Viggo News

Viggo News

Jump to page:
RSS feed for this page
Print View Link to this newsitem

Viggo Mortensen Interview


Our thanks to Dom for sending this interview our way. This is a good one.


By Jordan Riefe

I'm not critical. I never judge the characters I play. Viggo Mortensen battled Orcs, so we're pretty sure he can do anything. His performance in his first team-up with director David Cronenberg in A History of Violence was a stand-out. Now he's back as Nikolai Luzhin, a driver for one of London's most powerful crime families in Eastern Promises. While Viggo took time out to talk to the press in L.A. for Eastern Promises, we were on hand to get the goods on the gritty actor, his character, and what it's like to work with D-Cro for a second time.

Viggo Mortensen on getting into his character, Nikolai:

"Well, one lazy way to do it is just to watch gangster movies and copy that. But for one thing, I don't think that Russian gangsters or that sort of subculture, the underworld that's Russian or Eastern European, I've never seen it where I've really believed it that much in any movie, so there wasn't really a good example. And I also just don't work that way. I like to find out for myself. Part of the fun and sometimes most of the fun, depending on how well the shoot goes and the experience of shooting a movie is in the preparation. That's where I learn things. That's the thing I think I like most about being in this line of work is that I go and learn things. I'm forced to learn things if I, in good conscience, want to feel that I've done my best. And in this case, it was important to get the language right, to sound Russian, and inflections, when not speaking Russian, and the grammar and the particular slang and syntax of a person from his walk of life. That helped me a lot."

Viggo on his research for the role:

"I did meet a few people that were more or less from Nikolai's walk of life that I normally wouldn't meet. Why would I want to unless I just happened to and got along with him, for some reason? But in this case, it was a question of speaking a little bit with people who initially were reticent, understandably, to share anything. I told them, I said, 'I'm really not out to make fun of or make a caricature of you or anything that I think might be your way of life. I'm not critical. I never judge the characters I play. I'm just trying to make them credible, that's all.' Then when they realized that I wasn't the enemy, that I was actually just doing research, they were very helpful. Even in them explaining things, it wasn't so much the information, it was the way they would explain, how they would look at me, and how they would be aware of their environment. All those things were interesting to me, as an actor, trying to soak up as much as I could and being really focused on what they were saying and how they were saying it. One of them in particular was talking about how it was a relief to see someone who seemed to want to do it correctly, from their point of view, because Russians as depicted or the Russian language as spoken in movies made outside of Russia, particularly movies made in North America and Western Europe, they're always cliche ridden and really terrible. The speech -- it's just not believable. And to them, they're either amusing or annoying or both. And so my goal was to not fall into that category."

Viggo Mortensen on David Cronenberg:

"He creates his own world. He wants it to be based on some specific, very meticulously researched reality. So no matter how far a field he might go with his imagination, the foundation is going to feel sometimes disturbed but always real. And that's the way the fights look, for example. That's the way the behavior is. That's the way the language is, I think, to a certain extent in his stories. I knew that from working with him on History of Violence. And that's why I like to work with him so much. Although he has to oversee a lot more than I do, I too as an actor, have always been interested in the story, not just in what I can do with my role. And I approach things like he does. I'm very meticulous. And I'll go to extremes to turn over every stone and look under it before the movie starts and during the shoot. You never know where you're going to pick up something from. But at the same time that you're so analytical and obsessive about the research, when you show up on the set each day, you just sort of let it go and you assume that whatever is important, from all that research is going to serve you without having to analyze it too much so that you can be fully attentive and there for the crew and there for the other actors. I see him as working in exactly that way. And that's, I think, why we have such a good shorthand."

