FOR a man who stars in one of the most successful movies of all time, actor Viggo Mortensen is impressively reined in about his newfound fame and fortune.
The third instalment of the epic Lord Of The Rings trilogy, in which he took one of the starring roles as Aragorn, may have swept the board at this years Oscars, but the self-effacing actor is genuine when he insists he still doesn't see himself as a Hollywood player.
"I think I got lucky," says the softly-spoken star. "I've been around for a long time and been working on and off for 20 years, and then something comes along and you just get lucky," he adds with a shrug.
His reluctance to flaunt the phenomenal Lord of the Rings success has a lot to do with the fact that international fame has come relatively late to the 45-year old star.
A veteran of more than 40 movies, including Witness, GI Jane and Carlito's Way, it's only now with his latest film, Hidalgo, which opens on Friday April 16, that Viggo's name appears above the credits. But even that fails to impress the down-to-earth star.
"I don't really think the director or actor should ever be above the title," he suggests. "I'm a fan of those old-fashioned movies that don't show off anybody or any film-making aspect, but just tell the story."
Viggo even admits that the blockbusting Return Of The King, which took 11 Oscars at this years event, wouldn't have got his vote as best film of 2003.
Instead that honour would go to the low budget New Zealand flick Whale Rider, about a young Maori girl's struggle to win her grandfather's approval.
"I think that was one of the best movies I saw last year," he enthuses. "It was a heroic journey. It's as much of an epic journey as any other and has mythological underpinnings and is also very moving."
Viggo adds that he was more than ready to go back to basics after the groundbreaking special effects wizardry of Lord Of The Rings.
"I think the problem now is that you've got to do something new, you've got to go special effects crazy," he explains. "Or it's got to be a showier kind of acting. I don't know if they feel the pressure but you do find actors and actresses going way over the top just to get attention for themselves and that may not be appropriate for the movie.
"It may not help the story but it gets them some work and some money and some magazine coverage. It can be interesting sometimes and funny. But is it something that I'm interested in going and seeing more than once? Probably not," he states.
For that reason Viggo leapt at the chance to make Hidalgo, a relatively low-budget affair compared to Lord Of The Rings.
Based on a true story, Viggo stars as Frank Hopkins, who along with his famed horse Hidalgo, journeyed to the Middle East to take part in The Ocean of Fire, the greatest long distance horse race ever, across the Arabian Desert.
The role couldn't have been more perfect for Viggo who is passionate about horses and an accomplished rider. He admits he couldn't wait to saddle up and insisted on doing most of the stunts himself.
"I like to do my own stunts. I did most of them in Lord Of The Rings as well," he says. "I think it gives the director more options. He can film closer and doesn't have to pull away because it's me, not a stuntman.
"But I do know there is a risk, even if you are confident. I've ridden since I was a boy on and off and I've always been comfortable with horses, but there were a couple of times when I regretted being so gung-ho like going bareback on the horse," he adds with a grimace. "It's pretty hard to control a horse when you don't have a saddle."
In fact Viggo was so taken with his four-legged co-stars, he ended up taking one of them home with him. And it's not the first time he's left a movie set with an equestrian souvenir. He's also the proud owner of two horses, Kenny and Uraeus, which he rode on the Lord of the Rings shoot.
"I'm a sucker for horses," he says with some understatement. "But I like all animals. I think that I've been lucky with both the horses and the people that I have worked with. The same thing applies to the people as to the horses, if you ask politely and earn their respect, the job is a lot less strenuous and you get better results. "
Born in New York to a Danish father and an American mother, Viggo actively shuns the Hollywood limelight to spend time on his Californian farm, where his son Henry from his marriage to punk singer Exene Cervenka is a regular visitor.
It's there that the multi-talented star indulges in his other passions - poetry, painting and photography.
"They're are all just extensions of me, how I perceive things, they are my way of communicating," he explains of his creative pursuits.
And with so much to occupy him, it's no wonder Viggo Mortensen isn't in the least concerned that Aragorn, Middle Earth and those award-winning little Hobbits will soon be a distant memory.
"There are very few actors who get the chance to be in a project like Lord Of The Rings, it's not only an epic adventure, but it's moving and transcends national boundaries and points of view," he says with a contented smile.
"But as for the future? I have no plan. Maybe I should have a career plan but I don't. I usually wait and hope the right thing will find me. "
It seems to have stood him in very good stead so far.
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