Viggo Trades Sword for Gun in 'A History of Violence'

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Subdued and pensive in the corner of his hotel room, the very clean cut Viggo Mortensen is as far removed from his most famous character Aragorn (Lord of the Rings) as you could possibly imagine. Softly spoken with natural charm and remarkable intelligence, it makes it easy to understand why directors such as David Cronenberg and Peter Jackson have sought him on their sets.

This very talented actor and artist took the time to tell Mark Beirne and Sara Friedman about his new film A History of Violence, a drama that is certain to expose this somewhat hidden Hollywood treasure.

After dedicating years of your life to Lord of the Rings how did it feel to move onto a small-scale production like A History of Violence?

It felt good. It has to do with who is in charge and what kind of atmosphere there is on the set as to whether you have a good time or not. Of course, just because you have a good time on the set doesn't mean the movie turns out to be any good. In this case both were true. For me it's not different if it's a huge movie that takes years to make or one that takes a couple of months or a student film, it's always the same job, it doesn't matter if there's three cameras and a giant crew or just one camera handheld and an hour to shoot everything, you're still doing the same job. If you have a director that communicates as well as David Cronenberg does and one that has a good time telling a story that's contagious, people tend to have a good time and people tend to want to do a good job for that person. I must say that it was good to have just one unit shooting. In Lord of the Rings sometimes we had seven units shooting and it was kind of like a giant circus at times, working with really good people but it was just a uniquely sprawling production. So I guess I do like the "hands on" approach of a movie like A History of Violence.

Your character in the film is pretty desperate for privacy. Could you relate to that as a movie star?

I guess I would have probably played the scene more or less the same, when the town becomes interested in this seemingly ordinary family man, because of this act of self defence that brings him national media attention. I could relate a little bit to that, when the character comes out of the hospital and the townspeople are there - it is a little bit like life has been since Lord of the Rings I suppose. But I don't know if it would have changed the way I played things. I do think that that's one of the interesting things about the movie. Even if you're completely a pacifist as an audience member and you have very set views about violence and you're against both physical and emotional violence, you are made complicit in some way by the way the story is told. Because the violence seems justified from a good person, it makes you complicit, you sort of cheer it on and you get a kind of exhilaration from it and as a little more time goes by in the movie you feel sort of uncomfortable that you have been complicit and that's interesting.

When you're not acting, you're a poet, a photographer and a painter, can you tell us a bit about your work on the side?

I don't separate them really from acting and movies - they're all about storytelling. To be painting pictures or drawing or writing or publishing my books or other people's books - or even just going to see a movie - it's an artistic act and I think that life can be that way. Potentially everybody is an artist - just living is an art form - you either engage or you don't. Any kind of artistic expression to me is about taking in what's going on, filtering it and expressing it for yourself or for others as well.
Last edited: 4 April 2006 14:28:26
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