Viggo Mortensen

Author: Thomas Chau
Publication: Cinema Confidential
Date: 04 Mar '04

It 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.

Mortensen 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 separate films?
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."

What 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 legend?
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 confirmed 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 cowboy.

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!’

Was 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 place with 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 American 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.

Since 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]

What 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.

If 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.







































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