Mortensen Man of the Week
Date: 28 Jun '04
why we like him?
The rugged and individualistic Viggo Mortensen proves that being
an artist doesn't automatically make you a wimp. Few men could reconcile
writing poetry with clobbering orcs, but somehow Mortensen pulls it
off with ease.
why is he famous?
Viggo Mortensen, a 20-year screen veteran, plays Aragorn, the future
king of Gondor, in the blockbuster The Lord of the Rings trilogy;
he also starred in Hidalgo (2004). Yet Mortensen is also known for
his poetry and photography, which predate his movie stardom.
overall rating: 88
Viggo Mortensen was born in New York City, but grew up in South America.
After returning to the States for high school and college, Mortensen
lived in Denmark, trying to find himself while working a variety of
odd jobs.Eventually, Mortensen returned to America (for a second time),
settled on acting, and quickly landed an important role in 1985's
romantic thriller, Witness. Steady, though largely unnoticed, work
followed in 1990s cinema, until Mortensen was cast to play Aragorn
in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, making him a genuine, though reluctant,
star and sex symbol. While most famous for his acting, the solitary
Mortensen is, in fact, accomplished in many arts. He has published
two volumes of poetry (and is working on a third), has recorded three
jazz albums, and is a noted painter and photographer.
personality & talent:
Viggo Mortensen isn't particularly gregarious; instead, he's introspective,
reserved and rather private. But that doesn't mean he isn't expressive
or thoughtful -- he simply prefers to express himself through his
artistic endeavors. Above all, Mortensen is dedicated and focused,
whether it's getting so under the skin of his characters that he won't
be aware of what's going on around him, or making sure that he spends
Halloween with his son (it's a tradition) by getting that day off
written into all his contracts. When it comes to talent, Mortensen
is a jack of all arts, if you will. His first interest was writing
and he still writes poetry in his spare time. He's an accomplished
horseman, a noted painter and photographer, and even a jazz musician.
Oh yeah, he's also an actor -- you just might have caught him in that
multi-Oscar winning LOTR thing everyone's been talking about.
woman magnetism: 87
Currently in his mid-40s, there's little doubt that Viggo Mortensen
still has the kind of charm that makes him hard for women to resist.
In 2002, he made the list of People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful
People in the World" list. In addition to English, Mortensen
also speaks fluent Spanish and Danish, giving him an added edge with
the ladies. Still, Mortensen looks at the recent female attention
that he's received from The Lord of the Rings and other projects from
a detached perspective. "It's not gonna last forever," he
observes, "and I guess one ought to say 'thank you' or accept
a compliment. It's not such an oppressive thing, really. It's strange."
accomplishments & fame:
Viggo Mortensen has much to be proud of. Not only has he climbed
to the top of the Hollywood heap, he's had a variety of accomplishments,
including starting his own publishing house, exhibiting his photographs,
and recording a number of jazz CDs. He's even entitled to a degree
from the university of hard knocks, having worked a variety of jobs,
from truck driver to waiter, in his youth. Despite his greater fame
in recent years, Viggo Mortensen isn't quite at the point of superstar
status. His name, even now, is not universally known, despite his
impressive film career, which spans nearly two decades. Yet people
know him when they see him, and he's the lone star of movies now,
like Hidalgo (2004) and Alatriste (2005). So maybe Mortensen's time
has finally come.
coolness factor: 85
Viggo Mortensen is as cool as they come. During the filming of The
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, for example, he broke a tooth and
two toes during the fight scenes; after shooting on The Lord of the
Rings and Hildalgo wrapped, he bought the horses that he rode in those
films. Mortensen, obviously, is the real deal. With such tenacity,
Mortensen has a knack for playing rough and tumble characters. From
gung-ho military types in movies like Crimson Tide and G.I. Jane,
to Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, Mortensen excels at being cool
-- with only enough sensitivity thrown in to prove that the characters
he plays are well-rounded people. And if that's not cool enough, he's
got his own action figure.
personal style: 84
Viggo Mortensen's style is kind of rugged yet laid-back. Almost invariably,
he can be seen in a button-down shirt with an open collar and a pair
of jeans -- like the reincarnation of the Marlboro Man. For colder
weather, though, he'll wear a turtleneck or fur-collared jacket. In
short, Mortensen blends American and Scandinavian elements to create
a unique look. Another trademark is Mortensen's seemingly perpetual
five o'clock shadow. While he certainly is clean-shaven when need
be, he often keeps the scruffy look he cultivated with characters
like Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings, and Mortensen is hard to recognize
without a good dusting of manly stubble.
Viggo Peter Mortensen, the eldest son of Viggo and Grace Mortensen,
was born in New York City, on October 20, 1958. When he was 2 years
old, Viggo moved to South America with his Danish father and American
mother, and soon, two more sons, Charles and Walter, were born. At
age 7, young Viggo was sent to boarding school in Argentina, but left
four years later when his parents divorced and Grace moved with her
children back to New York.
Mortensen went to Watertown High School in the early 1970s, excelling
both academically and athletically. After that, he attended St. Lawrence
University in Canton, New York, where he earned a degree in 1980. But
Mortensen was in need of purpose, and he moved to Denmark where he spent
time working odd jobs like truck driver, dock worker, and even flower
seller -- although he began to write poetry and short stories in his
In 1982, Mortensen moved back to New York, hoping to find satisfaction
and success as a writer. Instead, he was forced to wait tables and tend
bar, and he began to take acting classes at Warren Robertson's Theatre
Workshop for the next two years. In 1985, Mortensen debuted in Peter
Weir's Witness, playing a young Amish farmer. In 1987, Mortensen made
the inevitable move to Los Angeles. He appeared in Salvation! that same
year and married his co-star, Exene Cervenka. Their son, Henry, was
born in 1988.
Meanwhile, Mortensen continued to work steadily, if under the radar,
throughout the '90s. His credits include Carlito's Way (1993), Crimson
Tide (1995), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), Daylight (1996), G.I. Jane
(1997), A Perfect Murder (1998), and the remake of Psycho (1998). Mortensen
also published two books of poetry, and exhibited his photographs and
paintings (some of which even appeared in A Perfect Murder) during this
time. Yet his personal life was less successful: after 10 years of marriage,
Mortensen and Exene Cervenka divorced in 1997.
The next step in Mortensen's career came in 2000. After he starred
alongside Sandra Bullock in 28 Days, he was picked to replace actor
Stuart Townsend in the role of Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
At first, Mortensen was hesitant about taking over from someone else,
but at the insistence of his son Henry, who is a fan of the books, Mortensen
accepted. He went on to appear in all three films, The Fellowship of
the Ring (2001), The Two Towers (2002) and The Return of the King (2003),
and became a star in his own right. He moved on to star in Hidalgo (2004),
and took the title roles in Alatriste and A History of Violence (both
in 2005). Despite his dramatically increased fame, Mortensen, who is
rather introspective and private, continues with his other projects.
He founded Perceval Press in 2002, released three jazz CDs, and is an
accomplished equestrian. He visits Denmark every few months, and tries
to spend as much time as he can with his teenaged son.
What else do you need to know?