Interviews 2007

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Multi-talented Mortensen Prepares For Worst, Hopes For Best

By Chris Knight

9 September 2007

Source: CanWest News Service

The first thing Viggo Mortensen does after shaking my hand is to press a CD into it. Time Waits for Everyone, it's called; 18 tracks of Mortensen's moody compositions for solo piano.

In addition to acting in back-to-back films by David Cronenberg, Mortensen is a published poet, a painter and photographer with exhibitions next year in Iceland and Denmark, the founder of a small publishing house, Perceval Press, and (after listening to the disc, I find) a decent musician.

When I ask how he keeps all these interests going along with his acting career, he answers: "Sometimes it's tricky; I just barely meet deadlines."

No wonder the press loves this guy.

Cronenberg often works with the same group of filmmakers (cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, composer Howard Shore, etc.) but this does not often extend to his casts, something the director says is more due to actors' availability than choice.

Mortensen, however, had a starring role in 2005's A History of Violence and now in Eastern Promises, which had its world premiere at a gala screening at the Toronto International Film Festival on Saturday and opens in theatres Friday.

He says he'd gladly make it three in a row, adding: "We've already loosely talked about that."

Mortensen chalks up his good working relationship with Cronenberg to the fact that: "We have a similar sensibility and work in a way that's fairly similar; prepare meticulously and then allow chance play a role on the day. It's a nice, organic way to work."

He's a believer in director Sydney Lumet's maxim: "All great work is preparing yourself for the accident to happen."

Eastern Promises, written by Stephen Knight (Dirty Pretty Things), takes place in the Russian immigrant community in London, England.

Naomi Watts plays a nurse whose search for the family of an orphaned baby puts her in dangerously close contact with the Russian mob, and in particular an unbalanced crime boss played by Vincent Cassel.

Mortensen plays Cassel's calming influence and right-hand man. To prepare for the role, he travelled through Russia, started to learn the language and studied up on the tattoos that are integral to both his character and the actual Russian mob, or Vory.

"I do it because I feel it's necessary and useful, but I also do it because I like it," Mortensen says of his methodical method.

"Whether it's learning a language or learning a physical language, a way of behaving, an attitude, a way of seeming to think, you're going to learn a lot more and retain a lot more if you're genuinely curious about it. The approach from the first job I ever did or the first audition has always been the same. You get the script and you ask yourself: 'Well, what happened before Page 1?'

"I've had many experiences where maybe the shoot wasn't as relaxed or as enjoyable as it might be, and the results weren't what we hoped they could be, but I always could count on what I learned about the character and his world," Mortensen says.

The poet in him now comes to the fore, and Mortensen quotes Rainer Maria Rilke: "There are quantities of human beings, but there are many more faces, for each person has several."

This has particular resonance for both of Cronenberg's recent films, as each deals with one or more characters hiding facets of their personalities.

And so might one of Mortensen's many jobs one day include gazing out from the director's chair?

"I like the idea of collaborating with people to try to tell a story," he allows. "And it would be interesting to take it from start to finish. But it's a tough job. I do so many other things that I'd have to drop everything for a while."

For now, he has no plans to give up any of his day jobs
Last edited: 10 September 2007 07:06:23
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