Viggo Mortensen
Date: 03 Mar '04

Everybody knows Viggo Mortensen as the Lord of the Rings trilogy's returning king, Aragorn, but with Hidalgo, a horse-racing epic that hits theaters Friday, the veteran actor is top-lining a big-budget release after spending years doing supporting work in studio films and starring in the occasional indie flick. Funny how a billion-dollar-grossing, Oscar-winning trilogy will change a career trajectory. In Hidalgo, Mortensen plays real-life long-distance horse racer and U.S. Cavalry dispatcher Frank T. Hopkins, who entered a competition called the Ocean of Fire, a 3,000-mile survival race across the Arabian Desert. The film co-stars legendary actor Omar Sharif (Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago), is written by John Fusco (Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron), and is directed by Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III). Mortensen visited Seattle the day after the Toronto stop on his Hidalgo publicity tour, which will take him to more cities, believe it or not, than his Lord of the Rings promo trip. As learned, when a big name is traveling the globe and hitting seemingly every major city on the map, it's tough to get more than a few minutes with him. And this may be the last time we see Mortensen for a while — he's currently not signed on to any upcoming projects, nor is he making any definite movie plans any time soon. Here then, are two short questions (and two very long answers) with Viggo Mortensen.

What drew you to John Fusco's script?
I just liked that it was, potentially, a rousing adventure story, a classic heroic journey, not unlike Lord of the Rings, but from a different point of view. … I thought if this is done in a respectful way — I guess it could have been done in many different ways. It could have lent more toward making it sort of a jingoistic exercise. Sort of "a crusading cowboy goes and kicks ass in the Middle East." It could also have been a really heavy-handed … message story. What I like about the way Joe Johnston told this is that he's able to tell an entertaining, thought-provoking story and [still] respect the audience. I signed up for this, and we shot it all before the recent invasion of Iraq. Our last few days of shooting were just as that was happening. You know, there are people who have said that "Oh, well, they're capitalizing on that. Sending a cowboy over to the Middle East, riding against a bunch of Arabs and Muslims, and, oh yeah, I know what this is." Some people have said that. There was one lady in Toronto, a Muslim reporter, and I said, "Well, you saw the movie," and she said, "Well, yeah, I had to see it." She had this poker face, so it took me a while to figure out how she felt. She said, "Yeah, well, it's my job, and it would have been unprofessional of me to show up here [without having seen it]." And [I said], "What did you think?" And she says, "Well, I went into that movie knowing that I wouldn't like it and that I wouldn't recommend it to my friends or family because it would be offensive." And I said, "And what did you think?" And she said, "I completely changed my mind a little ways into the movie. … I was relieved to find that my culture … was treated respectfully" — as if it was no big deal to do so. Really, it ought to be that way.

As an actor, what are some of the challenges you face in portraying a real person on-screen?
I try to be respectful to what I can learn about him. In the case of Frank Hopkins, it's not just what's written, which is limited in that it's mostly specialized equine history. … People [have written] about his forward thinking in terms of appreciating the mustang as a breed. … His approach to racing — he was known as much for taking good care of his horses as he was for winning. I found it equally instructive to [pay attention to] the oral tradition. There's an oral tradition, stories about Hopkins, Hidalgo, and other horses that have been handed down [among the Dakota people]. It's really interesting to hear that. There was a woman, who was 94 at the time, and she still talked about having met him as a little girl. I also have in mind that this is myth. And there are a lot of the things that [are] expanded on or changed … [that] are metaphor, [that] are helpful in highlighting certain values or ideas. Our identity as a nation is largely based on myth. It's storytelling. Making up stories. Exaggerating the accomplishments of extraordinary individuals. You see it all the time, whether it's John Kennedy or George Washington. I'm also aware of the fact that myth can be misapplied. You see that touched on in an interesting way [in the movie] with Buffalo Bill. I think his portrayal is really balanced, because he was a really good horseman … someone who really knew the Wild West. But at the same time you see the businessman. Myth is sometimes used in the wrong way; you saw the Germans do it in the '30s using Nordic mythologies to justify unjustifiable programs and actions, and you saw the Italians do it. Mussolini did it as far as the ideals of ancient Rome. You see Bush and Reagan do it with the myth of the cowboy. And that turns people off. They think of cowboys as being individualists, whose individualism is predicated on preventing others from being individuals. Which is not the cowboys I've met and the ones I've worked with on this movie — they're not that way.

Author: Mike Standish







































Message Board - join us
About Us
Members Monthly