XL Semanal - 8.2006 Reverte & Viggo, mano a mano
Image César Urrutia.
© XL Semanal.
It would be futile trying to present them both in just a few lines. Although seeing them like this, talking amicably during the photo session, just like two old comrades would do at the beginning of a reunion, nobody can stop thinking that in this life there must not be many things that unite more than sharing a character. Perhaps it's something similar to being a father. And what both of them are sure about is that the child is perfectly fine: big, strong, noble. A treasure one can only be proud of. That's what shared paternities are about. That they unite a lot.
Seeing them like this, smiling at each other openly, frankly, nobody can stop thinking again and again about the same thing. One of them, Arturo Pérez-Reverte [Cartagena, 1951], for starting one fine day in 1996 with a " he was not the most honest man or the most pious, but he was a brave man. His name was Diego Alatriste y Tenorio, and he had fought as a soldier of the old Tercios in the wars with Flanders. When I met him he was barely making ends meet in Madrid, hiring himself out for four maravedís in employ of little glory" the epic and novelistic saga of a soldier who eked out a living in Spain during the XVII century; the other one, Viggo Mortensen [Manhattan, New York, US, 1958], for achieving that, from the 1st of September on, we have his face present when imagining the Captain Alatriste. They have just posed for the last photo. If two men seldom share the same character, they share still less the same lens [the one of the photographer, who is now shaking their hands with certain solemnity]. It's time to do sums. It seems the credit list will be full; with no notes the debit one. I start with a question and, immediately, give Their Mercies the right to speak. Ladies and gentlemen, here they are the actor and the writer. Let's start. Do not waste time with futile introductions.
XLSemanal: Are you pleased with the outcome?
Viggo Mortensen: Very much. But I was already pleased since we started the shooting. Everything looked terrific. From the wardrobe to the battles. But, above all, the director's attitude corresponded perfectly with what you had written, Arturo.
Arturo Pérez-Reverte: [nods in agreement]
XL: Agustín Díaz Yanes predicted a "complicated and very hard" shoot, has it been like that?
VM: But it was fun at the same time.
XL: Where did the biggest difficulties lie?
VM: I don't know. Maybe, in the practical things, the worst thing for the crew has been to have to travel so much. We have shot in lots of places. And try to put more than 200 people in motion...Talamanca del Jarama, El Escorial, Cádiz, Sevilla,Tarifa, Ãbeda, Baeza... Although perhaps this wouldn't have turned out as well as it has. We had to be in all those places. The final outcome wouldn't have been so good.
APR: But more than the typical hardness and complication of the shooting, which was more or less like in every film, and after all they are professionals, I'd love to point out the way Viggo played the character. Because you must take into account one thing: he's not Spanish. But he certainly speaks our language fluently, which has made his access easier, and he's a cultured actor, not all of them are so. He's an actor who reads. But he arrived here, after all, as a foreigner. So there was an impressive process of assimilation of the Spanish character. I was most impressed by that. My lesson from all that has been to see how Viggo gradually became Alatriste. And not only in front of the camera, but also in his life during all the time he was working on the film. How he was assuming the Spanish quality. That fate of the Spanish soldier who has nothing else but his friends and his sword to pull through. It's tremendous how he made up the character. From the first moment you start to see the film, you realize that Viggo is not playing a Spaniard, the thing is that he is a Spaniard. Viggo was a Spaniard all during the shooting. [Addressing Viggo] Weren't you?
VM: [smiles] I think I was. Although the truth is that I had a good map, a good chart, in the books you have written. Besides, the script that Tano [Agustín Díaz Yanes] wrote also helped me to a large extent to make up my character. I read the script first, I hadn't read your novels, and I immediately read your books in one go. I accepted Tano's proposition and the next thing I did was go into a bookshop at the Gran vía in Madrid, and buying all the Alatriste books, which I devoured in a couple days. Alatriste is not mediocre. The thing is that when that happens, when people are dominated, then the people end up being more or less mediocre. He's served as a soldier since he's 13 years old and until his death he's loyal to the crown, to the flag and, especially, to his comrades.
APR: Especially to his comrades.
VM: Above all. Although he has problems with authority, he's always on his people's side.
