© New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers.
Viggo Mortensen was 43 when he became an overnight success seven years ago.
He had been working at the craft of acting on the stage, in film, and on television for more than a quarter of a century and had had lead roles in movies such as The Indian Runner, 28 Days, and A Walk on the Moon. However, it wasn't until he played Aragon in the three Lord of the Rings films that his star ascended.
In a hotel room in Toronto, where he has come to promote the western Appaloosa (which opens tomorrow), he admits that although he has always been proud of his work, he has never cared much about whether Hollywood liked him or felt that he was wrong for a role. He says if producers stopped calling, he would find something else to do.
"Shit happens," he says. "I don't really care if anyone says, 'What are people going to think if you play this part?' I won't go out and shoot myself if a movie doesn't do well or people don't like what I did or people get tired of me.
"I do care deeply what I am doing as an actor when I am doing it, but it's not the end of the world if I don't get any more work. Hopefully, I will find another way of making a living. I don't dismiss it or the good fortune I have had or the great experiences, but I can take it or leave it.
"I do care about how audiences react to the films I am in because it's not just about me. I was much happier that at the premiere [of Appaloosa] people got into the movie and understood it. I would rather that happen than people not like it. I want people to like what we do as a group."
The group of actors that director Ed Harris, a four-time Academy Award nominee, has managed to bring together for Appaloosa includes Mortensen, an Academy Award nominee for last year's Eastern Promises, and Oscar winners Renée Zellweger and Jeremy Irons.
Harris plays Virgil Cole, a freelance marshall in the West of the 1880s. He and his long-time partner, Everett Hitch (Mortensen), are invited to Appaloosa to bring peace to a town that hasn't had much since a man named Bragg (Irons) settled in. As Cole and Hitch are getting ready to bring Bragg to justice, their plans are disrupted when the hardened Cole falls in love for the first time.
Harris had met Mortensen on the set of A History of Violence, and the two men developed enough of a bond that Harris decided to talk to him about Appaloosa. Although Harris had won acclaim for his directing debut, Pollock, in 2000, five years later he hadn't followed it up. Mortensen says that when Harris approached him he knew that he was taking the project seriously.
"We were here at the Toronto festival three years ago promoting A History of Violence and Ed said, 'Here's this book [by Robert Parker]. We might be able to make a good movie out of it.' I knew that he wouldn't take something like that lightly, and I was engaged.
"It wasn't a book I would have gone out and bought or the kind of thing that I would normally read, but I liked the things he liked about it, which were the dialogue and the loyalty in this friendship between two men. Having worked with Ed and having seen the job he did directing Pollock, I knew we would have some fun with it and have a chance to get across the wordless communication between these two very quiet and self-controlled men. It was just a matter of getting the time to do it and Ed getting the money to do it."
Mortensen may not care about what people think or whether he ever works again, but he has paid attention to the way the business works. He says he discovered after playing a sociopath in Indian Runner that he would have to either adapt to the system or try something on his own. Not surprisingly, he found his own methods of survival.
"I came to terms with the fact that this is a business a long time ago, and I'm okay with that. After The Indian Runner, I was offered movies about crazy people who were mostly bad. After Lord of the Rings, there were a few of those types of roles offered and I looked into it, but I don't do that now.
"I choose roles for my own edification and entertainment, and really to learn and to challenge myself. People will go where they are comfortable with in terms of casting, but I will do what I can to take parts that I want to explore."