This is a translation of the webchat that Viggo did for the El Mundo website on the day that he was promoting A Dangerous Method in Madrid.
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Has Freud changed your life?
Every character changes your life because you learn something new. Even without being aware of it. In the case of Freud specifically, I learned a lot not just as an actor but as a person, not just about his theories and ideas but also about what he was like. I had the idea that he was a very repressed person, very academic, shrewd, intelligent, with revolutionary ideas, but what I didn't know is that he was such an interesting conversationalist, with a very good sense of humor. Discovering that was important for me, to create the character. He was a likeable person, a family man, with a lot of friends. They got together all the time; he loved to talk with people. He enjoyed a good joke, satire... Wordplay and good jokes delighted him. We were able to include an ironic tone in the script. That helped me a great deal in giving him a natural manner.
Good day, Viggo. To create a character as deep as Freud, did you have to read his work and try to read his psychological imprint between the lines?
I didn't have to, but that kind of preparation work always interests me. I go deep down. It's one of the reasons I get along so well with Cronenberg; he's similar. We exchange hundreds of emails before filming, sharing everything we've learned. We always do it. He enjoys his trade very much, and I enjoy mine: telling stories through film. He knows my way of working and I, his.
Mr. Mortensen, right now you're doing a play. How are you able to play such a complex character every night without letting it affect you emotionally?
I've never had that problem. It doesn't bother me to take the character home, or whatever he might be thinking. It interests me. Life is short and sooner or later we're going to be forgetting everything. I'm not in any hurry to forget anything on purpose. Not in my job or in life.
Many of us who follow you haven't been able to get tickets for the play you're performing in Madrid. Are they going to be able to extend the run, and if that's not the case, when will we be able to see you again, live?
There are scheduling complications, but we're trying to add at least a couple of days. There's an interest in having us go on tour, but I don't know if it will be possible because of scheduling problems. But maybe there'll be some more performances.
Good day from Seville, Viggo, here come the questions: Do you think Cronenberg has made his least "Cronenbergian" film with A Dangerous Method, or do you instead think he's still dealing with the same themes, but this time through a more 'formal' lens? How far will Fassbender go? Were you his mentor like in the movie, or didn't he need that?
There are people who say, "This isn't a Cronenberg movie", but I think it's much along the same lines as his other movies. He forgets about what he's done and approaches every story as if it were the first. It didn't surprise me at all that sooner or later he'd do this movie. His previous movies had things that had a lot to do with [this movie]. The preoccupation with truth, with our fears, life, death, sex... Calling things by their name, without disguise, he's always done that. Getting straight to the point. It's still a Cronenberg movie, one of the best in my opinion.
Have you ever thought what you would say if you won an Oscar?
In what language do you feel more comfortable acting: English or Spanish?
I spent my childhood in Argentina speaking Spanish, thinking in Spanish. When I was 11, I left for the USA to an area where there were no Spanish-speaking people. Now that I have shot four films in Spanish, including the last Argentinian one, Todos tenemos un plan, and living in Madrid and speaking Spanish...I have always felt comfortable in the two languages. The same in both. I feel free expressing myself in both of them.
What do you like about Madrid?
Too many things to tell them all now. It has its good sides and its less good sides, like any other city, but Madrid seems interesting culturally and socially to me. I like to walk around town. I like the sky very much. And the people.
What about Eastern Promises 2? Cronenberg says he has a script he likes very much. If that´s so, will we see Nikolai and Kiril again?
It´s a more and more likely possibility. If the money to do the film can be gotten and everything fits...It´s always hard for Cronenberg to get the money to make his next film. I don´t know why it´s so hard for him to get it; I don´t understand it. That´s why three years go by between films. He would like to shoot every year. He always has two or three projects in preproduction. The sequel to Eastern Promises is possible; the script is very good. Luckily I want to work with him and he with me.
Mr. Mortensen, what are we going to find in the cinema when we go to see A Dangerous Method? What does a role as different as this one bring to the life of an actor?
I think you are going to enjoy yourselves. Maybe you´ll feel a bit uncomfortable every now and then. The way he deals with the period and the visual work are going to surprise you. The irony, the sense of humour, the subjects some people call abnormal, unsettling, if you are...You are going to enjoy yourselves more than you think. It´s not a dry movie.
If this poem is yours... "You sweat/ in your sleep/ in the rented bed/lost summer cloud/pierced by a jet/heard only when it's gone" Why don't you write more?
I write a lot, but I don't publish all the time. I hope to have a new collection of poetry shortly. I spend a little more time with my publishing house, helping edit other people's work. But I'm always writing.
Which of the characters you've played has been the most difficult?
Up until now, I have to say that doing Freud has been the biggest challenge I've had as an actor. It was hard for me at first to find the way to resemble him and to talk as much and as eloquently as he did. It was a nice challenge.
Dear Viggo, was your vocation as an actor always clear to you or was it a late or gradual discovery? Did you find family support before embarking on a profession that is unstable by definition, or did you have to rely on your own strength to maintain your goal? An actress who is struggling to overcome (and here we get into psychological concepts) the patterns or determining factors of a hyper-traditional family (lawyers, doctors, civil servants, etc.) is asking you. So many questions, right? How did you survive at the beginning of your career? Actors like you inspire me to carry on. I admire your talent, your humanism, coherence and the reputation as a good person that precedes you.
