It's quite a surprise to see Viggo Mortensen in the flesh. Gone is the manliness of his Lord Of The Rings character Aragorn. Viggo is genteel.
Dressed in a suit, silver tie and shirt so sharply pressed it could cut, he's so immaculate he ranks as one of the spiffiest celebrities I've ever seen.
But he's so well groomed and, to put it frankly, unremarkable, he looks like a businessmen who frequents the Heathrow Express with his laptop computer. It'd be easy to walk past star Viggo Mortensen without realising he's from one of the world's top film franchises.
However, his everyman qualities are refreshing — when someone pours him a glass of water, he gets them one back. The Hidalgo star is a publicist's dream.
As if to illustrate he says: "While filming Hidalgo in the middle of the Sahara desert I'd have to climb a sand dune to get phone reception to do interviews for The Lord Of The Rings."
The Danish star takes himself very seriously and only lets his hair down a couple of times in the interview.
He grins when asked about his Hidalgo horse TJ — whom he bought after production finished — and whether buying co-stars could become a habit.
"The humans haven't gone for that. There's no amount of money that would make them want to hang around with me after work. With TJ it was just a way to continue the friendship."
In Hidalgo, Mortensen plays cowboy Frank Hopkins who travels to Saudi Arabia with his eponymous horse to compete the life-threatening 3,000 mile Ocean of Fire race.
Some people aren't impressed as the film is highly fictionalised. "I'm happy to go with 100% myth if it's a good story and when it harks back to classic Hollywood adventures," he says.
"The fact is that it is about a person and a horse that existed. I place a lot of importance on that. They've said that it is insulting to Muslims and Arabs. All you have to do is see the movie to know that's not true. The people complaining are riders and big fans of the Arabian breed. It's ironic — they're like Hopkins' opponents at the beginning of the race."
Mortensen said he was honoured to work with Omar Sharif, who played a sheikh in his new film.
"He's known for his love of horses," he says. "Every time he makes money he buys racehorses that don't usually win anything, so he must really like them. It was a lot of fun to be able to sit close to him — not only working with him but pestering him with questions about David Lean and Peter O'Toole."
Mortensen talks about the hazards he encountered while filming.
"There were days when it was really dusty, and it was tough on the horses and the people," says the 45-year-old. "The most dangerous thing was the start of the race, because if you have a hundred horses standing close together you're asking for trouble — especially when they're all stallions. Once they all take off it can be disastrous."
The star likes art, photography and writing and indulges in them when he can on film sets like Hidalgo's in the Sahara Desert.
"I wrote quite a bit, but there wasn't much time to paint," he
says. "I was either sleeping or sitting on a horse — but
I had a couple of cameras hidden in the saddlebags. It's a way to
change gears for a bit when you go back to work you feel rested somehow."
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