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Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my chat with Mr. Viggo Mortensen about The Road. I conducted this interview at the Telluride Film Festival shortly after the chat I did with director John Hillcoat which itself was just after watching the movie.
I really enjoyed The Road and I approached it as a fan of the book, so I went in a bit cynically. Hopeful, but more with an attitude of "you need to prove you didn't screw this up." And I don't feel they didn't. The book is the book, the movie is the movie, but the movie is faithful in all the right areas. It's dark, it's bleak, it goes places you'd never guess a studio film would go, but all to serve the overall story: that of a father/son relationship put under the harshest of tests.
Hope you dig the chat! Enjoy!
Quint: We never met, but I came out to New Zealand during the pick ups for Return Of The King.
Viggo: We shot a lot of stuff in a hurry during that period. You must have seen a lot.
Quint: It was fascinating, because I would be in Rivendell one day and then the next day would be Paths of The Dead and the next day it would be something else.
Viggo: They showed that in a clip last night, it was weird.
Quint: What was that?
Viggo: The Paths of The Dead showed. For me, I'm watching that and I'm thinking of how we all felt and how it was getting towards the end. It was very close to the end when we were doing the last parts of that, in fact my last shot was something from that, one of the shots where I'm running with Legolas and Gimli. That was my very last shot of that whole thing, but looking basically at me just talking to nothing.
Viggo: That's what it was and all of these crew members that had become like a family and that whole emotional feeling of finishing the movie in four years and all of that stuff. That's what I was thinking about. (Laughs) Watching it was a bit bizarre, but it was amazing.
Quint: My friends and I feel like Wellington's a second home. Everybody was so welcoming and the country is just so beautiful...
Viggo: It's great there. Have you gone back?
Quint: Many times, yeah. One day I would like to do the dual-citizenship thing and get a house there. Sorry, I'm going to waste this whole time talking about Wellington! (laughs) I saw The Road this morning and...
Viggo: Was that the first time you had seen it?
Quint: It was the first time I had seen it and I am a big fan of the book, obviously. Anybody who has read it probably feels the same way.
Viggo: How did you feel, honestly?
Quint: Honestly, I think it's two different experiences, because there's something about the way Cormac McCarthy uses words that work only in a novel form. There isn't a way to translate that to cinema, there's the hypnotic use of language...
Viggo: We had to distill it. It would have been too repetitive in a movie.
Quint: Yeah and it's not a slight on the film at all, I really like the movie a lot and I think it's a different experience, but it captures the same feeling if that makes any sense.
Viggo: I felt it was, too, and I was relieved that the audiences... It was interesting to see it with a real audience, because a lot of those people are not involved in the show business at all, which was interesting with the audiences here, like a couple in their fifties from Iowa talking about their son and I'm like "Wow..." and just seeing generally how they were moved and affected by what's tough about it and obviously believed it and felt it, you know, like we were getting there on an emotional level, but that they were ultimately interested enough and uplifted enough to want to express how they felt about it, last night even more so, because they had a longer time, but out on the street, too. People keep coming up to me and talking about it, so there's something that we got and talking about it in the same way that people have talked to me about the book, "You guys better get it right, because I feel like this about it!" Now people are saying "Yeah, the movie made me feel."
Its very similar, the essence of it, what that relationship is and how you feel about what the boy and the man go through towards the end of the book, because when I read the book, I was going "Okay..." Once I was onboard, like "I'm doing it. Okay... First of all, I've got to get there and I've got to keep believable that worry level and fear always in my mind and somehow balance that and just do it. I've got to go there and there's no place to hide," which is the challenge and the thing that's interesting as an actor. There's no tricks or gimmicks, it's got to be raw and real.
Quint: Raw emotion.
Viggo: Yeah, but it's got to have a lot of layers to it. It can't just be random outbursts or something. Then reading, especially after rereading the book, it was like "Where are they going to find a boy that can do that? That can do that technically, but who can balance everything and create a relationship." And they did!
Quint: It's tough to find that innocence that's not precocious, you know? I thought he pulled it off.
Viggo: Totally and he could speak intelligently on any given day and he could do the most... Because the proof is in what happens when they say "Action," not whatever you talk about or how much you practice or any of that shit, it's "What do you do when something happens that's unexpected?" That's what you are hoping for, really whether you realize it or not.
