Riding high from the phenomenal success of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, King Aragorn himself Viggo Mortensen returns to the screen in another heroic role in Touchstone Pictures’ epic action-adventure Hidalgo.
Directed by Jurassic Park III’s Joe Johnston, Hidalgo is an epic action-adventure and one man’s journey of personal redemption. Onetime cowboy Frank T. Hopkins (Mortensen) was once billed as a living legend, but in fact the glory days for Hopkins and his beloved horse, a mustang named Hidalgo, are long past. Outcasts from their own land, Frank and Hidalgo both have something to prove when Hopkins became the first American invited to enter the Ocean of Fire, a grueling 3,000-mile survival race across punishing terrain of the Arabian Desert. With his competitors vowing victory, the race becomes not only a matter of pride and honor, but a fight for survival as they attempt the impossible.
“This is a classic hero’s journey,” says Mortensen. “Hopkins has to leave his familiar surroundings, and overcome, in a strange place, the obstacles and dangers in his path.
“What’s really interesting about the Ocean of Fire race is that it doesn’t really matter who wins in the end,” Mortensen continues. “It’s a question of getting through it, and what happens to a person as a result of going through that experience.”
The role Frank T. Hopkins required an actor who could portray a complex emotional range while also tackling serious athletic feats. As this would not be an ordinary film role, the film required an extraordinary actor, one who could carry a film that would take on epic proportions. Director Joe Johnston turned to Mortensen, an actor who is a veteran of more than 30 feature films and most recently shot to stardom as Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. With rave reviews and extensive riding experience from those films, Mortensen was one of the few actors who had both the acting and the riding expertise needed for the role.
“I knew Viggo had proven himself a great actor before I ever met him. And I knew he could carry the film. What I didn’t know was the subtlety he’d be able to give the character of Frank Hopkins,” says Johnston. “Viggo had studied the evolution of his character and where he was emotionally in every scene before we ever started shooting.
“Frank is an outsider,” says Mortensen. “This is a man, a cowboy, who’s probably never even seen the ocean, and now he’s got to hack it in a 3,000-mile race in the Arabian Desert. He doesn’t know if he can cut it. And he’s at a point in his life when whatever arrogance or confidence he had is pretty much gone, and all he has is his experience with his horse.”
Mortensen was fascinated with the David-versus-Goliath nature of the story. “The odds are stacked against Frank,” he continues. “Compared to the Arabian horses, the mustang Hidalgo looks like a little dog. A pony, next to their steeds. But though the race is his redemption, it’s not winning the race that’s important—it’s that Frank is there at all.
“By the end of the story, I think you really appreciate the fact that as human beings, no matter how diverse the culture is and how far-flung the places you go to might be, we have a lot more in common than not with people,” concludes Mortensen.
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