On the kind acts committed by his character:

"Well, I think it's interesting... the word kindness, because I thought about that recently quite a bit because you get to this point when the movie is coming out, and then you start doing something that I never do. It goes with not judging. I don't want to analyze it. I want to prepare and just do it and be focused. Now you're forced to break it down a little bit in a different way. I do think that you look at the movie and go, 'Oh God, this is going to be another twisted, suspenseful, film noir thriller, it looks like, - which it is and very well constructed. But as brutal and hard and cold as some of the people in the story are, and the story itself seems to be, in the end, about kindness and it's about compassion in spite of big obstacles to behaving that way, to showing any kindness. And to some degree, it's about not just my character. It's about what a character will do, in a complicated world, to help someone who can't help themselves. To me, compassion is when you do something against all logic, almost. It doesn't serve you. It may even put you at risk physically, professionally. You're not going to get any benefit from it, and no one may ever know that you helped that person. It's like the person in the street that you help and walk away, and you've done it for whatever reason. Nobody is ever going to give you something for it. Not everybody does it. But as much as it's about brutality and cultural misunderstandings and intolerance and lying, deceit, savagery, it's also a movie about kindness and compassion, surprisingly, but it is nonetheless about that."

On the deeper meaning within his character:

"I have - I don't know how many - four dozen tattoos or something on my body in this movie, and a lot of them are pieces of songs or out of Russian literature, poetry or just sayings that people know about but that have more than one meaning. And there's one that was on a Russian prisoner. Actually, I saw it twice; once on someone's torso and once on his leg, I think. But anyway, I have it on my back. It says, 'The important thing is to remain human,' in Russian. And to the people that had those tattoos, mainly I think the important thing is to remain human means be your own man. Take it like a man. Don't respect authority, be a tough bastard and don't forget, keep your dignity. It's all that, but it also has another meaning, in the face of this hideous existence for people and very severe way of life. It was almost like that was something I remembered or I thought of a lot, that phrase. For Nikolai, that's sort of a guiding principle, in the end, strange as it might seem at first, when you meet the guy. The important thing is to remain human in the face of all this."

Viggo Mortensen on coordinating the fight scenes with David Cronenberg:

"David is very open and direct and I feel safe being so with him. We understand each other. As a matter of fact, as we were trying to work out the choreography, I was saying, 'We don't have to go around -- you can throw me over that, and I can do this. And we can try it.' I showed him, 'Yeah, I can do it. I'll be sore, but it's doable. You might as well do it for real.' And he goes, 'I don't know how we'd shoot it, and the towel,' and I said, 'Yeah.' The reality is those guys at a certain point, once they're in there, just because it's hot, you'd cover your shoulders with your towel. You'd do whatever. But in any case, even if I had it on, it's going to come off. And why handcuff yourself as a director? Let's just shoot it. It would be silly if the whole movie seemed realistic and gritty and all of a sudden this scene is you're clearly trying to avoid seeing someone's body entirely or something like that. It would just be dumb. So there was never any doubt about it. It wasn't like we got there on the day and it was like, 'Let's do it this way.' No, I knew going in what I was getting into. I knew that the world we live in, you know, people will freeze frame things and do what they do. Most of those images probably won't be very attractive or whatever. But to me, if you do something right and you do it realistically, there's a satisfaction in doing that."

© UGO Network.

Print View Link to this newsitem

Superstar Viggo's a serious soul at heart

Source: The Chicago Sun Times.
Found By: Chrissiejane

Our thanks to Chrissiejane for bringing us this nice article from the Chicago Sun Times.

He's a warrior and a mobster on screen - and he's no party animal off it

September 9, 2007


To the world, he's known as the hard charging fighter Aragorn with a history of violence in those "Lord of the Rings" movies.
In real life, actor Viggo Mortensen really has the soul of a renaissance man.

"If I have a day off, I'm not at a Hollywood party. I'm not the type of actor who lives in the press. I'd rather be home in shorts and a T-shirt surrounded by paint brushes, a blank canvas and have a few candles burning as the day fades into the night," he says.

"I think our true occupation as human beings is to learn as much as possible about life and ourselves," he adds. "You find those answers in the quiet moments."

While the women reading this story and other Viggo addicts might swoon over this image of him, it's time for a wakeup call: It's safe to say that this fall Mortensen won't be celebrated for his romance novel image.

He stars with Naomi Watts in director David Cronenberg's "Eastern Promises" opening Friday. Viggo plays Nikolai Luzhin, a Russian mobster who has moved to London and hooks up with a Russian midwife played by Watts.

