He became famous for portraying a character with long hair and a beard, and this has allowed Viggo Mortensen to slip by unnoticed on more than one occasion. 'Is that Aragorn?' they're asking at an event at the Toronto International Film Festival in which the man appears sporting his usual look, clean-shaven, with hair much shorter than that of The Lord of the Ring's hero. 'I didn't realize he was so big,' they add.
Viggo, who is 47 years old though he looks younger, isn't here to pre-screen a Hollywood blockbuster. He's here as the hero of Alatriste, the Spanish super production that raked in more than 5 million Euros with its recent box-office debut in Spain, and in which Mortensen speaks only Spanish throughout the entire movie.
That's one thing that's for sure; the man has gone native on us. In Agustín Díaz Yanes' movie, he plays the popular character from Arturo Pérez-Reverte's novels, Captain Diego Alatriste, fictional hero of the Flanders wars in the 17th century, turned hired assassin and embroiled in a series of mishaps, fights, problems with his love life, and still more battles. The producers decided to make one movie out of the five existing novels, and because of that the narrative is confused and episodic with the emphasis appearing to be more on appearances (the photography, the wardrobe, the art direction) than on the narrative or the action, of which there is little and which is very confusingly filmed.
The film never really takes off or manages to be effective, but that's not Mortensen's fault or the rest of the cast. Viggo struggles with the Castilian accent, but since he doesn't say much that's not a real issue. The problem with the movie is that it appears to be a heavyÂ¸decorative piece made by a man who has spent a great deal of time in Madrid's Prado Museum, but who appears never to have set foot on a movie set.
"It wasn't easy to get into Alatriste's skin,' admits Viggo. 'I had to learn about Spain's history. If I knew at least some things, having lived in South America, I still had a great deal to learn.' Mortensen says that, to research his character, he travelled through Spain and spent time with people from different towns.
At a party dedicated to Latin and Spanish cinema, Viggo was the centre of the attention. Many here are not familiar with his 'Latin' background and are surprised by his Argentinean accent. Chatting with members of the Argentinean delegation, he expressed his interest in working in Argentina ("All they have to do is contact me") and, as usual, extolled Boedo's football team, even though he recognized the recent 1-7 defeat they suffered against Boca.
Mortensen says he's somewhat uncomfortable with his fame as a "hero at arms', since, as he assures us, "I don't like violence or weapons. I'm a pacifist." In epic movies like Alatriste and The Lord of the Rings he says that what interests him is "not heroism, but histories. What happens in them that continues to repeat itself today.'