APR: Camaraderie. That feeling is the one that all the actors who surround Viggo in the film have been able to create. Eduard Fernández, Unax Ugalde, Francesc Garrido, Antonio Dechent..., they are comrades who sometimes kill each other, because they have no choice but to do it, but above all they are comrades. Think that the word "kill" was fundamental. People killed more easily than now. Killing was not such a significant act as it is nowadays. Killing was an everyday thing. I would also like to stress that, for Viggo, in the moments of making up his character, a very, very important word has been "bullfighter".
XL: How come?
[b]APR[/b]: I'd like him to explain it to you. On one occasion while the three of us, Tano, he and I were talking about Alatriste, we told him that the bullfighter is the only person who still has, in the current Spanish world, the manners, the attitudes, the respect for the foe, for life and for death. In the way that he puts himself in front of the bull, there is a lot from the Spanish soldiers of the XVIIc.. And since Tano's father was a bullfighter, and he himself is quite involved in bullfighting environments, I told Viggo to make good use of that for his Alatriste.
VM: That's right. I asked Tano to take me to the bullring and let me see that closely. It's a question of learning the manners, the attitude. What I saw in bullfighters helped me a lot to make up my character. I met some of them and we were talking about their profession, although I guess they are like Alatriste and they wouldn't like me to name them here. They helped us and, seeing their character, their scars, both physical and psychological, I realized that beyond that swaggering way many of them adopt in their manners, there's fear. All of them fear the bull. I thought that was very interesting. Seeing them in the bullring helped me to understand the musketeers of the XVII c.. There is an imperfection in the bullring, something awful, very cruel, something disgusting, but there is also courage and beauty, a brightness that emerges between the blood and the ugliness of the killing of a bull. It's an unforgettable and beautiful moment, which cannot be denied, I think. And I saw that sometimes. There are some moments in the film between Alatriste and his comrades in which a ray of hope shines on. The characters of the film come from all corners of the peninsula. There are Portuguese, Navarrese, people from Málaga..., people from everywhere who work together. And they do not always do it well, but that's the way they decide to work. That was interesting. We had to show it.
APR: The common undertaking. All of them were in the same boat. That's clearly shown in the film. And something similar happened during the shooting. I stayed observant in the breaks, during the meals, and I can assure you that there was a good feeling amongst all of them that went beyond the mere actors. It was as if some war comrades-in-arms had got together after a hard day in order to have some drinks. They behaved as war veterans. I have been in war and I have seen them.
VM: I have also met some soldiers of my age, who became sergeants in the first war of Iraq and now they have returned, and many of them know too much, and they know that what they are doing isn't right, however, they go back. They go back for their friends, for their comrades. If what the film tells happened now, Spain would be the United States, and Alatriste could be a marine who his colleagues called Captain without being one.
APR: [smiles] Viggo, the Tercios of Flanders were the Marines of that time. Do not have the slightest doubt about that. I agree with you. There is a very evident parallel between that time and the present time. But it isn't something forced in a literary or cinematographic way, it's real, that is, it's historical. Actually, the Americans are living through the same situation we did in the XVIIc.. And, like us, they will also fall. Same as we did.
APR: But I think we should not judge the facts of that time with the eyes of the present time. Nowadays, where the norm is to apply political correctness to everything, we forget that was a different time, a very hard period, difficult, violent, in which people tried and earned their living.
VM: We had a good time. Tano was a good leader, a good captain. He was able to create an example of coexistence.
APR: Now I remember when Bob Anderson came, the swordmaster hired for the film, the first thing he asked Tano was: "But, now, do people kill here or not?". And Tano answered him: "Here, in this film, people really kill each other". And Anderson shouted: "At last, a film in which people kill each other. I'm so fed up with teaching how to do little ballet jumps". And there's killing. In fact, there is one scene in which Viggo kills a man, and I told him: "You're a murderer. You're a son of a bitch".
VM: [laughs] Arturo, what year was it published the first Alatriste book? 1995? 1996?
APR: Round there. One of those two years.
VM: How was it received? Did people receive it well?