The film marks the second pairing for Mortensen and Cronenberg, who both received critical raves for the 2005 mob thriller "A History of Violence."

"It was very good to work with David again," Mortensen says, calling from his home in Los Angeles. "As most of the critics acknowledge, he's one of the only a few directors who are considered master movie makers. I've been one of the few actors who are fortunate enough to work with the master twice."

Mortensen says that "Eastern Promises" is a different sort of Cronenberg film. "He shot it outside of Canada. 'Spider' is the only other movie for Cronenberg that also doesn't have some North American base to it."

Mortensen says that the film is about the blurry lines between right and wrong behavior. "It's also set in Russia, but it's a peek into a world that most Russians don't even get to see."

Mortensen says his mobster "isn't exactly what he seems to be at first. It takes a while to understand his motives. And that's great stuff to play as an actor because you really get the buildup."

Mortensen says he also studied Russian to prep for the role. "I worked with a Russian translator to get the language right and because I knew that I would go to Russia to do a little research before cameras rolled. There are also a couple of scenes in the movie were I speak only Russian. We actually went to people from the Russian underworld and made sure even the slang is what's used today on the streets.

"Just like David, I'm a monster for preparation," Mortensen says, adding that he spent the better part of six months reading Russian novels and poetry. "I listened to only Russian music, read the history books and prepared notes."

And then he found himself alone on the streets of Russia. "I went for a couple of weeks before we started filming. I didn't bring anyone with me, which was an intentional decision," Mortensen says. "I didn't want my experience to be filtered through anyone else's eyes. I wanted to go and see what I saw, feel what I felt."

The star of all of those "Lord of the Rings" films didn't find himself mobbed on the streets of Russia. "I kind of mind my own business in life," Mortensen says. "I live my life like anyone else and just keep my head down.

"But in Russia, I could go anywhere, any city, town or village, and just be the most ignored person on the planet. It was perfect and very freeing. I think it wasn't until my very last day that a young boy looked at me, walked over and whispered, 'Aragorn?' By then I was done with my research and it was OK. Anyway, it's not like that kind of thing ever really bothers me.

"I'm glad when people like the work I've done and a little recognition is not a bad thing. The only problem is when you're recognized a lot. Then you can't sit at a table or walk down the street without people looking at you. I want to be the one looking at people. That's my research.

"I live to be a fly on the wall, soaking up everything and anything."

Obviously, Mortensen takes his craft ultra-seriously. "I've never met anyone like Viggo who throws himself into a role body and soul. He will study like he's getting a Ph.d in the character," Croenberg says. "He gets under the skin of the story."

"There are some actors who just show up on the set," Mortensen says. "That's not me. To me, every role you play is an endless and open university to educate yourself.

"Sometimes when I shoot a movie, the experience isn't one for the record books. The film doesn't come out well. Or the onset experience is hard. But in the end, at least I have what I learned to prepare for the role."

He says the success of the "Lord of the Rings" franchise has been very good for the business of being Viggo Mortensen. "Without the success of those movies, I wouldn't be able to work with Cronenberg or play the lead in 'Eastern Promises.' So I'm very grateful for those films.

"The fame I've found from them has required an adjustment, but now that's calmed down a bit," he says. "The good news is there are people who truly love the trilogy. I don't resent it or run from it when it's around me. I'm just aware that without Aragorn, I wouldn't have this life."

Mortensen, 39, grew up all over the world. He was born in Manhattan as the eldest son of Grace and Viggo P. Mortensen. His Danish father and American mother moved their brood to Venezuela, Argentina and Denmark. They finally settled in South America where his father managed chicken farms and ranches in Venezuela and Argentina.

His parents eventually split and Mortensen's mother moved Viggo plus his brothers Charles and Walter back to New York.

After college graduation, Mortensen moved to Denmark where he planned on becoming a writer. He fell in love and a girl brought him back to New York City, where he took acting classes and waited on tables. Three years later, he made his film debut in a small part in "Witness" (1985). And the rest, as they say ...

