long run?
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