For Viggo Mortensen, the War of the Rings Gets Serious

Source: New York Times

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Aragorn is a flawed hero.

That's Viggo Mortensen's assessment of his Lord of the Rings character. And, after absorbing J R R Tolkien's text and then spending nearly two grueling years in New Zealand portraying the man who would be king in Peter Jackson's film trilogy, he ought to know.

"Like all of us, Aragorn has to try to find his own way," Mortensen says. "He part resents that he doesn't have control of his own will or own destiny, but I think there's also a certain amount of self-doubt and fear involved, and hesitation to take on all of these great and unknown challenges.

"All of this is thrust upon him simply because of his lineage and nothing else," the actor continues. "It doesn't have anything to do with who he is as a person and what he's done as a leader. At the same time, he understands the need to do something, and he's very aware of the fact that in Middle-earth there are no other men who've traveled as much as he has, who have an understanding of the different cultures and languages, and who realize the benefits of unifying all these people against Sauron, against a common enemy.

"With that goes a lot of introspection, and I think that's a quality in all good leaders," he adds. "A healthy amount of self-doubt is good. You see a lot of that self-doubt in The Two Towers."

If Aragorn is a reluctant savior, Mortensen is a reluctant movie star. He's not showy, but rather serious and blunt, and he doesn't dress like a movie star. Sitting for an interview at New York's Regency Hotel shortly before the film's December 18 release, he's wearing black jeans, no shoes and a green jacket over a white T-shirt that reads, in his own magic-marker scrawl, "No more blood for oil."

Given his penchant for deep thinking - Mortensen is also a professional painter and photographer, as well as a published poet - the actor may have connected with Aragorn's self-doubt more than the character's heroism.

"I don't know if that was consciously what I did," Mortensen says, leaning forward and stroking the 5 o'clock shadow on his face. "I always try to make whomever I'm playing as human as possible. Where there's potential for a character to be a hero, there's potential for cowardice, and where there's light there's always going to be dark.

"Just the story itself attracted me to The Lord of the Rings," he says. "I liked all the connections with myth, ritual and archetypes. All those things that fed Tolkien as he wrote his book fed us as we made the movies.

"The book is such a gold mine of information about those rituals and symbols and about the architecture," the actor adds. "There's so much to learn or revisit or soak in. That's what interested me, more than the opportunity to play Aragorn's self-doubt or heroism, more than the notion of good vs. evil."

Mortensen sits back.

"A movie has to be sold that way, as a battle of good vs. evil," he continues. "And maybe the films are being edited in such a way as to be more black-and-white about the good vs. evil than Tolkien explored it in the book. You lose some of the nuances and details when you go from the book format to a movie.

"On the other hand," he says, "films are unlimited in that you can create the world and show people, visually, what they could only imagine from the books."

Though some of The Two Towers is given over to Aragorn's romance with the elf Arwen (Liv Tyler) and to his flirtation with Eowyn (Miranda Otto), the brave niece of King Theoden (Bernard Hill), the bulk of it follows Aragorn, Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and Gimli (John Rhys-Davies) as they fight to save Rohan and its people - among the last remnants of humanity in Middle-earth - from the forces of Saruman (Christopher Lee).

Mortensen spent months shooting battle sequences, including three-and-a-half months of rain-soaked night shoots for the climactic Helm's Deep siege. However, he downplays any talk of injuries or exhaustion.

"There was an overall sense of camaraderie among the crew, stuntmen and actors," he says, "and a willingness to go the extra mile every single day. It was a team effort, and that's what sticks out for me."

For all the spectacle of The Two Towers, the best may be yet to come. Elijah Wood, Sean Astin, Otto and several other Rings actors insist that The Return of the King, due to open next holiday season, will run rings around the first two installments.

"They must have some inside knowledge," Mortensen says, "because I have no way of knowing if it will be better or worse than the first or second film. I learned after the first one not to have any preconceived notions about anything.

"I'm eager to see what Peter does," he concludes. "I'm eager to see the trilogy completed."
Last edited: 10 March 2005 15:00:54