Mortensen has also starred in "The Portrait of a Lady" (1996), "The Indian Runner," (1991), "Carlito's Way" (1993), "G.I. Jane" (1997), "Crimson Tide" (1995), "A Perfect Murder" (1998) and "A Walk on the Moon" (1999).

Now his life isn't one of running around Hollywood. The divorced Mortensen says what he does mostly is hole up at home.

"I think if an actor goes to parties constantly that he is either consciously or unconsciously making an effort to stay in the public eye. If you're out in this way then expect to be in the news.

"But if you live your life minding your own business and just doing your thing then you can maintain a certain level of privacy and focus for your work."

Next for Mortensen is the film "Appaloosa" about a guy and his horse. The last time that Mortensen starred with a four-legged actor ("Hidalgo"), he ended up buying him at the end so the horse wouldn't end up in the glue factory.

Actor. Painter. Animal saver. Does it ever end?

"I did buy the horse, but he probably won't be in this new movie. It will be fun to work with another horse although my Hildago is a ham.

"I haven't told him he won't be in the new movie," Mortensen jokes. "I just have to make sure that when I'm painting he isn't watching 'Entertainment Tonight' although he's a big fan.

"I have unplugged the TV," Mortensen says with a laugh.

© Big Picture News, Inc. / 2007 Sun-Times News Group. Images © AP.

Print View Link to this newsitem

Blood Brothers

Source: The San Francisco Chronicle.
Found By: Chrissie
Image Kim Komenich.
© Hearst Communications Inc.
Our thanks to Chrissie for surfacing this interview done in San Francisco.
By Walter Addiego
San Francisco Chronicle

Cronenberg and Mortensen were in San Francisco recently to talk about "Eastern Promises."

Q: Do you two have a De Niro-Scorsese relationship?

Cronenberg: Well, their relationship is a long-, long-term one, and also, they came from the same place. But, weirdly enough, Viggo and I have come from some other planet together. I do feel we're brothers under the skin. But there's no reason for that to be the case.

Mortensen: The connection we made working the first time, it felt right. We did a lot of preparation, and when you get to the set, you find (the two of you have) developed a kind of shorthand. I felt like I was in good hands and that, if I wanted to try something, it was sure not to be taken as an affront. I find (David) to be very secure as a person and an artist.

Q: Viggo's elaborate tattoos in "Eastern Promises" seem like a key to the movie.

Cronenberg: Ironically, when I agreed to do this script, it (the tattoo theme) was almost nonexistent. (Viggo's) really the dog that brought that back in his mouth. I said to Steve Knight, the writer of the script, "I'm going to send you this stuff (about tattoos). It's going to blow your mind, because really it's sort of the central metaphor of the movie." The script had almost been waiting for that, and we never had it, and it really did crystallize so much. (The tattoos) were a fantastic metaphor and very exciting to discover. They're a key to the complex sociology of the vory v zakone.

Q: Viggo, you studied Russian and learned about the Russian criminal world to prepare for the role, and you've said there's a scary edge in the gangsters' Russian dialogue. (Note: Most of the dialogue is in English but scenes with Russian speech have subtitles.)

Mortensen: What's spoken in the film is a certain kind of Russian, a kind of slang that has humor and double entendres that translate roughly well into English, but not entirely. There are little asides and little jokes, like the scene when we're throwing the body in the river. What (the Russian dialogue) sounds like, and what it's actually saying in Russian, is a little funnier and a little more horrible (than the subtitles indicate). I mean, the average Russian hears this and goes, "Oh!"

Q: The nude fight scene is bound to get people talking.

Mortensen: I was aware, as was David, that people will perhaps focus a little bit on that, and certainly do screen grabs or whatever they do. You can't do anything about it. (The idea was) let's figure out the best way to make the fight believable. And I like the way David shot it. It feels realistic. It's not disguised or smoothed over with camera work or glamorizing the body. It's pretty horrible.

Cronenberg: Most times an actor does a nude scene, it's about sex. In this case, it's about vulnerability.

Q: Is there a subterranean connection between Viggo's vigorous sex scene with Maria Bello in "A History of Violence" and the nude fight in "Eastern Promises"?

