Author: Thomas Chau
Publication: Cinema Confidential
Date: 04 Mar '04
is the first time Viggo Mortensen has spoken about a piece of work
that he’s done other than his enormously popular trilogy "The
Lord of the Rings," which has kept him involved for more than three
years. The final installment of the trilogy, "The Lord of the Rings:
The Return of the King," won 11 Oscars (including Best Picture,)
just days after arriving in Tinseltown to discuss his newest film "Hidalgo," a
horse-galloping adventure set in the Sahara desert.
If you consider his list of credits, Mortensen is an actor who can
easily manage horses and is super resilient to rough terrain. Mortensen,
however, is more than just an outdoors hunk. More accurately, he is
that rare courageous action star with a brain. His father, a businessman
with experience in agricultural development, raised Mortensen with his
mother on a ranch in South America where he learned how to ride horses
from an early age.
chatted with Cinema Confidential in Los Angeles about horses, shooting
the project, and his character in "Hidalgo."
Were you going back and forth all over the world to do work on two
I was shooting and doing press. I remember several nights where I
would be in the Sahara desert and going up on a sand dune with a cell
phone and doing an interview for The Two Towers [the second installment
of Rings]. Everyone involved with it from the cast to the director participated
in three years of press tours that never really seemed to end.
What was the most demanding obligation made on you during that time?
We shot all day in the Mojave desert for "Hidalgo," and after
shooting I had to drive from the desert to the nearest available airport
to catch a red-eye to New York in order to do interviews for "Rings."
is the one question that you’ve been asked most often about "The
Lord of the Rings"?
Is it going to win the Oscar?’ Whether it does or not, there will
be people that will complain about it winning or not winning.
How do you answer something that is speculative?
I’ve stayed up late at night and I got a combination of a slide
rule and adding up the figures. I came up with a surprising and simple
conclusion. [Dryly] Probably in almost every category the candidate
that gets the most votes is probably going to win. [Laughs]
What research did you do on your character Hopkins?
I did what I could. It was an obstacle at first because there’s
not a lot written about him. It’s not what is written about him
that is most interesting. It’s the stories that I heard about
him from oral tradition.
Did you hear some first-hand testimonies from people that knew his
Yes, there are varying stories carried down the line from generations
of people. There’s a long-standing oral tradition among white
ranchers, mustang enthusiasts and Indians on the reservations on
Hopkins. There were some fascinating truths about this guy that were
by our on-set [historians] but also some lies about him, too.
When you were growing up did you dream of becoming a cowboy?
I wasn’t the most rabid enthusiast but the friends I knew wanted
to be cowboys or Vikings. I have to admit I was more drawn to the
When you were living on the South American ranch as a child, did you
ride in a saddle or bareback?
I rode bareback as a child. Of course when you’re young, you never
worried about falling off. I wasn’t ever afraid of death or getting
hurt. Throughout the making of the film, I was wary. There were times
where I thought, ‘If I fall off this is a lot of rough!’
this a harsher shoot in terms of weather compared to what you’ve
done in past work?
After your experience in shooting "Lord of the Rings," everything’s
sort of relative I suppose. There are difficulties with length of shooting,
the climate, hardships and all of that. Being in the Sahara desert was
tough. It was especially difficult on the horses because they weren’t
raised in that environment. Some days are harder than others. No
matter how hard it got, it was a shoot in an unbelievably beautiful
horses all around me. And I was on horseback all the time so what
was there to complain about?
What is the hardest kind of acting scene for you to do?
Well, the past three years I’ve gotten the chance to try every
trick in the book. I think it’s a little harder to do scenes by
yourself when the actors are not unavailable or you are speaking
your lines in front of a blue screen. I agree with Sidney Lumet, a fine
director, the work consists of making the best possible preparations
for the accidents that could happen. In other words, be as ready
as you can be.
Is the first key to good acting means paying attention?
Yes. All good acting starts with good reacting. If you don’t have
the person there then it’s all up to you.
you’ve done your share playing brave warriors and heroes,
what other stories about heroes do you admire?
A little movie like "Whale Rider," which I really loved, is
just as much an epic hero quest as "Lord of the Rings" or "Hidalgo." Everybody
in their life goes through stages where they’re challenged in
big and in little ways. Becoming your own person is what the hero quest
is all about. It’s whether you keep your dignity and composure
through difficult times that is telling of who you are. And when you
don’t succeed, do you have the common sense to admit your faults
or the courtesy to admit when you fail? That’s what these hero
stories are about.
Where do you go to get centered spiritual or otherwise?
Away from people. [Laughs]
do you want this film "Hidalgo" to say?
I don’t want this movie to say anything. I’m averse to telling
you or anybody else what to think about whatever movie I’ve done.
If somebody asked me something specific, then I’ll talk with that
person and agree or disagree in a discussion. What I like about this
movie is that it speaks for itself. The message extracted can be
interpreted in a number of interesting ways.
there’s one mistake that you’ve made in your acting
career that you learned something valuable from what was it?
Too long a list! [Laughs] That’s my answer, too long a list.