An Artist For All Seasons

Source: The Age


The word from on high is that Viggo Mortensen will not have his photograph taken today.

As a photographer of some standing himself, he knows that being in the right frame of mind is crucial for a good picture and he's just not "into it" right now, explains one of his entourage.

We take this with good grace and send our photographer - who has been patiently waiting half an hour for the chance to shoot Viggo - away with nothing but his camera and reflecting board.

Still, we love The Vig.

After supporting roles in such forgettable films as A Walk on the Moon, Psycho, GI Jane and A Perfect Murder, he came to global notice as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Along with acting, Mortensen is also a poet, with books such as Ten Last Night and Recent Forgeries to his credit. He has his own publishing house, Perceval Press, is a painter (he did all the paintings you see in A Perfect Murder) and a respected stills photographer, an art form in which he clearly takes great pride.

In David Cronenberg's A History of Violence, Mortensen plays Tom Stall, a popular small-town citizen who runs a diner by day and comes home to a lovely family by night.

During a hold-up, however, Stall reveals himself to be a crack shot with a gun. The incident opens a portal into a side of his life he has kept hidden, one in which violence was part of his stock in trade.

Revered by his fans as "the most beautiful man in the world", in person Mortensen strikes a slightly less imposing figure. Admirably lithe and taut at 47, he is an attractive man, sitting in bare feet and with a wrist band that says "peace".

Mortensen is a man of peace and has spoken out against the war in Iraq. He does so now.

"They should leave immediately," he says in no uncertain terms. But the wrist band is in the colours of the Argentinean soccer club San Lorenzo, "The team I grew up with". It's not a political thing, he stresses.

As Stall, Mortensen blends his innate sense of decency with killer cool as he defends his family life against those dark forces from his past that, to paraphrase Michael Corleone's famous lament from The Godfather III, seek to pull him back in.

As well as working as a human drama, A History of Violence could be seen as an allegory in which Stall represents America. On the shiny side he's all decency and family values, but underneath are dirty dealings, unpalatable connections, the skill to kill.

"Well, I'm going to stop you there because we have limited time," Mortensen interrupts.

"I know where you're going but I don't agree with you. I don't think it's about America, it's much more universal than that. Any country, Australia as much as America, is founded though violence. Violence is intrinsic, it's part of human society and it always will be.

"That being said, humans are different from other animals in that they have the capability to reason and therefore can willingly and consciously reject violence. They can't always do it but that doesn't mean you don't keep trying."

Mortensen feels, but he's not all touchy-feely. The film has mini-tributes to Gandhi's philosophy of passive resistance, but there are limits to non-violence, he says.

"It doesn't always work, unless you want to just die right there. Instinct for survival kicks in. Are you going to go all the way meekly to the slaughterhouse? I don't know if you're going to do that because you want to live!" He lets out a chuckle.

But Mortensen is not a message man. Neither is David Cronenberg, he says, which is why he wanted to work with him.

He won't account for the success of Lord of the Rings in terms of what it meant to people, and won't legislate on what meaning people should take from A History of Violence.

"I'm not someone who's trying to make anybody take anything, you know?"

However: "There is a reason why it was the best reviewed movie of 2005. I think it's a movie that will hold up for years as a model of filmmaking and as being a really well-told story. If people take that away with them, that's great."

A memo from Viggo.

Viggo Mortensen contacted us about our story on him last week. He was upset by the suggestion that he didn't want his photo taken and fears this made him look like a prima donna. He says there simply wasn't time for a photo, although this was not an issue for us, as we planned to shoot him during the interview. What we reported was the way it was explained to us by a publicist. We also said that Mortensen has an "innate sense of decency", which surely counters any suggestion that he is a prima donna.

We happily straighten the record on his behalf. Furthermore, the guy has class as he said he looked forward to speaking with us again. We said it last week and we'll say it again - we love the Vig.
Last edited: 19 March 2006 06:00:38
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