Mortensen: Karmically, there's a real strong connection because (in "Eastern Promise") obviously I'm getting my retribution from Maria Bello.

Cronenberg: She was the one who got bruised in "A History of Violence," and (Viggo) got bruised in "Eastern Promises." If you played those scenes side by side, it would be pretty interesting. You'd start to see there's a weirdly erotic element in the fight scene and there's a weirdly mortal attack in the scene on the stairs (with Bello) as well.

Mortensen: The problem is that the people I have those nude scenes with either leave or die. It's not a very romantic illusion.

Cronenberg: Well, that's your own personal karma.

Q: Viggo, have you been trying to distance yourself from "The Lord of the Rings"?

Mortensen: No. There are actors who, alone or with the help of other people - image consultants or whatever you want to call them - try to craft an image of themselves. Audiences might buy it for a little while, but eventually they'll think what they're going to think. If I was worried about people only thinking I was Aragorn, there's not much I could do about it, and I frankly don't care. What I think about "The Lord of the Rings," other than memories I have of friendships and whatever I learned in doing research for the movie, is that basically it's a good thing it did so well. Without that, I wouldn't be sitting here, I wouldn't have gotten to do "A History of Violence" or "Eastern Promises." No studio would have backed the idea, even if David had known me and thought I was right for both parts.

Q: So what's going to be the next Cronenberg-Mortensen movie?

Cronenberg: We really don't know. I mean, (Viggo) works a lot, and I get very jealous. He works with other directors, but I'll only work with him. So he's the slut in the relationship.

Read the complete article here.

© Hearst Communications Inc. Images © Kim Komenich.

Print View Link to this newsitem

Viggo's New CD: 'Time Waits for Everyone'

Found By: nikkie
TIFF Press Conference 7.17.07
TIFF Press Conference 7.17.07.
Our thanks to nikkie for surfacing this news about Viggo's upcoming CD. mentioned in this interview with Larry Ratliff.

Gem class at Toronto

Celebrity sightings and the showcase rollout of a dozen or so future Hollywood studio movies that will loom large on the big-screen universe this fall and winter is one of the obvious joys of a world-class film festival like what's going on in Toronto.

The other, and my personal favorite, is the discovery of a wonderful little movie gem. That was the musical "Once" at Sundance in January. I just walked out of Toronto's candidate, at least in the early running.

It's "Juno," a bittersweet and sassy comedy-with-drama from "Thank You For Smoking" director Jason Reitman. Ellen Page ("X-Men: the Last Stand") plays a free-thinking high school student who makes some offbeat decisions once she discovers she's pregnant.

Think of this clever, quick-witted comedy as "Knocked Up" with real character depth.

Ferocious wind gusts are whipping press badges behind heads and occasionally bouncing down Bloor Street during the second day of Toronto Film Fest frenzy.

Movie stars -- some super, others not so much -- are a common sight during perhaps the world's most comfortable world-class fest. Had a 1-on-1 interview this morning with Viggo Mortensen, the star of David Cronenberg's new violence-riddled "Eastern Promises," as well as Cronenberg's former one, "A History of Violence."

Mortensen, a renaissance man who exhibits photographs at art galleries and records music as well as acts, proudly gave me a copy of his new CD "Time Waits for Everyone."

His theory is that Toronto is such a pleasing film festival for devout movie lovers, but also actors and filmmakers because this is not a competition, just a cinema love-fest on a very huge level.

© 2007 KENS 5 and the San Antonio Express-News. Images © BIG UK.

Print View Link to this newsitem

Viggo Mortensen's Bookshelf

A HoV: Ghent Film Festival October 14, 2005
A HoV: Ghent Film Festival October 14, 2005.
© Indian Moon. Used by permission.
From the latest edition of Oprah Magazine.

Poems, novels, essays, histories. The actor (and writer, and publisher) goes to press with his favorite titles.