You can prepare the camera, the script, rehearse the actor and costumes, the weather's perfect, but unless something happens like you... but that here and you mean it to do that and it does that, you are like "Oh shit, it's rolling... ugh..." and everything's different or suddenly Robert Duvall says "Yeah, I had a kid..." and you are like "That's not in the script, but that's fucking perfect!"
Quint: Duvall was phenomenal.
Viggo: Kodi would do that everyday. If he did it once or twice, you would go "Okay, well the kid's lucky and he's alive to the possibilities," but he constantly used accidents and strange things and made them into something. He made something out of nothing every fucking day. It wasn't just an accident. This kid has an understanding that someone like Duvall does. It was no accident that within a few minutes of working with Kodi, we are out on the road, we shot that in order, and we find him and he wants to give him food, but I don't, and Duvall was saying "Where'd they get the kid?" "Where'd they get the guy?" He says, "Where is he from?" I go, "He's Australian." "He's Australian?" "What has he done?" He was talking about a contemporary. He recognized somebody who approached acting in the same way he did.
Quint: You were also saying, during the Q&A, where like off camera he got to be a kid and was just fun, where it's not like an adult in a kid's body.
Viggo: A lot of kids are doing that, but then it's like "Come on, you've got to pay attention." No, he would go "Ahh" and then go into this terrible world and I would believe it so much that it was like... when Duvall threw me the "I had a boy once..." it was the same thing. Kodi would always... He would look at me and say something and I totally believed it every fucking time. That's amazing that he could balance the two.
Quint: Obviously you had a real connection with him and I think that shows on the screen, but did that make it more difficult or in some ways easier for...
Viggo: The emotional stuff?
Quint: It's not just the emotional stuff, but like the scene that I think... and it got gasps in the screening, was when you are in the house and you think that you are going to get discovered and you have the gun to his head...
Viggo: Yeah, it was pretty intense and Kodi really went there. He really imagined that whole thing in an amazing way, like that last scene we have also. It was intense, but I really felt like... I didn't even have to really think about it, I had a partner who was going to go all the way. He was going to go as far as I was and further, like this sort of "Tag, you're it!" Each take was like "Let's go more." It's fun. I mean, it's scary, but if you are in it together, then you go to a place that you on your own... If I'm with a kid who is limited or can't do what he can do, then I'm having to always push, but it was what it should have been, it was equally committed so there would be things that he would do suddenly and it would make me go to another place and then I would throw something back. I never doubted for one second that anything I threw at him, that he wouldn't just bat it right back somehow. He would just pull something out of nowhere and so I was constantly amazed.
Quint: I have to say, another thing that really affected me was hearing you talk about your relationship with your own son, how you use movies to bond with him. That really touches me deep. With my parents, we didn't really bond with movies. There were some movies, like my dad loved the spaghetti westerns and my mom liked legal dramas and horror movies and some of that would overlap, but all of my closest relationships, all of my closest friendships, everything you were describing...
Viggo: You relate to movies...
Quint: It's like; we will get on these kicks. Literally two weeks ago I went on an Elliot Gould kick and watched ten Elliot Gould movies in a row that I hadn't seen before.
Viggo: Yeah, yeah. He could have just as easily, I suppose, been a child who wasn't in to that. It was great that he was, because we then went there together like to an obsessive degree. Then I'd say, "But you've really got to finish your homework."
Quint: It almost made it like a treat.
Viggo: "Oh my God it's eleven, well I think there's like 28 minutes to go, do you want to watch all of it now or do you want to get up really early, have breakfast, brush your teeth, and then we can watch the other before school?" "Let's watch it now!" I said, "Well, don't get mad at me when I wake you up all grumpy. Remember!" There would be these deals, but it was interesting.
There's one thing I wanted to say about the film-book relationship and how they are different... Did I talk about Charlize [Theron] as far as that role?
Viggo: I think that there it's different, but for me and it's nothing against the book version of the woman, but to me there was an improvement or there are more layers to it somehow, because although it's essentially the same character and the rumors of "It's greatly expanded..." It's not true. It's no more than the book, really.
Quint: I think it's the trailer that got people worried, because it almost makes it look in the trailer like she is on the road with you guys.