APR: It was very well received. From the beginning it was a great success, so I'm very pleased. Although there was some critic back then who hit the ceiling saying that Alatriste was a murderer and that he didn't know whether it was a suitable reading matter for his son. Fancy that! And now it's read in schools. But it was like that and it had to be told like that. That's why I guess that Bob Anderson's attitude was also important in the shooting.
VM: A tremendous guy Bob. Always on the war path.
APR: He made the actors sweat like devils during the training sessions. And he insulted them: "You would be killed by now, son of a bitch. This is crap".
VM: [looking grave] Yeah, yeah. Very hard.
APR: He tired them out by working. He tired them out.
VM: [laughs] He made us train and train and do some quick and dirty fights. Although the truth is that in this conversation we are talking too much about the boys. But there are also some beautiful women in this film. Ariadna Gil, Elena Anaya...unforgettable.
APR: But they are tough women. Very tough. They are not poor damsels who fall into the arms of the hero.
VM: Bully women! [laughs]
APR: That's right, women "who can take a sword/arms" (tr. note: accurate translation would be "women with determination and courage"; left the literal translation for the next sentence to make sense).
VM: See? We always end up talking about the same thing [laughs]
XL: Let's change the subject then. Let's go to the starting point. What was clear since the beginning is that the film would be shot in Spanish, why?
APR: That was my condition. Otherwise, it wouldn't be shot. Quevedo had to speak Spanish. It would be absurd that Quevedo spoke in English. At this point it must be said that we didn't have too much support from the Spanish industry and from the institutions. Quite the contrary, there was suspicion. They thought that, being such an expensive film, there would be little left for them.
VM: If I had been offered this script in English, the first thing I would have said is that if they wanted to do it, they would have to shoot it in Spanish.
APR: This is a very complicated project. There was a lot of bitchiness from some sectors of the Spanish industry that wanted to torpedo the project.
XL: Arturo, what you're saying will end up raising some people's hackles.
APR: That's why I'm saying it. And I want to say it with Viggo being here present. This has turned out well because Antonio Cardenal and Telecinco, and Paolo Vasile insisted on it. But without the slightest institutional support. There was little support and much envy. Nobody bet on the film. So expensive, with Viggo... But Vasile, Cardenal and Tano insisted on it. And Viggo, of course. Without Viggo this wouldn't have been built up ever. Viggo could have done any film, especially after The Lord of the Rings. He fell in love with the project. He insisted on it and this could be done thanks to him.
VM: It's something new. And difficult to assume. Something similar happened in New Zealand with The Lord of the Rings. People have to be sure that it can be done. George Lucas and all those said that Peter Jackson would end up asking them for help in order to finish the film. And that didn't happen. Let's learn the lesson here.
APR: This could be done because the 20 million of Euros were used in front of the camera. Nobody kept anything. That's why these kind of films are scarcely made in Spain. Because it is the custom that 20 millions become five pence.
VM: I'm sure that from now on they'll start to do these kind of films.
APR: From now on, off we go! Perhaps this will change. What has been proved is that with a good script as it was with Tano's, great actors, perseverance and tenacity, these films can be done perfectly. And if they are not done it is because no one wants to.
XL: I'm going to ask you to tell about one moment from the shooting that touched you.
VM: Well, for me the last night of the shooting. It was beautiful. Something close and fond. We surprised Tano with a band from a bullring. We all were hiding from him and gave him a surprise. We showed up with all the flags. We took him and carried him on our shoulders. We had fun. At the end we were like a loving family.
APR: This film tells what Spain was, with no indulgence, for good and for bad. Some cretin may think that it's a story told in a "Tercios, Spain, Empire" way, but he will be very wrong. It's a turbulent, dirty, very hard film about ourselves. In this sense, I saw them shooting a scene that surprised me a lot. When in the battle of Rocroi the French offer an honourable surrender to the Spanish of the Old Tercio of Cartagena. Viggo steps forward with his comrades and, resigned, says: "We are grateful for the offering but this is a Spanish Tercio". Just there I realized that this son of a bitch [referring to Viggo] is Spanish. In this moment Viggo Mortensen is a Spaniard.
APR: Is it true or not?
VM: I hope it is. [laughing]
XL: And what being a Spaniard means?
VM: Knowing how to lose.
APR: [smiling] Which proves he is indeed a Spaniard. Only a lucid Spaniard can say that.