Image Rocky Faulkner.
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The actor Viggo Mortensen (Lord of the Rings, A History of Violence) was nominated for an Oscar for best actor last February for his role in David Cronenberg's Eastern Promises. Everybody knows that. But what is undoubtedly not known is that, in developing the character of the disturbing Nikolai, Mortensen was inspired by....Alex Kovalev!
Viggo Mortensen is a firm fan of the Canadiens. Even to the extent of finding out the results of their games when he is filming on the other side of the planet.
"Kovalev is an inspiration to me," he confided in our telephone interview. "Like him Nikolai is not the youngest in his group, but he goes about his business silently, and thwarts his opponents by using his experience, showing himself to be smarter than the rest.
"This is the type of person I like, and it's the same with actors: those who overcome their weaknesses thanks to their intelligence."
Mortensen's image of Kovalev may be idealistic, but it is built up around many characteristics they have in common.
One of these is the meticulous care he takes over his physical condition - hands up those who would guess he is 49 years old.
"Kovalev is in better form in his thirties than most younger players," he explains. "Despite his age, despite the disappointments he has experienced in Montreal, you see that he never fails to give everything he has when on the ice.
"For myself, I do not know how many more films I have left in me. But like an athlete who plays every game as though it's his last, I approach every film as if it may be my last."
Inspired and energised by the Canadiens
Viggo Mortensen speaks seven languages, has founded a publishing house dedicated to poetry, spent his childhood going from Venezuela to Denmark via Argentina......it's puzzling how his passion for the Canadiens fits into this picture!
It was at high school in California [sic] that Mortensen discovered hockey. This was in the seventies, the glorious era for the Canadiens.
On seeing the Tricolore at work on TV, he was immediately captivated. "I even took to listening to the games on the French channel of Radio Canada!"
Rapidly inspired by the mystique of the Tricolore, fascinated by the gift of the gab of Guy Lefleur, Mortensen became a fan. Totally.
In the making of A History of Violence in Toronto, Mortensen even refused to wear the Maple Leafs shirt which the crew wanted him to put on for the group photo. "I was not going to do it unless I could wear a Canadiens' cap," he explained.
His passion for the Canadiens is indeed so serious that it affects his mood.
"I was at work today and needed to be fully concentrating," Mortensen, currently filming an adaptation of the novel The Road, told us. "Except that after the Canadiens' game (the first victory against the Flyers) I felt myself inspired and energised. I was immediately ready to resume the job."
The fan, not the celebrity.
Although his busy schedule prevents him from visiting Montreal as often as he would like, Mortensen assiduously follows the fortunes of the Tricolore. And his diagnosis is accurate.
"Things may have looked gloomy after the disappointments of last season," he explains. "But this season, this team appears to me more consistent. It does not lose its form, it remains steady".
It's not by chance that the team pleases Mortensen so much this year. Because in his eyes, sport and the arts have more in common than one may believe.
"For the Canadiens, it's not a question of just one player. Everyone contributes. One senses they are proud to be part of a true team. In cinema, too, you may well have the biggest stars and the best director of cinematography, but the film will not work unless everyone makes the compromises required to ensure they are all pulling in the same direction."
Mortensen does not have a reputation as a big-head. Just as the star is well pleased, in respect of sport, to find himself on the other side of the fence: to be the fan, not the celebrity.
"Wish Kovalev good luck," Mortensen concludes. "Tell him that I look at him and I am grateful. Give my best wishes to the Artist!"