Viggo: Yeah, well they are selling whatever and half of the footage in that trailer... I don't think they will do that anymore, because now they are starting to relax and realize that people actually like the movie on it's own terms. You know more about that than me, how they sell things and you go "Oh God" and then you go and that scene's not there and so forth, but I got it more. I believed that she actually had a good point, that her opinion was as good as mine, that I disagreed... as that character I disagreed, and you could see as an audience, "Yeah, she's got a right to say that. She may well be right."
There are moments later in regretting and when we are really down to it, down to one bullet, that I was thinking about that, like "She was fucking right!" That's why I remember that scene, because I'm thinking about that stuff and somehow that got across that her decision, even though I disagreed and it's like "No, you're not taking the kid" and she respected that I was saying "We can't inflict that extreme final decision on him and you have to respect that" and she did, but we agreed to disagree and it was more even. With the book, I've read it many times, it's easy to think "She's wrong. She's weak. I'm on the guy's side and he's right!" It is that way in the book, I think, to a greater degree.
Quint: Yeah, definitely.
Viggo: That, I think, is an improvement. I also like that they don't have the kind of Jules Verne stuff with the squid, because to me it was like it doesn't belong in there. I would prefer the book without that, since I don't think it really adds that much and I think it's odd. It's not bad, because he's such a great writer, but it's like...
Quint: Something that I loved was that the movie starts on a green plant and sunlight, it gives the audience a sense of "This is our world."
Viggo: Just like the flashbacks with the piano and relating music, sound, and vision, on an emotional level to him and to her.
Quint: I like in that flashback, you just see hands. You don't need to see the wide shot. You don't need to see anything, it's just that literally is all it is.
Viggo: His clean, healthy hands and there is so much affection in their relationship with these two pairs of hands.
Quint: Yeah, so like when the man is breaking down at the piano later in the movie...
Viggo: You buy it.
Quint: Yeah, you understand why. It's those small touches, but yeah I really dug the movie and I think you guys are going to have a lot of success with it.
Viggo: I hope so, you know? I do feel, after seeing it with these audiences and hearing them... I think the worry is that it's too bleak and general audiences will reject even trying it. You know like they see it, will go "Yeah, I guess it's good, as far as acting or whatever, but I wouldn't recommend it, it's too tough..." I think people are actually going to say "It's tough, but I would see it" and I think that people will see it more and more, because there's a lot to take in and you are so affected, I think emotionally most people... I'm not saying some people won't dislike it, that's what happens with any movie, but I think there will be a certain amount of people who will go see it again, like "Okay, now I want to watch it in a different way."
Quint: I think so, too.
Viggo: I think word of mouth, if we are lucky, could help it.
Quint: The word of mouth is already going in your direction from here and Toronto is going to be big, too.
Viggo: I hope so. Are you going there?
Quint: No, we have a couple of guys in Toronto. I've always wanted to go.
Viggo: Is Harry still actively...
Quint: He covers Austin stuff a lot and he will do set visits and stuff, but yeah he's still around and still a regular voice on the site. It's still his baby.
Viggo: Last October I talked to a guy from your site in Chicago...
Viggo: Yeah, and he was asking all about the movie and talking about the same things and said I thought it would work, but I'd have to see how they put it together. I'm glad they took the time they needed to just get it right.
Quint: Yeah and why not? It's not a summer movie, so why rush it?
Viggo: Yeah, once it was ready, they could have put it in the spring or summer, but why?
Quint: It wouldn't have worked. It's totally a fall movie. It really feels like it.
Viggo: As it gets cold and people are ready to think about this kind of shit.
Quint: What are you doing next? Do you have anything in the pipe-line?
Viggo: Well I have a publishing, Perceval Press, and I'm working on finishing up some books that I'm a little behind on publishing. I'm going to do a play next, I think. In Spain. It's also pretty unrelenting, it's a man and a woman instead of a man and a boy and it's about forgiveness and different points of view. I haven't done theater for a couple of decades, so I'm a little scared, but I've learned, as I said this morning, "Being scared is one of the ingredients."
Quint: Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with me. I appreciate it.
Hope you guys dug the chat. The Road was released yesterday and has 100 times less sparkly skin than New Moon. That's a promise.