Lord of the Horse

Source: Manawatu Evening Standard

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Keen equestrian twins Anne and Lynne Huddleston travelled to Wellington to the opening of Lord of the Rings star Viggo Mortensen's photographic exhibition at Massey University's Wellington campus. They found a star who loves horses as much as they do.

You can just imagine Gandalf on Shadowfax and Aragorn on Uraeus charging up the gorgeous marble staircases that lead to the great halls of the old National Museum and Art Gallery in which Mortensen's photographs hang.

The lofty grandeur of the venue is perfect for the photographs of actor Viggo Mortensen who plays Aragorn, the king, who is the central character in The Return Of The King, the third and final part of director Peter Jackson's retelling of J R R Tolkien's The Lord Of The Rings.

The movie had its world premiere in Wellington on Monday and will be released New Zealand-wide, including Palmerston North, on December 18.

Like many of those associated with Lord Of The Rings, Mortensen - who has been in Hollywood films such as Carlito's Way and GI Jane - shifted to New Zealand for the 15-month shoot of the three films.

Thankful for the experience, he says the exhibition is a way of giving something back to his hosts.

Massey's Wellington campus provides just the right ambience to complement his photographs without overwhelming them.

The exhibition was officially opened last Friday night. We were lucky to score a private viewing. We wandered the halls unencumbered by anything other than glasses of wine and security officers. The hubbub of the 800 guests enjoying drinks and nibbles down below receded to a gentle murmur. The strains of live Lord Of The Rings music played in the background.

Mortensen's photographs incorporate brilliant flashes of light and colour.

He is a photographer of some skill. He shoots with different lights and lengths of exposure to see how far he can push the boundaries.

He says he 'uses the camera to paint with lights and colours and shapes.'

His work has a uniqueness that illustrates his philosophy that 'all life is sorrowful, and accidental, we can't change that, but we can change our attitude to it.'

The photographs cover a variety of landscapes and people, but it was the horse images that we found particularly moving. One, our personal favourite, appears to have been taken during LOTR filming. It features a horse head in silhouette with a film camera in the background. Another is a poetic image of a horse being offered a handful of treats. Yet another dramatically shows a horse and a Native American.

Mortensen's love of horses, and his skills as a rider, are evident in the three Rings films. Behind the scenes, even on his days off, Mortensen was often found back in the saddle having riding lessons to hone his abilities to perfection. His quest for reality even extended to wearing his horseback-riding warrior costume off screen to give it the correct patina of wear and age. He also washed and mended the costume himself.

The actor also had a great attachment to Uraeus, the stallion he rode while filming in New Zealand. At the end of filming, he arranged to have the horse sent back to his Los Angeles base.

Mortensen is a lover of wilderness and the outdoors. He was coy about whether he might buy land in New Zealand. We felt Manawatu would be perfect for a future retreat. After all we have the Ruahines, plenty of wilderness and great rivers.

Peter Jackson spoke at the exhibition opening. He recounted a tale about a gruelling day on the film set. He couldn't believe his eyes when, after they returned to base, he spotted Viggo heading off to go fishing. But he wasn't surprised later that evening to see him appear back at camp carrying a huge trout.

Mortensen said he barely had a minute to think about whether to take the role which kept him in New Zealand for 15 months. Having received a last minute call-up to join the cast shortly after shooting had begun, he took the opportunity the long plane flight to New Zealand offered to discover the world of Middle-earth.

'It didn't allow me the time to get nervous about it,' he said. 'On the basic physical level the first thing I had to do was sword fighting, so I had to get a sense of not only what it was like to fight, but also to walk around with a sword around your belt. Just getting the physical baby steps of the character helped.'

Mortensen says no matter how big or small his role in a film, he has always seen it as his job to put as much effort as possible into researching, developing and living the character. For the role of the ranger Aragorn he spent a lot time in the local wilderness, as well as countless hours in weapon training, rapidly improving his swordsmanship.

'Your job as an actor is to find where you can connect with a character to help tell the story,' Mortensen said. 'You have to work out what you have in common and what you don't have in common. There's a lot of work involved. In better moments - and I wish they happened more of the time - I do feel I have things in common with Aragorn.'

Any fan of the LOTR trilogy will find something in the dozens of photographs on display. Entry to the exhibition is by donation, the proceeds going towards the establishment of Massey University's proposed School of Film in Wellington.
Last edited: 29 June 2006 14:27:15
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