Interviews 2005

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Viggo Mortensen of A History Of Violence

By Daniel Robert Epstein

1 October 2005

Source: UnderGroundOnline

Viggo Mortensen is best known, of course, for his portrayal of Lucifer in The Prophecy. Well, perhaps his amazing performance in The Lord of the Rings is a little more popular. Viggo's latest film is David Cronenberg's pop mini-masterpiece, A History of Violence.

David Cronenberg is a great director, did you feel lucky to work with him?

Yeah, I read somewhere on the Internet that he is the best-reviewed director in the English language ever, which I believe. He's had this long trail of success no matter what territory he's explored. There's always certain themes that are there. One of the many things I admire about him is the fact that even though he's gotten these good reviews and good critical reception for years, he's not satisfied with just staying in one realm or genre. He's always testing himself. He's not trying to change his image or his approach for any other reason than that he's intellectually a curious person. I found that on the set, too. Every day, no matter how far along we were in the process, he'd show up like, "Let's do it. Let's make a movie." He seemed more like a recent film school grad who had just gotten permission to direct his first movie than a veteran internationally-respected director. That's contagious to the rest of the crew and the cast.

When Holly Hunter saw Dead Ringers she said, "I have to work with Cronenberg." I believe Maria Bello said she decided that when she saw Crash. Do you remember the film that you saw of his and said, "That's it. I'm working with him at some point?"

I think things happen if they're supposed to, but I have admired him for a long time. I do remember being in Philadelphia in 1983 and I went and saw The Dead Zone. I particularly liked that movie. I think that it works as a sort of companion piece to this even though it's 22 years ago that he made that movie. The tone of it and the way it handles the issue of identity and in some sense family and the establishment, law and order and all of that. It's interesting.

How did you connect to the character of Tom Stall?

With any character I've played what's written is one thing and I always look for what's the opposite of what's being said or what's behind what's being said. I wonder, where was this person born? How was he raised? Did he or did he not have friends? What kind of friends were they? What was his family like? You build your own little history. Cronenberg was unusual in that as a director he welcomes all of that. He's never threatened by it. He finds everything about the way people behave in movies and in life to always be potentially absurd. Even on our darkest days as far as the emotionally trying days or disturbing days of work, we were always laughing a lot and enjoying ourselves. I think he gives himself a chance to have some fun and to add little subtle things in his storytelling because he can pay attention to what's going on due to his preparation. It's so thorough and so collaborative that by the time you start shooting on the first day, everybody's ready and knows what they're supposed to do and there's a lot of room to find other things without stressing out.

Why do you think the violence in this film had to be so gruesome?

I think the way Cronenberg shows it is what makes it more disturbing than what most directors would have done. I think most directors, even very good ones, would've done slow motion with a lot more angles. David just showed what was necessary and kept a certain distance. There's not a lot of insert shots in this movie. There's not much trickery. It's very carefully and artfully crafted. He and Peter Suschitzky, the cinematographer, make it much more visible as far as what's happening to everybody.

I read that Cronenberg specifically wanted to do this film as a more commercial move for him. That doesn't make it any more or less valid, or more or less of a Cronenberg film. But do you see this film as mainstream?

That's his sense of humor, but he absolutely did not try to do that. This movie is as intelligent and as thought-provoking as any movie that he's made, maybe more so on a lot of levels. He's completely maintained his interests and his integrity but I think probably consciously he did think, "OK. Maybe this will have some more appeal." I think he has every right to ask for that. His remarkable body of work is as remarkable for the high level of artistry as it is for going almost completely unrecognized officially in terms of awards and all that stuff. I hope that he gets that because he deserves it and if he were to win a bunch of awards for this and get a lot of popular acclaim, I don't think it's going to change his way of making movies.

What's the best music concert you've even been to?

David Bowie in Buffalo. He got arrested. He was arrested in the elevator by a very pretty woman who asked him if he wanted to go smoke a joint or something like that.
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Last edited: 1 October 2005 09:46:28
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