In 2002 I started a small publishing company called Perceval Press, with the help of Pilar Perez, a curator I'd previously worked with at the Santa Monica, California, gallery Track 16. The company's name came from the Arthurian legend, in which Perceval and other knights arrive at the edge of a forest and decide each must make his own path through it. This approach, metaphorically speaking, seems to me a creative way to look at life. Before starting the business, Pilar and I asked author and publisher Dave Eggers if he had any advice for us. What we took from him--though his company, McSweeney's, is much bigger than ours--was the idea of being very hands-on and uncompromising in terms of content, design, and distribution.

Putting together books well can be a rewarding challenge. Everyone at Perceval--from our designer, Michele Perez, and Sandra Fu, who took over from Pilar, to my brother Walter Mortensen and myself-- has found satisfaction in helping create publications tailored to individual authors and artists. We make sure they're happy with every aspect of the finished work: editing, font, layout, type of paper, images, etc. Writers are often pleasantly surprised that they have so much say. I tell them, "You're not likely to get rich-- to be honest, your book may not make a profit for quite a while. But I can promise it'll be a book made as close to the way you have envisioned it as possible, well designed and produced." It's satisfying to be able to provide that service to artists whose efforts might not otherwise be presented in quite the manner they would like, if at all.

Viggo Mortensen is in the film Eastern Promises. His most recent book, I Forget You For Ever, is available at
Kalakuta Republic
By Chris Abani

This collection of poems might be hard to find. Abani was a prodigy; as a teenager, he wrote his first novel, but eventually somebody in the Nigerian government said he was a subversive, so he was thrown in jail for six months, where he was tortured. He wasn't a political person, but that experience woke him up. He became involved with other like-minded people and was imprisoned again. Abani is now a novelist and poet and teaches at the University of California, Riverside. In spite of his experiences, he doesn't seem bitter. Everybody suffers at some point or knows someone who suffers, and it's how you behave when things aren't going well that tells the most about your character. That's what impressed me--his grace and compassion in the face of suffering more horrible than most of us will ever even dream of experiencing. And he's turned it into art.
House of Meetings
By Martin Amis

When I was in England, playing a Russian in the film Eastern Promises, I read and reread lots of Russian literature and poetry. Then this book came out. Amis creates a particular world, a place where, even when overt torture isn't happening, there's a certain atmosphere of brutality. The novel traces the reminiscences of an old man, one of two brothers sent to a Gulag in Siberia who both loved the same woman. It's about jealousy. It's about violence and confession. And it's also about resistance--how the brothers support and betray each other--and how the woman is a victim of their callousness. It's an interesting character study, and one of Amis's leanest pieces of writing.
A Power Governments Cannot Suppress
By Howard Zinn

I love Howard Zinn. This collection of essays is a great book for anybody who wants to be better informed about history, regardless of their political point of view. I think Zinn is one of the most responsible, lively, and brave commentators on U.S. history now living. He's constantly sounding the wake-up call, and we owe it to ourselves and our children to listen.
What We Knew
By Eric A. Johnson and Karl-Heinz Reuband

A number of books have been written about Germany between roughly 1933, when Hitler came to power, and the end of the Third Reich. But this collection of oral histories of Jews and "Ordinary Germans" is impossible to put down. It helps put in context the ambivalence and slowness of citizens to react to Hitler's ruinous rise and domination. You realize that Germans never imagined that Hitler would so rapidly and profoundly change the system. It's not an easy thing to answer today--why people didn't resist more--but this book has made me think a lot about our times. Damaging changes and loss of civil liberties, of popular voices of dissent, can occur rapidly, with dire consequences, as has been seen in the East and West in recent years. This book serves as a practical lesson in history and a warning for the future.
Lies My Teacher Told Me
By James W. Loewen

In this critique of high school history books, the chapter that affected me most was called "Red Eyes." It traces a more expansive history of Native Americans in this country--beyond Squanto and the first Thanksgiving. It's often difficult to develop a real sense of the United States and its place in the world. That's why I'm interested in writers who devote their professional lives to informing themselves--and, by extension, us.

© 2007 Harpo Productions, Inc. Images © Indian Moon.

Display options:
Order by:        
Jump to page:
RSS feed for this page
Last edited: 31 May 2021 20:02:05