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Since The Lord of the Rings, we know that Viggo Mortensen is the ideal hero actor. But from Eastern Promises we also understand: no one can be a match for the 49-year-old in terms of coolness.
There were times when you fought with a sword and in armour on horseback. In Eastern Promises you kill unarmed in your birthday suit...
But I can only do this because of The Lord of the Rings. Because the trilogy was so successful, the financial backers gave the go-ahead for David Cronenberg's films - first for A History of Violence and now for Eastern Promises. Otherwise, I would never have played these roles. And if you are to shoot a fight scene in a steambath, then some time or other, the towel flies away. Anything else would be ridiculous.
You are famous for preparing yourself for your roles in an intensive way. In the case of Lord of the Rings you spent weeks alone in the wilderness. What was it like in the case of Eastern Promises?
It was not as comfortable as it was in New Zealand, because I love to camp outdoors in nature. Instead of that I spent time with the Russian mafia, because I wanted to get their subtle gestures right on target, and I studied Russian intensively. Sometimes I woke up during the night, my audiotape was still on, and I had no idea who I was and where I was. But for me such a preparation is indispensable because if you master the abilities that your character has got, then you don't have to rack your brains while shooting the film. You are calm and relaxed and can pay attention to the director and your colleagues.
You always seem to be relaxed.
I try to get along well with people in an easy way. But there have also been times when I have bitten off more than I could chew and I've run around like mad. Currently, I must be careful that doesn't happen to me again. I have worked too much, and as I am also growing older I no longer have so much energy. Therefore, I need my sleep and I don't get around to writing and taking photographs so much - which is very important for me.
Do you have a remedy for stress?
Washing dishes, for example, I deliberately haven't got a machine. By washing dishes you can devote yourself to exactly what you are doing at that moment. It is the same with walking or fishing. You are totally concentrated on this particular activity, you don't allow yourself to be distracted, and out of this intense concentration arises relaxation. If, however, you don't concentrate on a single matter, then you concentrate on nothing. The same applies to acting. I know exactly which activities are planned for that day's shooting and I like to finish them in a dutiful way, nothing more. I arrive on time, I am not a prima donna, only my job interests me.
That is to say, in your world, there is nothing more than yourself?
That is not exactly right because this extreme concentration has another effect: you realize the things at the edge of your field of vision and, all of a sudden, you see everything more clearly. I'm very attentive about what happens around me. On the one hand, I can feel the cup of coffee in my hand, on the other hand, I can speak with you in a focused way. And I know that my problems are not much bigger than a pile of beans, as Bogart states in Casablanca. So, what is this compared to what happens in Iraq or in Africa? Movies are not the most important things in our lives. They can only help us to focus our attention on the really important things.
What is the most important thing in your private world?
My son Henry. He moved out last year to go to university. On the one hand you know that it will happen, and yet it catches you off your guard. Once your child leaves the nest, only the memories will remain, even if you are still in contact. Suddenly you think back to moments of his childhood, and you soliloquize: "If only I had spent more time with him then!" Such a reaction is healthy on the one hand, and yet I feel a bit uncomfortable with it.
How do you deal with this feeling?
By writing about it. For example, I wrote specifically about this feeling in a poem. It's called Leaves and was published in the anthology I Forget You For Ever.
You said that you no longer have so much time for writing. How do you cope with that then?
Something may arise out of this hecticness. Sometimes I make a snapshot or find something that gives me new ideas. Therefore, this life as well offers many discoveries. The only condition is: I may not become senile!