Someone should make Viggo Mortensen an honorary Canadian. In addition to regular visits to B.C. and Alberta while living in the Pacific northwest several years ago, the Lord of the Rings and Hidalgo star has shot a handful of movies here -- including the locally filmed 1989 drama, The Reflecting Skin -- and is back in Toronto soon to shoot David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.
But what really qualifies Mortensen for a Canadian passport is his passion for our country's beloved sport.
"I'm a long-suffering Canadiens fan," says the 45-year-old actor, who has stuck by the Montreal hockey team since high school. "I used to watch them in their golden era. They were amazing. Over the years, it's often been tough to be a Canadiens fan, like it is to be a New York Mets fan, but I've hung in there."
Mortensen's normally lackadaisical drawl brightens when the Calgary Flames run for the cup is brought up. "They were really good," he says. "I thought they were going (to win the Stanley Cup). I was really shocked when they didn't."
Mortensen could probably go on talking about hockey for hours, but he's on a tight schedule today, promoting this week's DVD release of Hidalgo. The movie, which has been described in some circles as a cross between Raiders of the Lost Ark and Lawrence of Arabia, is based on the writings and life story of Old West cowboy Frank Hopkins, who, as legend has it, raced his mustang Hidalgo through the treacherous Arabian desert.
Though it was by no means a bomb, Mortensen feels Hidalgo could have been a bigger hit had it not been for a successful smear campaign against the Disney film.
Before the film was released in the theatres, the American Long Riders' Guild sent an open letter to Disney calling into question the authenticity of Hopkins story and accusing the company of misleading the public.
"I think more people would have seen it if a couple of people, for ego and political reasons, hadn't tried to (discredit the film)," says Mortensen. "It was a little frustrating to put up with respectable journalists saying that (Hopkins) supposedly didn't live in the west and didn't ride horses and these photos of him are supposedly not him, which I knew to be unfounded. It was damaging to some degree. There's a site (www.frankhopkins.com) and you'll find out a lot of information there. For me, a lot of the information I learned about him was on native reservations. People still talk about him. There's an oral tradition ... and they openly connect him not only to their horses, but to their culture."
Hidalgo is Mortensen's only high profile role following his seminal performance as warrior Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Being slightly choosy with his roles is one reason, Mortensen hasn't been seen much on the big screen, but he admits it's not something he can keep up for too long.
"There's a limit to how picky you can be," he explains. "There's a certain point when if you haven't worked for a few years, you sort of run out of money and you can't be as picky."
Mortensen has also kept himself busy with art, poetry and music endeavours. In September, the ruggedly handsome actor will release an instrumental CD, entitled Please Tomorrow, on which he collaborated with son Henry and Japanese guitarist Buckethead.
"It's about the work in the end," he says. "That's the enduring thing. It's doing it and learning from it that's the most fun, I found. I love being in the recording studio and seeing what happens and the surprises that do happen.
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