By Miguel Ángel Nepomuceno
Last Friday the star of the film Alatriste, who promises he'll come back to León very soon, lived an unforgettable day full of anecdotes and good moments.
With tiredness still showing in his eyes and wearing the T-shirt that the members of the capitán-alatriste forum had given him the day before, Viggo Mortensen received us on the cool Saturday morning under the same walls where Francisco de Quevedo, inseparable fellow of the already mythical Captain Alatriste, was imprisoned.
San Marcos is a building that has always attracted his attention. The day of his arrival he showed Yanes, with great interest, the wonderful panelled ceiling of the chapter house, and under the fascination of the Madrilenian director, he noted: "Well, you should see the choir stalls." Yet again the actor showed his great knowledge of the art and the history of the places he travels to.
"It has been amazing!" he told us. "I knew about the affection of the Leonese people but I would have never thought that they were going to bend over backwards for me in this way. I'm also very grateful for the distinctions granted by the City Council and León County Council. I want to tell them that I'll come back to Spain very soon and I'll take some time to go to León and be with all of them."
About all the events that were happening during the week, Viggo tells us that he kept himself informed in detail through the numerous pages of Diario de León. "It has been a great work. It's the newspaper with the most pages devoted to me and I want to thank you for that."
Joking about the disadvantages of appearing in the press so much the actor admitted that, even though that first interview published in this newspaper hadn't caused him any problem, actually it was (a problem) for the production company, for they had to battle with the rest of the media, which had been promised the piece of news in due course.
Our conversation inevitably centred on the huge success obtained the day of the premiere of Alatriste. "I do know that many people who had read the novels will hope to find some characters or situations that don't appear in it, but that's inevitable. Agustín was facing a long saga which he had to condense into just one script. Apart from that, I think it's a great film which will be well received. And I hope the same will happen when we present it in Toronto. It's a good story and Yanes deserves it."
Viggo Mortensen is an actor who doesn't create a character without thoroughly researching it before. Hence he had made a big effort to get his speech fluent and credible. "How does my voice sound?" he says, "because at first I felt strange." Viggo is aware that in Spain there's a great tradition of outstanding dubbing actors but he thinks that it's more valuable being able to listen to his own voice, something that, on the other hand, he considered to be a challenge. In this sense he wanted to point out the great work done by Juan Echanove, magnificent narrator, whose voice is used to open the film. "His perfect intonation is perhaps due to his theatrical origin. In theatre that's a very important quality."
The audience's reaction and especially the fact of knowing about the presence of some people who came from different parts of the world and in particular from Japan, make him think that the film can be well received even in those countries.
"The sensitivity of the Japanese people is very subtle. In some aspects the code of the samurai itself is quite similar to the code of honour followed by Alatriste's soldiers." These last words coincided with the presence, at our table, of three young ladies from Osaka who wanted to give him an extremely careful edition in Japanese of Pérez-Reverte's novel. Viggo showed a great interest in the fine work and especially in its drawings which, according to his admirers, were done by an artist who had researched in detail the History of Spain and its culture before doing them.
Having in our hands one of Pérez-Reverte's novels and regarding our question about whether he considered that in the film they had softened the language used by the characters in the novel, which is too much vulgar, the actor said he did. He even added that although they knew that was the common language during that time among the kind of people that Reverte refers to, Agustín had wanted to include just a fair amount of those words.
"I myself," he says, "had suggested Tano introduce some Leonese terms, but the idea was discarded because he made me see that it was more important that the audience could understand what was being said in a language that is closer to the current one. On the other hand this is a film where the looks and what's not said are more important than words."
A new hero
Some sectors of film critics have considered Viggo Mortensen as Harrison Ford's successor. Both actors have incarnated some kind of heroes that are based on fictional stories but representing a series of values which seem to be extremely necessary and required, judging by the number of followers of the movie sagas they star in. Curiously they both met in one film, Peter Weir's Witness, where a very young Viggo had a small part. "It was the only time we worked in the same film, but I always thought he was a great actor, very serious and professional. As for being his successor...?" (smiles). "On the other hand," he keeps on telling us, "I'm not too much in contact with the rest of the actors, because I don't frequent that world Hollywood makes use of." However, we all know that in the case of Alatriste, as happened before in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, his relationship with the rest of the actors and crew went beyond the mere shooting. "It's one of the things I like the most about these films, that being ensemble movies it seems we all are part of a great family. After having worked hard for hours during the shootings we still got together to have some drinks and talk about some aspects of the film and other things. It was a beautiful relationship which I'm still proud of." From Alatriste, besides the handkerchief "with the colours of the flag of León", like Mortensen pointed out, (but, curiously, also of San Lorenzo de Almagro) he gets, according to his own words, some very good friends.
La Madrugá (tr. note: march used during the Holy Week processions)
Same as it happens in the film, our conversation ends with Roque Baños' music. "I listened to the soundtrack yesterday, without the images," he says, "and I think it's tremendously powerful. I'm very happy to be able to say that it matches up to any of the great Hollywood scores." With regard to the substitution of the theme The Fallen Hero with Abel Moreno's march La Madrugá in the final sequences that close the film, the actor admitted that it was a decision of Yanes himself, to whom that music, besides being very familiar to him, perfectly fitted what he thought those last moments of battle should express.
"For my part, I would have let it play for a bit longer before the one that Baños composed for the film entered."
While we were holding this relaxed conversation some groups of admirers who didn't want to let slip such an extraordinary opportunity to get some pictures signed, started to shyly come closer to our table. His presence, which almost went unnoticed during his first visits to our city, has been turning into a sudden popularity he now can barely sneak off from. Popularity that the seventh art muse grants in a capricious way, but in Viggo Mortensen's case, he can be sure, it's preceded and supported by his human quality, his proximity and his commitment to the given word.
See you soon, traveller of the world, Leonese at heart!