Eastern Promises

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Building the character

© Oleg Micheyev. Used by permission.

Building the character

"It's a complete transformation from the inside out. He played two characters really in A History of Violence, and I saw traces of neither of them in his portrayal of Nikolai."

David Cronenberg
Eastern Promises Production Notes
20 August 2007
Source: Focus Features

'He's a marvel. He's not a method actor; he's Viggo before and after you say "Cut." And yet he knows how to embody and inhabit his character and to become him.'

David Cronenberg
Q+A : David Cronenberg, Film Festival Preview
30 Aug 2007

"Even a simple thing, as when he's cutting the fingers off the corpse with his necktie flung over the shoulder," said director David Cronenberg, "and putting the cigarette out on his tongue to intimidate this guy who is demeaning him as just being a driver - that's all Viggo. That's not in the script. That's something Viggo came up with that I loved."

Mortensen, director discuss their noirish Eastern Promises
By Dixie Reid, Sacramento Bee,
12 September 2007

"Working with him was extraordinary. He was so into his character that I could tell he was upset to leave Nikolai behind!"

Naomi Watts
Eastern Promises Production Notes
20 August 2007
Source: Focus Features

The typical Hollywood leading man travels with an entourage between his palatial homes, five-star hotel suites and luxury trailers. He does not disappear alone for two weeks to meet the Russian mafia in the name of research.

Actor joins the underworld's shadowy cast
Ben Hoyle
The Times
October 17, 2007

He also went for a walkabout in the Urals. "We kind of worried he'd never come back and we'd never find out what happened to him, until we'd probably find him running the country eventually," says Cronenberg...

The Great Dane
Men's Vogue
By Phoebe Eaton
March 2008

"I know everyone was a little bit worried because I disappeared for two weeks. They said I should have someone go with me into the underworld, but the whole point of me of going was not to get a filtered version of what Russians do and what they're like. "I just wanted to draw my own conclusions."

Viggo on his trip to Russia
13 Sept 2007

"You say, 'Well, where's Viggo today?' " says David Cronenberg, recalling the conversation that happened more than once on the London shoot, last year, of the exceptionally fine new thriller, Eastern Promises. "And they say, 'Oh, he's in St. Petersburg.'

"And you say, 'What!? I thought he was at the hotel.' "

Star's Eastern Immersion Impresses His Director
By Steven Rea
Philadelphia Inquirer
16 September 2007

"I met some people who were marvellous, who had backgrounds like my character, who had been in prison and were no longer involved with that life - or maybe they were, I was never sure," says the actor.

On travelling in Russia
Ties that bind
by Melora Koepke, Hour CA
13 Sept 2007

"I was pretty much ready to start shooting, but when I arrived in Russia, I was better able to find the tone of the character, and I saw many things that cannot be put into writing. I like to do an in-depth preparation, just like David, then throw that out of the window and count on what is left in the subconscious. You have to count on what you have done and think that it will be there. There is no need to worry if you have prepared thoroughly."

Although I will never be another person, it's nice to try"
By Teresa Sala - translated by Graciela
Diario de Noticias de Alava
22 Sept 2007

"He went away and immersed himself in that world, and spent time with a lot of very disreputable Russian people! I wrote the lines but the heart and soul of Nikolai is really from Viggo."

Scriptwriter Steven Knight
Eastern Promises Production Notes
20 August 2007
Source: Focus Features

"As soon as I know I'm going to do a part, the first thing I ask myself is: 'What happened between birth and page one of the script?' There's no end to what you can imagine or figure out for yourself about that," he says. "That's the foundation for me, no matter what approach I need to take."

It plays itself out beautifully with Nikolai, who is a living and breathing entity. What the audience doesn't know about him--and Mortensen has endeavoured to discover and put in his performance--is as important as what's explicitly revealed.

Finding Viggo Mortensen
By Susan Thea Posnock
Awards Daily: Oscar Watch
12 December 2007

"I had seen photos in books in Russia on wrestling, such as the practices of the military. I learned those techniques for defence and attack. My partners knew them too: One was a Georgian who was in the army, the other a former Turkish boxer. In this way we could film the scene without doubles. It's because of that it is made so realistic. Nobody ever let their guard down!"

Viggo Mortensen on the fight scene
Viggo Mortensen the Insatiable
Studio Magazine
By Sophie Benamon
November 2007

"Among actors, Viggo is completely unique in my experience because of his attention to detail; the research he did - months before we started to film - was incredible. He is an artist in his own right and brings an artist's sensibility to the process, as well as an actor's craft."

Paul Webster
Eastern Promises Production Notes
20 August 2007
Source: Focus Features

"He will study like he's getting a Ph.d in the character."

David Cronenberg
Superstar Viggo's a serious soul at heart
by Cindy Pearlman, Chicago Sun Times
9 Sept 2007

"We were shooting in London and my hotel room had a 24 hour Russian channel, so I just left it on all the time. I watched movies, variety shows, very strange soap operas...."

Viggo Mortensen
By Natasha Stoynoff, People Magazine
1 October 2007-09-30

During the film shoot, Mortensen had with him artefacts that he had brought back from Russia - including worry beads made in prison from melted-down plastic cigarette lighters. He decorated his trailer with copies of Russian icons and created an atmosphere that was conducive to maintaining his character.

Eastern Promises Production Notes
20 August 2007
Source: Focus Features

"....it's not what you think when you think Method Acting. He didn't ask us to call him the character's name; after cut he's still Viggo, you can still joke with him. But he filled his trailer with Russian stuff and his apartment is covered with research materials, and he carries things on his body that remind him of the character. But it's all done in a very light way; it's not heavy, and it isn't silly. It's very natural and very organic."

David Cronenberg
Coco Forsythe
19 October 2007

"My goal was that when people in Moscow see this film they say, 'I didn't know he was Russian.' We began preparing when Viggo came back from Russia - where he was very inspired. He's a stronger linguist than most actors."

Olegar Fedoro, Russian dialect coach
Eastern Promises Production Notes
20 August 2007
Source: Focus Features

"Viggo blew me away on a daily basis.....He spent time in Russia and every day he would come to the set with something interesting: a piece of writing or a Russian chocolate or a photo album. I think he stayed in character pretty much the whole time. And that's great. It really helped me... I saw Viggo yesterday for the first time since we finished the film and it was like a whole different person. I almost didn't recognise him."

Naomi Watts
Matt Mueller, Total Film
October 2007

When he appears, getting out of a black limo, in front of a Russian bath situated in a small London street, I can't recognise him. The actor is one those perfectionists who works on his roles to obsession. In order to immerse himself in his character, a fearsome mafioso, he spent his summer holiday in Russia. He came back slimmer and transformed. He is so scary that all the clients from a bar ran away in a panic the minute they noticed the tattoos on his hands.

Cronenberg and the Russian Godfather
By Serge Grunberg - translated by Celine
Studio, May 2007

"...Denise Cronenberg, who's a long time collaborator with David, she came up with the clothes and we just sort of fine tuned and picked particular kinds of shoes and suits. And it was - the outward - you know, the presentation outwardly of a character is obviously very important, especially because so much is concealed within. And the hair, the squareness and the certain rigidity and streamline look to the hair, the clothes, sunglasses, the watch, the - you know, all went with the posture and the behavior. It was all of a piece, but it was done in complete collaboration which I really enjoy."

Viggo Mortensen
Viggo Mortensen Talks Eastern Promises
By Andre Rivas
December 24, 2007

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Last edited: 13 September 2011 04:57:57

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