Viggo Mortensen has devoutly looked at all of them, Quevedo, Velázquez and many more. He visited El Prado Museum again and again. "I wanted to make sure what the clothes were like; how they had their hair, the moustaches, the weapons, the postures. Those are details that I saw not only in Velázquez, but also in other painters," explains the actor. And keeping his habit of preparing the characters he plays thoroughly, Mortensen also wanted to know everything about the soldier Alatriste. "After reading the script, I always want to know what's not written, and I start with the character's birthplace, where and how he was brought up, how was his family, how was the geography of the place where he spent his childhood, how was his life." And all this took him to Castile, the place where Arturo Pérez-Reverte locates Alatriste. "I called and told him I was going to walk round that place. I travelled Valladolid and Salamanca, where it's said that the Spanish they speak is the most similar to the Spanish of the Golden Century. I arrived in León, rented a car and started to move around. In the mountains, in some villages close to the Asturian border, I found something. I don't know what. I went into a bar and it looked like the saloon of a Western. When I went in, everybody stopped talking because I was a stranger. Although I looked like them - half the people were blond and blue-eyed - no one spoke to me. I had a coffee and stayed for a little while because it was snowing outside and it was cold. I left, but I kept thinking about that place, about that village, about those people. I went back a second time and, without asking me anything, they served me the same thing I had had the previous time. On that occasion they talked to me. On my third visit I was a friend, they already trusted me. Their character, their way of speaking, the tone they used, that sharp tone, that so succinct character...I thought I had arrived at the place where Alatriste had grew up. I called Pérez-Reverte and told him it was León where I had found Alatriste's birthplace. "Could that be?' I asked him. "Yes, he could be from there,' he answered. During the preparation of the film I went back several times to that valley, to that place in the north of León, in the mountains, and every time I returned there I realized more and more that my choice had been the right one."
After two intimate films, Díaz Yanes has faced the great adventure of a superproduction, with 10,000 extras and great battles. "Before starting to shoot I was told this film was going to be my great adventure, and so it was. I remembered that a lot during the shooting. Making movies is always an adventure, regardless of the budget or whether it turns out well or badly; but in this case it has been a very pleasant adventure, in which I had a really good time, in the sense that I have felt I was a film director, that things have turned out just like I thought they would." Díaz Yanes hasn't found big differences between his two previous films and Alatriste. "For one reason," he clarifies, "that it's barely said in cinema. In these kind of films the director is very important, I do not doubt that, but the crew is also fundamental. I was lucky my assistant director (Charlie Lázaro) prepared everything extraordinarily because he's very used to that. All the crew chiefs, except Paco Femenía, director of photography, and myself, had done these kind of films. That takes all the problems away. That reduces them (the problems) to the actor to manage to get the emotion you want, and you to manage to finish the takes you had thought about. When you have such a solid crew as the crew of Alatriste you don't run into big difficulties."
The technical crew was made up of great professionals. Bob Anderson, creator of all the great swashbuckling films, from the ones starring Errol Flynn to Barry Lyndon or The Lord of the Rings, was in charge of developing all the fight scenes. The costume designer was the Italian Francesca Sartori who, commanding a great crew, prepared the tailoring of around 10,500 costumes. The make-up has been the work of the Spaniard José Luis Pérez, the same guy from The Lord of the Rings. The art direction has been in the hands of the Spaniard Benjamín Fernández, who has made not only great sets, but also a Spanish galleon of the XVII century which is 45 metres in length and 8,5 m. in width. They also had a military advisor who was in charge of keeping all the troops in formation, and a second unit crew that did the hardest work and perhaps the least eye-catching, but not less important. The magnificence of this production can also be seen in the number of locations where they have shot: in total, 97. In the streets of Ãbeda and Baeza they shot the street scenes of the Madrid of that time; the plain of the Monastery of Uclés has served as a setting for the great battle of Rocroi; Seville, Cádiz and some of its beaches (Conil, Tarifa...) were the real sets for the galleons and the sea landing.
The cinema always looks at the cinema. That's what Díaz Yanes thinks, who has never denied that when he has to face a new production, no matter which one, he watches lots of films. For Alatriste, the director made a selection based on three aspects: the technical aspect ('Femenía and I watched all the great battles of cinema, more or less modern, from Barry Lyndon to Braveheart or The Last Samurai'), the personal one ("I've seen Cimino's The Deer Hunter a lot of times, to soak up its emotions; a lot of good period films, like Scorsese's The Age of Innocence; I made everybody see Visconti's Il Gattopardo, and as always I went back to The Godfather") and the most concrete aspect of poverty in order to describe the misery of the Spanish people ("I returned to the Italian Neorealism; I watched again a lot of Rossellini's films, Giulano's, a lot of the black and white of the poor").
Although the weight of the film falls on an international star, the overwhelming presence of some of the greatest actors in the Spanish scene is no less important. "I'm fed up with the fact that some people outside and inside the cinema world talk nonsense about the Spanish actors. We have 20 or 25 world first-class actors, including many of them who are not in my film. Viggo, when he arrived and saw them acting he was gobsmacked. I thought this film needed the foremost members of the Spanish industry. I like that people see that Juan Echanove's work as Quevedo is as good as any of Charles Laughton's roles, that Javier Cámara is as good as Anthony Hopkins." Viggo Mortensen had already known them, but he won't ever forget them. "In my life I've had to work a lot of times feeling a bit isolated. In the case of Alatriste it has been quite different. It was beautiful to work in a group. I rented and saw some films which the rest of the actors had worked in and I realized that I was in front of an exceptional cast. If I had wanted to work with all of them I would have to have done at least 10 films. An actor has to be confident, to feel comfortable, to feel he is welcome. Not everything is about working and being paid. I never felt that anyone said that the part of Alatriste should be played by a Spaniard. They made me feel more confident and helped me a lot."
That hero will have Viggo Mortensen's face forever. Challenging and tender. Big blue eyes and proud look. As Mortensen himself says, heroism is in the small things. "A hero doesn't have to be a political leader, or a sportsman, or a famous person, a soldier either. A heroic person is someone who behaves well, who treats other people well when things go badly for him. Alatriste and his comrades have a lot of stamina. This is not just an adventure story, it's a complicated and difficult story which you have to pay attention to. All the characters are complicated. That is the kind of films I'm interested in doing and seeing. Whoever expects this to be just an adventure story like The Three Musketeers is going to be surprised. It's much more than an adventure, it will make us think a lot. It's a sad and difficult story. A story that has honour, that rouses a lot of feelings and moves us. I'm very proud of it. I think that the citizens of all of what is called Spain, no matter where they are from, and without feeling any kind of embarrassment, can be proud of what this is." This is Alatriste.