Compared, for example, to Javier Bardem, who comes from a family with a long tradition, it came late to me. I have no one in my family. As a child, I never thought I was going to be an actor. It´s something that I like more and more. I have the good luck of loving my trade. I like my job.
Viggo you strike me as a multifaceted artist and a citizen of the world. However, in which art form do you express yourself better, and in which country do you feel more comfortable?
All the artistic mediums are branches of the same tree. I see art as a way of conversing, of communicating with the world, remembering what is happening to me, processing what I feel, what I see. I don´t have a favourite medium. I see all of them as different ways to do the same thing: to look and to tell. I think that travelling is the most powerful weapon against war, hatred, racism and intolerance in general. I like to find a way to feel comfortable wherever I am.
Dear Mr. Mortensen, first of all, [I want] to confess that I am a great admirer of your work as an actor. I would like to ask you about the responsibilities that actors have (like other personalities such as elite sports figures or musicians, etc.) as far as their influence on average citizens. Do you think that actors are obligated to use this influence for some appropriate purpose? Given the times we're in regarding uncertainty in the future and the lack of reference points, what role could all of you play? Warmest regards. P.S. I still remember you playing Diego Alastriste, that great performance in a film that was not at the [same] level as you or the character.
An actor has no more or less responsibility or obligation to say what he thinks about politics and society than any other citizen. It's a question of personal choice, of your own conscience.
León hasn't seen you for some time. When are you coming back here?
I was [there] recently. I'll return during the winter. It's impossible now with the theatre. It's a part of the world that I like a lot.
Which is more difficult for a present-day actor, finding a good script or performing in front of a blue screen?
Finding a good script. As usual.
My question is more of a congratulations for the magnificent performance in Purgatorio. I hope that you give us more theatre! And thanks for the valiant Perceval Press website.
You're welcome. It's a pleasure to be able to publish interesting books and also to be able to do theatre after so many years of not having been on stage.
Hi, Viggo. After the polemics that were unleashed , can you better explain your point of view about forgiveness and the victims of ETA?
The problem, as always in some media, is that they don't present a person's response in its entirety. If you listen to everything I said, I'm saying the same thing today: there is nothing that you can't forgive in life. The question is, are we going to do it? Do we feel capable of doing it? Are we disposed to do it? For me, it's undeniable that forgiveness is a positive thing. Only good things can come out of asking for and granting forgiveness.
Mr. Mortensen, the filming of The Hobbit has begun in New Zealand. Have you felt a little nostalgic remembering the filming of The Lord of the Rings? Do you keep in touch with your companions from [that] shoot? I understand that you all even got the same tattoo.
Yes, all of us got a small tattoo that represented the word "nine" in the elvish language invented by Tolkien. We were the nine from the fellowship of the ring. It was an unforgettable experience shooting that film. And I keep in touch with several of the cast members. We meet from time to time and we always have a great time.
Since your role in Alatriste...Is it true you haven´t drawn your sword?
I´ve used a knife every now and then...
What do you like best about acting?
Helping to tell good stories.
First of all, I want to express my admiration. Congratulations, you are a true wizard of elegance. It´s a pleasure to observe how you have managed to deal with your professional career, and my appreciation for the way you deal with your physical and psychological appearance doesn´t lag behind either. My question is: What is the Mortensen "touch" in this character? How have you made him your own? Based on what characteristic?
Up to a certain point I share the character´s sense of humour, and the cigar box belonged to my Danish grandfather. He smoked cigars all day long, just like Freud. It can be seen in the film.
Mr. Mortensen, I saw you in a restaurant in Madrid and I congratulated you for your Eastern Promises Oscar nomination. Do you think that Freud and Cronenberg will achieve it for you this year? What other future projects do you have with the director? And on your own?
I would like to see Cronenberg nominated, who, surprisingly, in spite of his long and inimitable career, has never been nominated for an Oscar. I´d really like to see that. I think he deserves it. But I think that, unjustly, they´ll forget him again when the time comes for the nominations. About my projects: I´ve got two films that will come out next year, Todos tenemos un plan and On the Road.
First of all, to me you are one of the 10 best actors in the world, as much for your chameleon-like capacity to get into characters as for your acting talent. My question is, what is your opinion about current Spanish cinema, and when will we see you being directed by a Spanish director.
Like in every language or country, if there is a good story and they´d like to sign me up...If there is such luck, the sooner the better.
I know you paint, and some of your paintings have even been seen in your movies, such as A Perfect Murder, but who are the painters you reference? What painting would you be unable to make a copy of because of its difficulty?
I'd rather not mention any names, for fear of forgetting one. But when I did Alatriste I went to the Prado often for Velázquez and Flemish painting. And about copying: I'm not interested in copying or those who copy.
Which role do you prefer - the good guy or the bad guy?
Every character, like every person, has a good side and a not-so-good side.
Many thanks for all the interesting questions. I regret not having been able to answer all the ones that have come in, that keep coming in nonstop, but at some point we have to finish up this chat. This is that moment. I hope you all have a nice day, and that you'll take advantage of the opportunity to see Cronenberg's most recent movie on the big screen. It's worth the effort. You'll enjoy yourselves and you'll learn unexpected things, as I did making it.